Things are still rapidly changing in the world due to coronavirus.
More businesses have closed - some perhaps for good - and others have made leaps towards supporting remote work for their employees so they can continue to work from home. It’s not “business as usual” for anyone, however, those who took action to pivot rather than stand frozen in place are already beginning to find a working routine in the comfort of their own home.
After all of this is over, the businesses that adapted and made core improvements along the way are going to emerge stronger than ever - and this fact can be seen in the businesses that made it through the crises of 1997 and 2008. You can also rely on the cyclical nature of life, business, and the markets, which means that - if you want your business to be around long-term - you will see challenges and crises again.
The question is? What are you going to do about it - right now and in preparation for the future?
It would be untrue to say it isn’t hard, or that change isn’t uncomfortable. But so are these times we’re living in. The truth is, the only thing we can control is our response, and now’s a great opportunity to respond thoughtfully and strategically for the sake of our business, our employees, and our livelihood.
The Problem with In-Person Business Processes During a Crisis
With the most recent “Shelter in Place” orders and suggestions to stay at home and keep a distance from others, something outdated in many businesses has become painfully obvious - their business processes.
Processes naturally come with nuances and complexities, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be efficient and repeatable. However, many companies have “ways of work” based on in-person conversation, paper-based procedures, huddles around the whiteboard and one-on-one informal conversations. The problem with these approaches is that they do not scale well outside of the four walls of your office - as you’ve probably already gathered if you’re stuck at home struggling to get things done during the coronavirus pandemic.
In this post, I’m going to dive into 3 immediate processes-shifts to support remote work that need to be updated in times of crisis and beyond as part of your contingency plan. Each of these process shifts not only supports remote work but also conserves cash and protects profit margins.
Remote Work Process Shift #1: In-Person to Remote Conversations
If you have a workplace where it’s common for employees to pop-in for questions - so much so, in fact, that there’s no other method of communication - you’re not alone. When working in close proximity, it’s natural to communicate in-person (after all, it’d be odd to send a message to an employee sitting right next to you or in an office next-door). However, something that is also common in many workplaces is excessive off-topic discussion and office banter, which can turn a 5-minute question into a 25-minute dialogue about something totally unrelated.
Do the math across all employees for an entire year and how many hours of paid downtime do you get? How much more productive would you be if you could control the influx of inquiries, distractions, questions, and things that can wait?
Pandemic or not, it’s wise to implement a process for effective communication that reduces distraction and streamlines questions and responses in your business. Don’t get me wrong, having a close, collaborative, and connected team is desirable and certainly boosts employee morale. However, there’s a time and a place - and in times like these, it’s important to recognize the need to maximize efficiency and streamline as much as you can.
To let your employees carry on from home, create a process for remote conversations. This can include a combination of video conferencing for face-to-face meetings, like Zoom, and Slack for quick messages, file sharing, and team discussions. To keep the office friendliness alive, offer a separate channel dedicated to social interactions so employees can share wins, jokes, and lighthearted chats much as they would on a lunch break together.
Remote Work Process Shift #2: Paper to Digital Documents
If your company is still using paper, you’re likely struggling to work remotely during the coronavirus outbreak. After all, how can you get someone to sign-off, review, or receive paper documents if you’re stuck at home?
If we weren’t in times of crisis and had the luxury of time, my recommendation to shift this process digitally would be to change the master process in the industry so your inputs
require little to no paper. But changing an industry or large company standard won’t happen quickly, which is why my focus here is to improve how paper is dealt with and minimized in the short-term.
Start by identifying the high volume, high-cost processes that are heavily dependent on paper. You may consider first assessing where the filing cabinets, shredders, and recycling boxes are stored. What’s in those cabinets? What’s being shredded and recycled?
Take note of what documents are taking up the most space in these areas, then work on systemizing and digitizing them.
For document storage, consider cloud options. Initially, you may need to scan and upload your existing paper documents to turn them digital; however, moving forward the documents can be digital from the start. If your business works with contracts and agreements that require signatures, consider a contract management software and e-signing service so that contracts can be reviewed, revised, approved, and signed digitally.
Office-wide memos, newsletters, and updates can easily be emailed or sent via an online communication platform. Video updates work very well, and are easy with tools like Loom. Also, you can send out virtual surveys and questionnaires that alert you of each employee’s receipt and completion.
To support remote work in this time of crisis, you need to move quickly - which means you likely won’t have time to upload year’s worth of documents while organizing them into a seamless process map for your employees. Instead, during this time, focus on the processes that absolutely must be done - which may typically land in the sales and operations side of the business.
Start by assessing those processes, shifting over the necessary documents to digital, and ticking off every part of the customer journey that involves paper. Within your digital storage platform, you’ll be able to organize documents much like you would in the office - by client, date, service, etc. You’ll also be able to easily find documents using a simple search and find functionality.
Some of you may have looked at OCR (Optical Character Recognition) in the past to turn those mountains of paper into some data you can work with - and been discouraged by the amount of setup and configuration required for every form, and just how brittle the solutions are. Take heart - modern document scanning tools powered by AI are adept at figuring out a) what a given form is and b) what the valuable data contained on it is - without a lot of time investment from you - so that you can quickly and easily 'train' a solution to work effectively for you.
Operationally, consider what you’ll need to do business in the immediate future and focus on it. In reality, now’s probably not the time to upload the contents of long-unopened filing cabinets and paper records of client histories. Luckily, considering our current environment, in the one-off chance that an old record is requested, it’s likely a client will understand the limited access you have to things at the office. Eventually, integrations and workflows can be created so all your necessary documents are right at your fingertips when you need them.
Remote Work Process Shift #3: From “Swivel Chair” to One-Click
If you haven’t heard the term before, a swivel chair integration is one that requires a user to use multiple applications and, oftentimes, inputs the same data into separate applications manually. This could look like copy/pasting between windows, manually reconciling data from one system to another, or having an employee personally match invoices with payments.
Let’s take a small business that is allowing their employees to work remotely as an example. In this example, employees are paid hourly, must track and make updates to their project, and are asked to provide a progress report at the end of each workday.
A swivel chair integration may look like this:
The employee clocks in at the start of their workday using a time-tracking software (or, if you haven’t digitized that and made it something accessible remotely, they use a localized office computer to clock-in).
Throughout the day, the employee goes back and forth between the time-tracking and making progress on their tasks or project, which they track on a separate project management software.
At the end of the day, the employee copy/pastes the time worked and task/project updates into a separate report.
In this example the chair is swiveling, so to speak, between 3 things.
Now, to avoid “swivel chair integration”, how can we both increase the employee’s efficiency and make this system work remotely?
Use a time-tracking software that is not location-dependent, like Toggl;
Integrate the time-tracking button into the employee’s project management software (or download the desktop app) so they can track time directly from the project management application without having to switch windows manually; and
Integrate a process that automatically populates an end-of-the-day progress report with the new data and sends it directly to your inbox.
Eventually, in the long-term, you want to streamline your systems so you and your team work smarter - not harder - by eliminating unnecessary repetition and redundancies from the workday. To do this, many companies are turning to Robotic Process Automation (RPA) to automate processes, eliminate tedious tasks, and free up employees so they can focus on higher-value work. To engage RPA, configured software - a “robot” - assesses and interprets normal operational functions and finds ways to automate and optimize the processes.
By mapping out your processes and breaking them down into their constituent parts, you’ll be able to swiftly support remote work during this time of crisis. You’ll discover what pieces can be systemized and formalized to support your employees better, which allow digitization or automation, and the key pieces of your business that require a human touch to become even better.
“Systemize the predictable so you can humanize the exceptional.”
- attributed to Isadore Sharp, Founder, Four Seasons Hotels
Changing the processes that make up the nervous system of your business can be stressful, especially during these tough times. However, don’t get deterred by thinking it’s an all-or-nothing undertaking. Consider taking steps in the right direction, one process adjustment at a time, and keep your team close to discuss challenges and different perspectives.
If your business is struggling to make the shift to remote work, reach out. I am currently offering a free consultation for business owners/leaders who need to pivot quickly during this time. On our call, I’ll give you a few quick, immediately actionable steps to get your team working remotely now. And, when this all blows over, we’ll dive deeper into your long-term success strategy and contingency plan as it pertains to digital so you can build a solid foundation for the future.