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A Balanced Approach to Supporting Remote Workers

Introduction

I had originally planned to write this blog to convince business decision-makers about the benefits of/motivation for an intentional ACM (Adoption and Change Management) program for technology initiatives.  However, in our new reality of “social distancing”, the importance of user adoption of technology is abundantly obvious. Users (workers) now need to leverage technology for their job as both a health and business imperative across the world. We are all beginning to cope with a new normal and businesses want to carry on as best they can in a social distancing world.

As part of coping, businesses are now looking to enhance existing support for remote workers or, in many instances, stand up at least “bare-bones” remote working capabilities as quickly as possible. If you are in the latter camp, i.e., “bare-bones as soon as possible”, read on and I’ll mention some curated sources to get you going quickly. However, ThreeWill is encouraging our customers to take a balanced approach for supporting remote workers, i.e., recognize the need to deal with the short-term realities but at the same time contemplate and plan for the longer-term impacts that are coming. I’ll address both areas in this blog, and I encourage readers to look at the entire blog.

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The Short-Term

As Satya Nadella recently told Microsoft employees, “There is no playbook for this.” Organizations worldwide are scrambling to quickly convert to remote communication and collaboration models for “carrying on”. One example of this, cited by Nadella, was particularly impressive to me – a university in Italy “moved 90 percent of its courses for 80,000 students online to Teams within 3 days”. His mention of Microsoft Teams was particularly relevant because Teams is Microsoft’s flagship product for supporting integrated communication and collaboration for organizations (and teams) of all sizes and types.  For anyone unfamiliar with Teams, it provides an integrated capability for chat, calendaring, calls, web meetings, file sharing and a lot more for desktop and mobile platforms (or watch this simple 1-minute video for an explanation).

In the short period of time since our new remote working world became “real”, we’ve seen that some organizations were further along than others in providing remote working capability for their employees.  As I mentioned earlier, for those organizations that are early in the journey towards supporting a fully remote workforce, the main interest is in the quickest path to standing up a bare-bones capability.  I’ve included an “Up and Running Cheat Sheet” at the end of this blog for readers that need this information.

The Long-Term

Analysts have now started to hypothesize on the potentially lasting effects of the current mandated remote working environment. Larry Dignan with Zdnet summarizes the general sentiment by stating “Simply put, the coronavirus scare may just show us a better way to work. How enterprises navigate the coronavirus and changes to work will be telling. One thing is certain: The coronavirus is likely to mean the definition of business, as usual, will change.”

The reality is that not all jobs and certainly not all workers are well-suited to remote work. However, for workers with jobs that have quantifiable outputs, i.e., salespeople, writers, code developers, and many others, remote work arrangements can be nearly as good as (or in some cases better) than a traditional centralized office setting.  Consequently, after overcoming any short-term hurdles with a bare-bones remote working capability, businesses with these types of workers need to consider the broader impact of supporting a remote workforce in long term strategic planning. Multiple areas need to be considered, including:

  1. Identify key technologies to be implemented or “shored up”. For example, are governance and support systems robust enough to support a remote workforce? Do remote workers have access to all the resources they need to fulfill job responsibility? (See step 2 in the “Up and Running” cheat sheet below for specific governance guidance.)
  2. Revisit/revise policies in key areas, including telecommuting, remote access, VPN, disaster recovery & business continuity planning, and risk management.
  3. Provide guidance to remote workers on best practices for their home office environment, including internet bandwidth, equipment, and even office physical layout.
  4. Provide guidance to managers on effective techniques for managing a remote team. This includes both technology tools and communication styles for the remote team.
  5. Identify KPIs for worker productivity that can be evaluated on an ongoing basis to guide long term strategy.

Did you notice a common characteristic in the above suggestions?  I’m talking about the focus on “workers”, i.e., the human aspect of change…which brings me to my final point… technology alone will not allow businesses to adapt to emerging business challenges.

Future of work strategist, Heather McGowan recently posited that “…even as forward-thinking leaders have pondered effects of accelerated change on their organizations, actual transformation has been, paradoxically, slow.  That is, until now.” (3).  The main idea here is that while the pace of technology change has increased, the actual pace of human adaptation to harness that change has lagged.

“..while the pace of technology change has increased, the actual pace of human adaptation to harness that change has lagged.”

The Perfect Storm

Consideration of this point brings me back to how I started this blog, i.e., I had originally planned to persuade/convince business decision-makers about the value of ACM. As I mentioned earlier, the potential lasting impacts of a post-pandemic business environment will mean an even higher rate of technology change and technology literacy businesses will demand from their workers. It is the ability of these workers to utilize this technology that will deliver the ultimate value businesses will expect. This is the perfect storm that demands an increased focus on ACM. Why?

Put simply, ACM focuses on the human impact of change and it is this impact that most directly determines the value returned from technology investments. Through intentional ACM programs, we know our customers can improve the speed of technology adoption with their users, achieve broader utilization (buy-in) from users, and improve proficiency.  All of these outcomes drive the value returned for technology investments.

Multiple studies have shown the value returned by utilizing an intentional ACM approach.  In fact, the value proposition is “built-in” to ACM programs, since one of the key tenants of these programs is the identification and promotion of key performance indicators for the target deployment that drives value.

Conclusion and Getting “Up and Running”

So, regardless of the short term demands businesses face today, we are encouraging our customers to consider the long view on technology changes and bundle ACM programs with all of their technology initiatives (hint hint…steps 3 and 4 in the “Up and Running” cheat sheet below are typically a core part of ACM programs).  By the way…Microsoft happens to share this view and has redoubled its efforts to support partners that deliver ACM services to their customers.

Wherever you are with your journey to support remote workers and related technology roll-outs, we hope you will carefully consider concrete ways that you can drive user adoption.

Bob MorrisA Balanced Approach to Supporting Remote Workers

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