Many businesses have found themselves faced with an urgent need to create an emergency remote worker plan to mitigate the spread of the disease in the workforce. By allowing staff to work from home, it’s reported that there can be less chance of the disease spreading in the workplace or bringing it home from work.
With COVID-19 rampaging its way through communities in the United States, the WHO declared the situation a global pandemic on March 11th. Unfortunately, the only proven method to stop the spread of the virus is social distancing and the closure of non-essential services, such as grocers and hospitals.
And now having President Trump declaring the spread of COVID-19 a national emergency, we can expect that forced shutdowns of businesses across the country are soon to follow. It’s time for companies to be proactive and get on top of the situation before it starts to affect the growth and bottom line of companies across the United States.
However, time is running out for some companies to put process and systems in place that allow for remote work to be productive. Even if they already have a remote workforce solution in place, it may not have been designed to scale at the rate and volume they need now. It seems a lot of companies had Future of Work initiatives on the executive agenda and now it’s become priority #1 overnight.
The Advantages of Technology
The last time the world faced a global pandemic, was with the Spanish Flu in 1918. The disease got its moniker due to the Spanish being the only government transparently reporting on the spread of the virus.
Eventually, the death toll of the Spanish Flu ended at between 20 to 50-million deaths. The similarity between the Spanish Flu and COVID-19 is that it swept through a world that was unable to handle the pathogen, with no vaccines available to stop the community spread of the disease.
Today, we live in far more crowded conditions compared to those in 1918. Social distancing and self-isolation are the only proven strategies to reduce the spread of the disease in the population, and that’s challenging in a world that has 10-times the number of people it did 100-years ago.
Add the complexities of human travel on planes, trains, and other forms of public transportation, and you have a recipe for a fast-spreading disease to create a pandemic.
However, 100-years ago, there was no internet. Today’s communications allow us to keep in touch with each other, regardless of our location on the planet. Technology offers businesses a saving grace in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic that could cripple the global economy.
Organizations can rely on technology solutions and a digital workplace to complete many of the core business functions that keep companies going.
What Are Your Priorities?
When planning and assessing a strategy for remote work, employers need to create a balancing act that fulfills two objectives.
The first objective should be to ensure the safety and health of all employees. The second is to cut back on employees in the workplace, but not to the extent that it jeopardizes key business functions.
Those businesses that focus on keeping the doors open at the risk of endangering employee health will discover that employees decrease engagement, and view their employee experience as a negative outcome, reducing your employer brand.
However, cutting back on staff too far might cause the failure of the business.
Organizations need to find the right balance between the two priorities involved in managing the situation.
Planning and Implementing a Remote Worker Plan
With the current state of the pandemic, organizations need to take a proactive approach to the situation. Every moment counts, and the future of the business environment remains uncertain. Therefore, companies don’t have the luxury of planning their remote work response.
Instead, managers and executives need to plan and implement at the same time, speeding up the pace of execution of the remote strategy. The sooner you can reduce risk to your employees, and your business, the better.
However, when implementing the plan, management needs to consider all of the components before they issue directives to the workforce. Here are a few critical considerations involved in the planning process.
People Before Profit
Your employees are the most valuable resource of your business. Think about the time and investment companies make in training and developing the workforce. Putting this human capital at risk is unnecessary into days’ digital workplace.
Keeping employees at work without reason when they can do their job from home is a great way to ruin an employer brand. That’s a steadfast rule for most companies in any business environment, but it becomes critical in the face of the current situation.
Your workforce looks to the leadership for direction. If you have a plan, it develops confidence in your employees. A lack of preparation and understanding of the situation may cause descent and uncertainty in your employees.
Companies need to figure out how they can support employees during the current working conditions. It’s tempting for businesses to focus on profits over people. However, it’s a foolhardy strategy, and decisions that put the company ahead of the people will have a disastrous effect on your workforce.
Form a Command Center for Operations
Organizations need to centralize the management of the crisis as it pertains to the current business environment and the company operations.
Managers must select a team of key stakeholders responsible for the monitoring and distribution of information throughout the organization. Information is key to the successful navigation of the current business climate in the face of a growing pandemic.
Fortunately, technology solutions make it easy for everyone in the organization to stay on top of any recent developments to the company operations. However, the command team needs to keep a tight rein on the type of information flowing into the organization from internal and external sources.
The fastest way to create panic among your employees is to let unofficial rumors surface regarding the health of the company or the workforce. By maintaining a transparent environment of information awareness, company’s keep the trust of the workforce.
Planning for the Possibility of Remote Work
Unfortunately, the pandemic is showing no signs of slowing down. Leading experts in epidemiology are still uncertain of the way things will pan out for the world, and the global economy.
It’s challenging to make business decisions in an uncertain climate, but tough choices require immediate action before they snowball.
Companies need to acknowledge that there is a significant possibility that the entire economy may face a shutdown in all sectors of business that aren’t critical to the management and survival of communities.
If we look at the situation in China, which is supposedly under control, then we can see where things are going in the United States. In China, the only way to stop the spread of COVID-19 was through the implementation of social isolation and the complete shutdown of all economic activity.
The reality is that most companies only have enough cash flow to get them through two to three months of an industry-wide shutdown. Those organizations that don’t have a plan in place will find themselves holding the bag when forced nationwide closures become a reality.
By preparing your workforce for remote work, you prepare your company to weather the storm and remain afloat throughout the pandemic.
Preparing Operations for Remote Work
With all of the above-mentioned in mind, organizations must map a plan allowing for the implementation of a remote workforce. It’s a challenging exercise, but thanks to the advent of technology – it’s a possibility that wasn’t available to business just a few decades ago.
Here is a six-step plan that organizations can follow to create a successful remote work experience for employees.
1. Map out the Job Descriptions Affected by the Situation
HR needs to sit down with management and map out every position in the company. Pull up the job description and duties of each employee function, and examine them for suitability for remote work.
HR needs to look at implementing tech solutions that assist employees with removing themselves from the workplace wherever possible.
2. Analyze Software Solutions for the Digital Workplace
After mapping out all of the employee positions, and identifying potential candidates for remote work, look for tech solutions. The advances of the digital workplace make it possible to remove many jobs from physical work locations.
HR and management need to sit down and identify tech solutions that benefit the employee experience while allowing the company to operate through remote systems.
Identifying the right solutions might require the use of specialist consultants that can speed up the pace of implementation when companies decide to go live with the strategy.
3. Establish Communications Protocol
The most significant leap in technology is the advancement of communications. Communication is the driving force of businesses, and without it, companies are adrift in an ocean without a sail. Fortunately, the introduction of specialist communication tools for business overcomes many of the challenges associated with remote work.
Communication tools like Skype and instant messaging make it easy for employees to find the resources they need in a virtual environment. Collaboration tools keep teams informed and working together to achieve project goals and business directives.
4. Gather and Review Data Quickly
Data is the fuel of business. With the right management of data flows, companies can navigate the complexities of a constrained business environment.
Organizations need to control the flow of information through the command center, ensuring that they remain transparent with all information traveling through official channels. In this environment, companies need to be quick to act on decisions.
Staying informed and up-to-date on all aspects of the business ensures that you stay ahead of any information that might disrupt operations.
5. Run Simulations to Understand the Impact on the Organization
An ounce of preparation is better than a pound of cure – How many times have you heard this adage in the past? The reality is that this saying holds plenty of truth. Preparing your organization for potential progression in the severity of business lockdowns across the country keeps you ahead of the game.
By running simulations on how supply-chain disruptions could impact the business, managers, and HR can understand how to identify solutions to these problems before they arise. A simulated disaster strategy might sound overwhelming, but it’s a challenge that many companies could have to face in the future.
By planning for any disruptions, you keep employee confidence high as you navigate the uncertainty in the business climate.
6. Contact and Strengthen Supplier Relationships and Vulnerabilities
Since the majority of manufacturing now occurs outside of US borders, organizations need to prepare for the impact of disruptions on the supply chain. Companies need to stay ahead of the curve to survive. Contact suppliers, and reaffirm your commitments to each other.
Assess all of the weaknesses in the company. Look for problems that could occur with supply chain disruptions, and then run them through the simulation.
Organizations that identify severe bottlenecks and disruptions in the supply chain need to make a pre-emptive plan to counter these issues before they arise.
Know the Limits
Management needs to know the limits of the organization’s human capital and its balance sheet before undertaking a remote work strategy.
Finance need to collaborate with HR, IT, and the workforce to understanding the costs of transitioning to a remote work environment.
As mentioned, many companies don’t have the cash flow to handle a shutdown. Working the finances to include tech solutions that drive remote work is a productive use of capital as we move into the digital age.
Wrapping Up – Keep Calm and Prepare
Above all, organizations need to realize that hope is not a strategy in this business environment. It’s only through taking proactive measures before situations occur, that management can stay dynamic and fluid in a constrictive market.
Creating an employee remote worker plan needs to be at the forefront of every organization’s agenda as we move deeper into the uncharted territory of the first pandemic of the new millennium.
Those companies that manage to successfully implement a digital strategy that allows employees to work remotely will be the organizations that thrive in the face of a downturn in economic conditions.
There is no doubt that the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020 will change the way we do work forever. Organizations that embrace this change will be the companies that capitalize on a shift in the workplace environment.