Gloria Estefan was right - the rhythm IS going to get you.
Companies must rethink the rhythm of their business to successfully navigate the impacts of COVID-19. Over the last few weeks, many organizations have swiftly moved to a remote work model due to the rapid spread of COVID-19. There have been numerous articles published offering tips and tricks to maximize the value delivered by large swaths of employees now working from home. The articles include best practices in areas like utilization of collaboration and knowledge management platforms, improving VPN bandwidth, and maintaining employee engagement levels. All of these insights are important and should be fully contemplated as employees shift to a decentralized work model for the foreseeable future.
Unfortunately, there is one major change that I do not see authors or companies discussing widely as of yet. There is a fundamental shift that needs to happen to the rhythm of the business for organizations to find success in our new business reality. Past transitions to remote work models created distinct changes, but generally did not impact the foundational cadence of how a business operated. Employees still followed the normal routines and tempo of the business, just from various locations (and sometimes in their pajamas). What’s different about what we are experiencing today is that employees are working from different locations AND dealing with dramatically increased demands in their personal lives. Working parents are having to juggle oversight of their kids' online curriculum (or provide entertainment during an extended Spring Break) while attempting to meet the daily commitments of their job. Individuals are having to produce the same results that they historically delivered from 8 AM to 5 PM while caring for a quarantined family member or friend. Employees are being asked to apply their full focus to successfully navigate a chaotic business landscape while trying to absorb major threats to their mental, physical, and financial health.
I wish successfully navigating COVID-19 was as easy as just having everyone work from home for the next several months. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. To make it through this current challenge, companies must throw out many of the norms that have for years shaped the rhythms of their daily routines. Organizations must embrace new ways of operating that previously may have been considered sacrilege. Ideas like:
1. Take a page from how global teams operate and apply it to your domestic teams.
Organizations could embrace a two-shift work model where some employees work from 6 AM to 2 PM, while others work from 12 PM to 8 PM. This would give working parents the opportunity to allocate specific blocks of time to attend to their work commitments and their kids’ academic needs. The transition period from 12 PM to 2 PM would provide an opportunity for connection across all team members. Yes, this transition period would likely be chaotic, but it would provide at least some time for real-time collaboration and knowledge sharing.
2. Distribute decision authority to the lowest possible level.
This idea eliminates the need for "manager approval" to the fullest extent possible. The suggestion may seem obvious, but the strong economy over the last 10 years provided an opportunity for lax management practices to sneak back into many organizations. A greater distribution of decision authority would allow employees to work in an asynchronous manner and would decrease the number of instances when an employee is in a holding pattern waiting for a decision from someone else. Allowing individuals to spread their normal work day over a wider time frame (say 6 AM to 9 PM) will provide employees with the flexibility needed to pause their work efforts at different points in the day to care for someone else or engage with their kids.
3. Forget about traditional boundaries between organizations.
Immediately start working with your customers, suppliers, and partners to establish a new, shared rhythm to your collective businesses.Many companies currently execute work in internal silos, then hand-off artifacts to a customer or partner to complete their own work activities. This approach creates a rhythm that is inefficient in the best of times and potentially catastrophic in our current reality. Organizations should seriously consider immediately establishing cross-company teams that are charged with enabling collective health and success. If you hunker down now and focus internally only, you're leaving opportunity on the table. Here’s the reality - if your customers, suppliers, or partners aren’t successful, you won’t be either. It is time work together on a new shared rhythm.
There is no silver bullet to mitigate the business impacts of COVID-19 and the ideas above are just three approaches to consider. To enable your employees and business to better adapt in the immediate-term, take time now to consider how the rhythm of your business needs to change to align with our collective new realities. And feel free to throw on some Miami Sound Machine tunes as the soundtrack to your new organizational cadence.