Winston Churchill famously said, “those that fail to learn from history, are doomed to repeat it.” When it comes to the COVID-19 pandemic there are plenty of lessons for every global industry from health, to finance, to manufacturing.
From the corporate office environment, there are a few learnings that stand out for us (so far):
When remote working became the new way of life, many companies scrambled to transition their operations. For companies who haven’t paid much attention to internal communications aside from a quarterly newsletter, effective communication became a serious obstacle.
We’re not just talking about finding the right videoconferencing software, but the greater task of engaging employees and allowing a collaborative environment in a remote setting.
In talking to our clients, we found that they have transformed their intranets into central spaces for engagement and information-sharing. From recipes to remote-working guidelines, they found that having a hub where they could all come together, albeit virtually, was a great tool in keeping the workforce connected.
In a recent survey by the Institute of Internal Communication, 83% of internal communication professionals said that their communications around COVID-19 have positively impacted employees’ trust in workplace communication. If there ever was a time to invest in communication infrastructure to empower the remote workforce, it is now.
The sudden transition of asking entire workforces across countries to work from home is unprecedented, affecting startups to global conglomerates alike.
In an interview about remote work, Harvard Business School professor and consultant on managing dispersed teams, Tsedal Neeley, frames the situation succinctly:
“If there’s a tiny positive aspect to this mess we’re finding ourselves in, it’s that we’re developing certain skills that could helpful in the future.”
Mass remote working is an opportunity to learn new skills and expand as an organization. When the crisis is over, it doesn’t mean that central offices would be a thing of the past, but rather that companies would now have experience operating in a new and different way.
Central offices are a by-product of the industrial revolution, in having all workers congregating in one place for eight or more hours. Modern working doesn’t always require physical presence, and flexible arrangements are found to lead to higher engagement and productivity.
“Companies that truly practice asynchronous communication have stepped out of the industrial revolution, and no longer conflate presence with productivity, or hours with output, as one might on the factory floor.” – Steve Glaveski, author and entrepreneur
In the bigger picture, the forced transformation to remote work is a chance to innovate workplaces and operations to reflect modern society. No one is quite sure what that future looks like, but it’s definitely not the time not to experiment with new approaches. If you need some extra resources, here are some ideas to engage remote employees.
In an interview about applying past leadership experiences to the Coronavirus pandemic, Jeff Cava, former chief of human resources of both Nike and Starwood Hotels and Resorts and former executive president of Wendy’s said:
“People depend upon our statements as leaders and often plan important decisions based on the information we give them. To make a commitment of that importance and then not follow through destroys the trust that we strive to create with our associates.”
He emphasized the importance of transparency from an executive level, all the way down to hourly workers not only to inform employees but to guide them through the crisis.
This importance of trust and transparency during times of crisis is also seen in the findings of the Edelman Trust Barometer special report on brand trust and the Coronavirus pandemic. It found that brands are a key source of information during the crisis, with 84% of respondents saying they want brands to be a reliable news source, giving solutions instead of selling products.
This is an incredibly important responsibility that sits on a brand’s shoulders, to communicate in an informative and empathetic way both internally and externally. Within Edelman’s findings specifically in Canada, 81% of respondents said that their key deciding factor in buying is to be able to trust a brand to do what is right.
Have you been doing the morally right thing? Or followed the path of profit? If the latter, you might need to reconsider your approach.
Want to use a whiteboard to brainstorm with your remote team? There’s Miro. Can’t use the office landline while stuck at home? There’s RingCentral. If you need a tool that you think only exists in the office, we’re here to tell you that there’s a software or app for that.
If ever there was ever a time for a digital transformation, it is now. Aside from the thousands of tools and platforms you could test and try (talk about being a kid in a candy shop!) the crisis has also led to a sudden wave of innovation within the software industry.
Just within our own company, we launched an internal communications platform, Reach, three months before our target. Not only that, but we also opened the platform for free for any organization in North America throughout the COVID-19 crisis.
Economists, researchers, politicians and all sorts of thought leaders have made a recurring statement throughout the crisis: “There’s no going back to how things were, we’re heading into a new normal.” Embrace that idea and use this time to innovate and explore new ways of doing business.