Are you stuck in work from home mode due to Coronavirus? It is the new plague. Everything is changing; nothing will be the same. Okay, maybe that is slightly melodramatic. Be that as it may, we are living in historic days. What is particularly interesting to see is how the workforce is responding to the challenges that accompany global pandemic. Everyone who is not considered a part of the essential goods and services workforce must stay home and figure out how to deal with the economic consequences of that later.
Many schools and businesses have moved all or part of their operations to online. While there are many job functions that cannot be performed remotely, there are many people performing their jobs remotely who until now have been told that they cannot, and yet here we are. Suddenly we find ourselves in the midst of the need to work in an alternative workspace, that is to say outside of the traditional office, and that we are more than capable of doing so.
There is a missing, critical piece for the long-term sustainability of this new working from home culture: business process. COVID-19 will fade into the pages of history, but not without altering the course of history. In the business world, this means that the alternative workspace is here to stay whether we like it or not, and well-defined and enforced business process is critical for maintaining a productive, well-connected virtual office.
Working From Home
Working from home has been an item on the docket of discussion among management theorists for years. Articles such as The 10 Best Jobs Working From Home are a dime a dozen. Everyone wants to work from home. IT shops are already growing accustomed to the practice, commonly allowing workers to work from home a few days a week or to only be present at the office for important meetings. As technology continuously matures, the need for a traditional office environment diminishes every day. Now we humans are dealing with the novel COVID-19 virus.
Universities are going to a completely online model of classes to finish the spring 2020 semester, state agency offices are vacant, and tv personalities are running talk shows from their living rooms on national television. Any job that requires network access is being done remotely. Yet, managers have been saying for years that we cannot work from home because they need people in the office.
Under the dictatorship of Corona, they are discovering that we are quite adept at doing our jobs remotely – the same jobs that we are not supposed to be capable of doing away from our cubicle. The standard workspace is changing, and it will never be the same.
Business Process & Long Distance Collaboration
There is one critical piece that makes the difference between business continuity and long-term sustainability. That piece is well defined and enforceable business process. Without the support of process definition and enforcement alternative workspace cannot be a sustainable working environment. Offices have traditionally been designed for people to do work individually while dependent upon the close proximity of coworkers. Now we have Zoom, SharePoint, and any number of remote desktop connection applications that support distance-based collaboration. Still, companies fear that by going to a completely remote workforce, the quality of work will be substandard. Why? Work is a process, and your work relies on the work of others to complete the process. When work becomes location independent, managers have less control over the introduction of process variation causing the quality of work and productivity to plummet.
Consider the following tasks that are essential to your everyday business operations:
Signature based approvals
Paid time off requests
Salary and promotion changes
This is not a comprehensive list by any stretch of the imagination. All of these, however, are examples of business processes that can benefit from process definition and enforcement. Without it, they become the source of operational bottlenecks. The benefits of removing process variation through automation result in transparency, accountability, increased quality and productivity, reduced stress, and the right kind of flexibility to allow for the alternative workspace to be effectively incorporated into your organization’s standard operations.
A Strategic Issue
Our eyes have been opened by the COVID-19 virus to see the reality that our jobs can be performed well from outside of the office. As this chapter of life closes and we continue on to whatever the new normal may be, managers are simply not going to be able to justify the necessity of a cubicle farm and a room full of employees the way that they could before the virus in most cases.
The truth is that it was not necessary before world-wide pandemic, but the fear of change kept businesses operating the way they always have been. Things have changed. Now that a large corporate office has proven to be optional in the grand scheme of things, office space is going to become more collaboration focused. The workday will become more task oriented than time oriented. Alternative workspace will be the new normal for many work roles that traditionally have been tethered to the office. Companies that do not follow the new normal will lose their high-quality workforce.
This is a strategic issue that corporations need to be considering now. The implications for employee morale, efficiency, and even the cost of maintaining workspace are huge, but without the proper systems to support productive alternative workspace and remove process variation, the necessary move away from the traditional office environment is not a long-term sustainable option.
Eventually, this virus will leave, or it will become a normal part of life and will not be so scary anymore. Some of the new practices will stay. This could be a good thing. Families are spending more time together, people seem to be more thankful for the provision of basic necessities, and traffic is not nearly as intense as it was just a few months ago.
Alternative workspace continues these benefits even after the virus is no longer a threat. Working from home is more possible now than ever before, but we must have well-defined, enforceable business process, or working from home will not work.
One thing is for certain, the workforce will not be the same. Executives are in a position now where they have to deal with this as a strategic issue, not just a tactical issue. To answer their implied question, yes, you really can work from home, and with the help of great business process, alternative workspace becomes a strategic solution that is sustainable long-term and is mutually beneficial for everyone involved.