Contributed by Ashley Wilson
The COVID-19 pandemic had an incredible impact on how we work and live.
There’s no arguing that throughout 2020, countless consumer and business trends had to evolve at an increasingly rapid pace. Your customers were forced to return home, reducing their interactions with friends, families, and sales teams alike.
Business leaders, simultaneously, had to close the doors to the standard stores and office environments. The search for new, digital ways to communicate and thrive quickly became the primary concern of any organization.
For many businesses, it’s not just the workspace landscape that changed but also how employees operate, too. Your team members – the most valuable resource you have – suddenly had to begin working from home, using new methodology and processes. Even as some organizations return to the office, it’s important that we take the opportunity to learn from the lessons that the pandemic brought.
1. Have a Plan B
For years now, many companies have been looking beyond the standard brick-and-mortar landscape as a way to interact with customers and generate additional sales.
However, in 2020, we discovered that having a “plan B” to shift to the online world isn’t just a way to open up new avenues for revenue.
Being ready to move online with an ecommerce store, a cloud-based work environment, and other essential tools allows for a better business continuity level.
For instance, start by asking yourself what kind of things you and your team would need access to if you couldn’t attend the office for any reason. Do you need an online store to sell to customers digitally or an app where they can shop from their phone?
If you deliver services to your customers, can you interact with them through video conferencing tools rather than relying exclusively on in-person demonstrations?
How will your staff members continue to work together in an environment where there are no shared offices? Can you introduce collaboration tools for messaging and file-sharing functionality?
What about everyday productivity? Is there an option to deliver the software your employees need over the cloud?
Having a plan in mind for how you can transition more rapidly to the digital environment will protect you from potential issues and help you stay ahead of the competition, too.
2. Know How to Transition Employees to Remote Work
Remote work was a growing trend before the COVID pandemic hit. Even when employees could safely travel to the office every day, they were often wasting time on extensive commutes and exhausting processes.
Transitioning employees to remote work in this new landscape could be a crucial step forward for many businesses who want to be prepared for anything. The studies consistently show that most employees prefer to have the option to work remotely at least some of the time if possible.
Additionally, having a remote team can also save your organization a lot of money. Rolling out access to software over the cloud, rather than individually buying hardware for each of your employees is great for budgeting.
Remote workers are also less expensive from a real-estate perspective. The overheads to keep remote workers productive are much lower than the costs associated with a traditional workforce.
Making the shift to remote work will also help your company keep employees safe from further outbreaks and wellness issues.
Historically, studies prove that around 57% of team members come to work when they’re sick.
In the past, staff members have continued to go to work even when unwell for fear of losing crucial income. However, the option to work from home instead could reduce the strain on the workforce and keep these unsafe practices at bay.
3. Train Your Employees With the Right Strategies
Regular training is one of the most important parts of running a successful workplace. The more you train your team members, the more confident and efficient they will become in their roles.
More importantly, today’s employees say that access to additional training opportunities is one of the most important benefits they look for when searching for reasons to stick with an employer.
Over the last year, there’s no doubt that you’ve already had to invest in some new training initiatives for your team members. The influx of digital workplace processes has led to many companies learning how to use collaboration tools and online meeting services for the first time.
It’s important to train your team members to manage their time using these online tools. According to John Baird, co-founder of Velocity Group and author of the upcoming book, Leading from the Heart, “Many employees are struggling from a COVID-induced digital addiction, where the line between online and offline is becoming increasingly thin.”
Stopping companies from enabling their employees’ work technology addiction is all about trust. John notes, “Great executives are cultivating a cycle of trust between managers and their teams to empower employees to get more done without burning out. This entails eliminating the notion that if an employee isn’t on a Zoom call, they are not working.”
However, it’s also important to think beyond the technology that you need to train your employees in too. For instance, how can you ensure all of your team members know how to remain safe and keep the business free of threats in the years to come?
COVID-19 demonstrated that many companies simply don’t have the right strategies in place to mitigate the spread of illness. Open-plan offices and cluttered spaces could make the chances of infection even greater.
As environments around the world continue to focus on things like social distancing and exceptional hygiene to reduce ailments, make sure that your employees know and implement the right safety practices when at work.
4. Update the Office
Most experts agree that even when the threat of the pandemic dies down and vaccinations are available, the workplace won’t return to what it was before. Companies will want to avoid going back to more expensive ways of working that required everyone to be in the office.
Even if some traditional workplace strategies return, we’re likely to see a world of “hybrid” work styles.
In this new environment, employees will need to be able to access the same tools both in the office and from home.
Additionally, different worker styles will also need to work conveniently together through things like video conferencing systems, digital whiteboards, easy file sharing systems, and online fax services.
Employees and business leaders will also need training on how to organize and maintain the office. The standard workplace environment will need to be kept clean, with extra practices used to reduce the spread of germs. Hand sanitizer stations will become more common, while office spaces will spread out, allowing for less cluttered collaboration between team members.
The open-plan office that had previously been met with some controversy will likely become a thing of the past in a world where everyone needs to stay carefully separated.
Teams that haven’t updated their office environment in a while to adapt to new cleanliness, space, and collaboration demands may need to make the change before the official “return to the office” can begin.
5. Protect Your Assets
Keeping your workplace safe in the era of life after COVID-19 isn’t just about updating and improving hygiene practices. Companies will need to think about the new security and data threats they might face in this current landscape.
If your agents will be logging into essential tools and services from various locations, how can you make sure that they keep your networks secure? Do your high-performing teams know how to spot a phishing attempt or protect themselves from a potential hack? Do they understand the best practice concepts of sharing and securing data online?
Better training to ensure your employees are prepared for the challenges 0f the digital world is a good first step.
However, you’ll also need to have business continuity and disaster recovery strategies in place – in case the worst should happen. Business data is always at risk when employees don’t have the right security mechanisms to work from home.
Even in a relatively well-protected environment, you still need a back-up system in place to ensure that your workforce can continue to thrive if disaster strikes. Make sure that your employees know how to respond and who they need to reach out to first if they notice any issues with data breaches or security problems.
6. Strengthen Communication
Finally, for companies to remain productive and efficient in any environment, good communication is a must. Your employees need to be able to connect with each other on platforms that best suit them and reach important supervisors and managers when they need additional help.
Think about how your communications strategy works now. Do you have a way to automatically connect with all employees and notify them of a problem?
In the age of the new workplace, we’re quickly discovering that phone calls and emails may not be the most efficient way to communicate. It might be a better idea to invest in instant messaging tools and SMS notifications that can immediately reach out to employees in case of an emergency.
Ask your employees how they prefer to communicate and build your strategy around this. Once you’ve found a communication system that seems to work for everyone in your team, put it to the test before you need to use it.
This will help reduce your risk of encountering such problems as team members not having enough bandwidth at home to handle video conferencing applications or certain employees not knowing how to use file-sharing services.
7. Simplify Approvals and Decision-Making
A new way of working might also call for more lenience and independence for your employees. If you or your team leader are not available to authorize every small step, such delays could impact the client satisfaction or the quality of work your employees provide.
For instance, you can authorize sales team members to offer a specific amount of discounts without your approval. That way, they don’t risk losing a customer over a discount that might seem insignificant in comparison to missing out on more revenue through a closed deal.
The simpler and shorter the decision-making processes, the better chances you have of business continuing uninterrupted should you be prevented to intervene at every step of the way.
2020 was a painful time for consumers and companies alike. However, it was also a wake-up call for many of us – demonstrating how unprepared we are for things like the inability to access the office or a switch to a mostly digital landscape. If you didn’t have a crisis plan in place before the events of 2020, now might be the perfect time to change all that.
Look back at how the crisis has influenced your business and what steps you need to take to prevent similar issues from affecting you again. How can you keep your employees and your customers safe in any environment while maintaining ongoing sales?
Sit down with your team and identify the areas you consider most vulnerable should the world come to a standstill once again. Then start making sure that you’re prepared for anything.