Adaptability in Times of Change: How Your Firm Can Thrive While Working From Home

  • Brooke Mustain

COVID-19 has brought hardship for people around the globe, unfolding at a rapid rate. For many businesses, government mandates have forced them to work remotely. Companies across the world are asking the same question: how do we adjust to a WFH environment and what can we do to come out of this successfully?

Last week, AlphaSights hosted an AlphaView with Cheryl Cran, the Founder of NextMapping, to discuss our new Work From Home (WFH) reality, tips for success, and future implications. Cheryl currently works with global F500 companies to develop organizational and leadership strategies that thrive within the fast-paced, technology-driven economy. Her experience in implementing strategies for workplace agility and change leadership led to an insightful discussion as the majority of companies pivot to a WFH model.

Though COVID-19 forced many companies into premature remote work environments, the shift to remote work began prior to the outbreak. Research shows that pre-COVID, about 30% of organizations had some sort of remote working already in place. Now, due to the virus, roughly 75%+ firms have shifted to working remotely. While that rate is expected to decrease post-COVID, it’s expected to remain at 50%, indicating that remote working is here to stay. Given this new reality, what can leaders and employees do to be successful? Here are a few top insights gleaned from Cheryl’s discussion about working from home on a large scale.

Immediate Prioritizations To Consider

If your firm has never had capacity to WFH in the past, you’ll immediately need to address two questions: 

1. How can you best equip your customers?

2. How can you best equip your employees?

It’s crucial to address tactical logistics related to WiFi access, equipment/services the company will pay for, the right tools and technologies to best support remote workers, etc. After the initial groundwork has been laid, give thought to the following questions:

1. What are creative ways to deal with our current reality? 

2. What are innovative customer solutions?

3. What does a successful remote worker at our organization look like?

4. What metrics, KPIs, and technology can be used to track productivity?

Remember: it’s far more effective to create than to ruminate.

Strategies for Change Leadership

Amidst anxious and uncertain times, leaders have an opportunity to inspire resiliency, adaptability, and optimism as they react to change. In order to level-up communication and provide a sense of stability, leaders must employ a high level of emotional intelligence.

There’s a direct correlation between the frequency of company-wide communication and employee trust in the organization. The companies who will come out strong once this crisis subsides are those who over-communicate to keep employees informed, unite them under one mission, and make it easy to understand what’s expected. Leaders must also communicate with other department leaders to determine their top priorities and identify opportunities for cross-collaboration.

“[Firms] can no longer afford to be siloed; those who are normally highly siloed will struggle more with a shift to remote work.” - Cheryl

Managers’ Role

On a smaller scale, managers have a crucial role to play in their team’s WFH success. Remote working requires a higher degree of coaching and empathy, requiring weekly 1:1s with every team member if possible to provide more human-to-human support. Because we’re in the midst of a global pandemic, people are going to react very differently. 

“Rather than judging employees’ performance purely on KPIs, I challenge you to heighten your humanity and compassion, checking in with your team to understand what they’re going through, what tools and resources they need to be successful, and ensure they’re in the best mental place they can be.” - Cheryl

When coaching, maintain as much human connectivity as possible. No matter the communication platform, set clear expectations for engagement. If you can video conference, all employees should be “camera ready,” which can be a common pitfall when working from home. The ability to see facial expressions and body language is crucial or else you risk miscommunication and lack the ability to hone in on what’s truly going on. Don’t attempt to coach via email or text — it’s not effective and won’t translate.

Adjustment Strategies for Employees

Personality and working styles vary greatly, so employees will adjust to working from home differently. Some will find the decrease in distractions and socializing lends to an increase in productivity and others will struggle with stress, anxiety, and new distractions.

When adjusting to remote work, reflect on your working style, self-discipline, and learn how to reduce distractions. For example, are you productive when jumping between projects and receiving constant texts, instant messages, and emails? If you are, great. If not, be sure to institute ‘Do Not Disturb’ hours to accomplish what you need to get done that day. Teams should communicate their preferences with each other to maximize productivity and understanding.

Measure your own productivity at the end of each day. Were you able to finish all that needed to be done? If not, what barriers got in your way? Did you take a longer lunch break than normal, or spend extra time doing house chores? Ask yourself honest questions to identify what’s hindering your productivity and seek ways to hold yourself more accountable.

Though we’re not together physically, that doesn’t mean social activities should stop. It’s still incredibly beneficial to set aside time for virtual happy hours or catch-ups to decompress, support each other, and have fun. Peer coaching tends to be a positive byproduct from meetings like these, which can be just as valuable as coaching from leaders.

Tracking and Measuring KPIs

First, ensure that your firm is aligned on appropriate performance parameters and communicate those to your employees. Below are a few different categories in which you can measure KPIs and performance:

  • • Traditional: number of leads, closed reports, conversions, customers served, client touchpoints, sales revenue generated, etc.

  • • AI-based: voice and facial recognition tools can evaluate how individuals interact with customers and customer satisfaction

  • • Internal, team-based: number of meetings/check-ins, pulse surveys to measure team sentiment, projects completed per team/per individual

  • • Individual, skills-based: level of self-discipline, communication effectiveness, commitment to continuous learning

Since we’re currently in an uncertain reality, it’s difficult for some companies to track long-term progress or set objectives. Priorities have changed and for some companies, such as Ford Motors, production outputs have pivoted. This means that how we measure progress will also shift. Consider seeking anecdotal evidence for productivity and use tools like 360 reviews to crowdsource performance metrics and reviews for employees.

Post-COVID Implications

Whether considered positive or negative, there’ll be several outcomes related to workplace dynamics, expectations, and talent that everyone should prepare for post-COVID.

1. A permanent shift to “Work from Anywhere” Mindset: with increased technological capabilities and a new generational mindset, remote working won’t go away after COVID-19. While people will always seek human connection, firms must provide remote options to retain talent. We’ll see an increase in live streaming and virtual event/meeting options in order to cater to people’s preferences.

“[About] 66% of Gen Zs would rather freelance or do contract work than work in a fulltime or part-time position with an organization. [In this instance], freelance equates to work from home, or work from anywhere, basically. What we've got front of us is the reality of the demographic impact that we've been talking about for quite some time.” - Cheryl

2. Talent Assessment: After businesses recover from COVID-19, highly-skilled remote workers will be in high demand and the firms who’ve effectively supported them during this time will succeed. This is also an opportunity for companies to identify who is and isn’t adding value in their roles. Remote working inherently causes the most valuable workers to rise to the top and conversely highlights who isn’t adding value.

3. Innovation and Inventions: We’re in somewhat of a renaissance right now. As a society, we tend to see some of our best inventions and innovations come from times of uncertainty and disruption. Research shows that with an open culture and feedback-oriented environment, employee frustration can fuel innovation.

*All stats and research cited in this blog post were taken from Cheryl Cran’s discussion during the AlphaView.

A special thank you to Mark Gomez, Founder and Principal Consultant of MG Insight, for facilitating this AlphaView on Working From Home with Cheryl. An AlphaView is a conference call hosted by an experienced moderator, featuring senior experts who discuss the latest themes and market trends across multiple industries. Complimentary transcripts are shared with all who register. To learn how to attend a future AlphaView, get in touch with your AlphaSights point of contact or contact us through our website.