Working at Home Today — and Tomorrow

With restrictions on movement and social distancing measures in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19, I, like many others, have been working at home. I have worked from home before, when I didn’t feel up to par, when I have needed to be at home to get a delivery or let in a worker. Because it is not new to me, it was not difficult to shift my work operations into my home office for the coronavirus pandemic.

Remote working

In our company, we have many people who typically work from home, and some who travel a lot for their jobs. This is probably true in most companies with a field sales force. Long ago, this segment of our workforce had put the tools in place to access the information that they need from our corporate systems. And, of course, when on the road, they often utilize their mobile devices not only for communication, but for other tasks such as expense capture.

Many of my friends without a home office setup have spent these weeks working off of their laptops, which is doable, but for a longer term, not as comfortable as using a full keyboard and large screen monitor. That is just the hardware. What is most critical is the software and having access to the data you need to make “working from where you are” a successful model.

Realizing shortfalls and more

As a provider of content management services, we have been speaking to public and private companies for years, imploring them to revamp their operations to become more efficient with digital processes, automated workflows and safely storing their information digitally, so access can be offered easily – and from any location. Aside from the value of being able to quickly conduct searches for information, we tell companies that unforeseen disasters such as a hurricane, wildfire, tornado or flood could wipe out their records. These natural disasters provide very little notice for personal safety, never mind business records safety.

“We need to be spending money on technology because so much work can be done from home.  We have learned, we don’t need this massive building with HVAC issues, electrical costs — we need technology. So, in other words … the virus is going to change municipal life, not for just a little while, but maybe permanently. I believe it absolutely shall.  Perhaps, the way we do business and deliver government services shall be changed forever.”  

The New Yorker Radio Hour, in conversation with Marian Orr, Mayor of Cheyenne, WY and Host David Remnick, May 15, 2020.

The bottom line is, you have to plan for the future. You will not be successful trying to save your business from a far-reaching disaster at the time of the disaster. Today, many businesses and government entities have now seen the light and realize they HAVE TO make some changes.

Enter an unforeseen disaster: COVID-19

Businesses that jumped on digital transformation have been much better equipped to deal with the sudden work-from-home orders we have all faced across the nation. They understood that their businesses were not efficient with paper-based operations, but most importantly, by digitally transforming, they made it easier for everyone to have access to data. Some examples include staff that perform the following functions:

  • Process invoices
  • Create financial reports
  • Manage records and archives
  • Respond to constituent requests
  • Manage town meeting agendas
  • Handle FOIA requests
  • Search for records

In my own company, we recognize that any way to make a process more efficient is a win for the staff working on the process and for the entire company. We recently put a digital workflow in place to streamline tax document requests. The new process automatically prioritized requests, sending status alerts to the requestors and enabling the employees working on the requests to find what they needed, in minutes versus hours, via a keyword search. No more digging through boxes in the basement.

The lesson here is, no process is too small to change the work life for an employee struggling with manual processes, redundancies, inefficiencies and frustrations. I always say that if an exasperated person utters “there’s got to be a better way,” there probably is.

A pandemic drives change

These are individual processes within a company’s ecosystem. Truly, the desire for change has to be a decision made at the top. I’ve blogged before about a Growth Mindset and data scientists, and the critical role these two concepts have in digitally transforming companies. The Growth Mindset is needed so the leadership is open to new things to move forward. The data scientists, because they are not just business analysts – they are translators and enablers.  Recognizing that digital transformation takes time and may require new types of workers – also needs to be considered.

“Build data and tech enablers to support your transformation
Technical enablers play a key role in powering digital and analytics growth … . These enablers … should follow the same agile timelines and sprints as the core initiatives. Implementation should be pragmatic and clearly linked to value generation.”

—  McKinsey & Company, “Fashion’s Digital Transformation,” 

Companies are even finding out now that their Return to Work (RTW) strategy does not integrate with their current systems for saving screening information, handling their reporting and enabling the human resources department to do the employee tracking and contact tracing that they want to do. The coronavirus truly shed light on the many ways companies have to rethink their operations.

The next normal

We do not know our new normal, but we do know our next normal. Before we have a vaccine and inoculate the population, some people will continue to work from home and some people will return to work. There are too many small, service and hospitality businesses in the U.S. that require face-to-face contact and in-person needs of the population to remain closed while we wait. Their challenge, along with everyone else, is to open and operate safely.

Businesses will create a RTW protocol that incorporates CDC guidelines and follows its suggestions on how to prevent and reduce transmission among employees, including:

  • Actively encouraging sick employees to stay home
  • Conducting daily in-person or virtual health checks
  • Taking action if an employee is suspected or confirmed to have COVID-19 infections
  • Conducting a hazard assessment of the workplace
  • Encouraging employees to wear cloth face coverings in the workplace, if appropriate
  • Implementing policies and practices for social distancing in the workplace
  • Improving the building ventilation system

 I think we will see many businesses reflecting on their shortcomings with business operations and processes during the pandemic and with their RTW strategy. And, we will see more interest in digital transformation.

In an article titled The Restart in May 2020, McKinsey & Company outlined three priority actions that must be launched on the technology front: Accelerate digital transformation, improve data-driven decision making and data availability, and rethink the portfolio of IT projects and technology spending.

Sometimes it takes a personal experience before someone can envision a proposed solution. Never mind a dramatic experience like a pandemic. It is never too late to start assessing business needs for the immediate term and building a roadmap for the future. Since it is uncertain how long we will be dealing with the threat of COVID-19, and understanding if this will be a re-occurring threat along the lines of a seasonal flu, it is imperative to act now and address how we can transform our businesses to be ready to adapt to that new normal.

Joanne Novak is a program manager at Konica Minolta Business Solutions U.S.A., Inc. and is responsible for program development with the company’s Business Intelligence groups, including the Intelligent Information Management (IIM) practice. Her responsibilities are to build sales and customer-facing educational and thought leadership insights as well as strategic initiatives for IIM.