How COVID-19 is changing the way we work: Processes

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In a previous post (linked here) I discussed how the workplace is changing in the current climate from the perspective of People. In a future post I'll look at Technology, and here I’ll have a quick look at Processes.

II - Processes

We’ve all been on a video or conference call when everyone starts talking over each other. Certainly the Zoom meetings that we are now all joining with family and friends can go that way, and that’s often part of the fun.

But in the work environment, we’re recognizing that in order to get the most from a call we need to think a little about how we’re running the meeting. We can have a lot of fun and valuable connecting time while on video calls, but as I mentioned in the prior post there is a bandwidth issue on a video or conference call - only one conversation can be handled at once. So when running a meeting we need to be crisp when it comes to addressing not just the topic at hand but also the amount of side conversations, especially those which are truly valuable. Using the “raise hand” feature goes a long way to help this, and it is then up to the meeting organizer to think about how they are running the call. It’s no longer good enough to set a rough agenda and see how the conversation goes, allowing it to meander off-topic; instead, the meeting organizer has an even greater role in consciously running the call, and ensuring that everyone present recognizes the effort required to stay on track.

Meanwhile in regulated industries, we need to be sure that we continue to follow our control frameworks, and not get loose in how we manage risk and compliance issues. How much have these changed simply by having everyone remote? Hopefully not a great deal, but the need to remain operationally compliant and manage risk both remain, and policies and procedures may need to be adapted in order to remain at the correct risk posture. A review of security practices would be an important and pressing need in the coming weeks to ensure that companies haven’t introduced new risks or accidentally broken existing policies by working remotely, e.g, using home-based internet connections rather than VPN, or handling company communications and collaboration on a platform not previously approved. You may need to address whether these have been tight enough anyway - if you’re using, say Office365, do you enforce a process that all company-related instant messaging is handled through Outlook Web App/Lync, or are there important conversations taking place via native SMS texting on people’s mobile phones?

Regarding new risks - this was highlighted a few days ago when the UK government shared a screenshot of their first all-digital cabinet meeting. As with our own video calls, it was illuminating to see people’s home office setups - but it probably wasn’t a great idea to also show the Zoom Meeting ID. In the need to find new ways to work, we still need to be aware of how we might be impacting our normal processes. Has your CISO or compliance team signed off on whether your new tools allow for the right level of encryption, for example? And in the light of some of the recent stories concerning data security, how much of your corporate decision-making will now be shared with third-parties that you hadn’t previously considered? As a former colleague and CISO Randy Herold recently noted, “if you’re not paying for the app then you are the app” - perhaps fine for personal use but certainly raises flags at the enterprise level.

This situation also highlights the overall move to digital and surely removes any hesitation there - not just for individual digital transformation projects but in becoming a fully digital workplace. Replacing physical documents, physical signatures and our physical presence with e-signatures and video calls will surely accelerate even quicker and this will become the new normal. 

I’m reminded of an excellent book by General Stanley McChrystal, “Team Of Teams”. The subtitle of the book is “New Rules Of Engagement For A Complex World”. The book was published in 2015 and highlighted the way that US forces needed to re-align themselves into smaller distributed teams in order to deal with modern highly mobile terrorist networks, and drew a parallel to the way technology has changed the way work is performed today. The lessons from the book apply just as well to the current situation, too, as we adapt our work processes to our new remote status.

Will meeting culture die off? Or will it return as soon as it is able? I suspect there will be a hybrid, as some companies and cultures will return to their old ways as soon as they can and others will embrace the changes forced upon them, adopt the Team Of Teams lessons and be more nimble and dynamic as a result.

What about conferences? Hundreds of people, traveling to one location, for abbreviated conversations? The best networking was always the social aspect anyway - how will this look in 2021?

What about physical real estate? Not just corporate data centers - cloud providers have already seen the way to go - but corporate offices? And what about the WeWork model, already in difficulty? If these shared spaces provide a common area with beers in the refrigerator and a relaxed working environment - how would that compare to working from home, where the beers and relaxed environment are also available?

Onboarding new employees is something that will need to be refined too, I think. HR experts will figure out ways to onboard new staff effectively - I’m thinking less about provisioning equipment and access and more about quickly sharing the culture and direction of the organization.

And finally, as well as compliance, risk and your CISO having more to think about, any reasonably-sized company has now surely shone the spotlight on the DR/BCP function. Essentially, you’ve just enacted a part of your Business Continuity Plan, and are now operating under the assumption that your primary location(s) are unavailable. How has the last month been? Did you follow your existing DR/BCP plan to the letter? If so, well done. It's more likely that your BCP covered mission critical staff and processes being handled remotely for a limited period, but now you have had to pivot, and expand and address the need for your entire workforce to be remote, and for a much longer time than anticipated. What new steps have have you introduced for those folks new to working remotely and how does that affect BCP thinking going forward?

It’s clear that the changes being forced upon us now, not just regarding work but in all interactions, are not going to be temporary. These are changes that will remain in place and are surely likely to become a part of the new employment model going forward.

In the next post I’ll discuss Technology and how it has helped us but still needs to change.


Photo by Mpho Mojapelo on Unsplash

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