Hoxby’s Remote Working Strategic Approach
March 13, 2020
The UK has moved to Phase 2 of its strategy to now delay the Coronavirus, including school closures, travel lock downs and the banning of public events, At Hoxby we are here to help organisations play their part in helping to stop the spread of the new disease and believe a strategy that mirrors government policy is the most useful place to start.
The national governments which have published strategies typically include three key stages – three ‘phases’ such as ‘Contain’, ‘Delay’, ‘Mitigate’ in the UK, ‘Contain’, ‘Protect’ and ‘Mitigate’ in Germany and ‘Alert’, ‘Serious’ and ‘Emergency’ in Hong Kong, and an ongoing research phase to find a cure or a vaccine for the new disease.
As more and more organisations and their workforces are required to work remotely over the next few weeks/months in line with government and WHO advice, we have put together a four stage strategy for organisations to align to as the threat level is raised.
The aim of laying out our strategic approach here is to help organisations plan for, implement, mitigate and ultimately learn from remote working practices in order to create more resilient, productive, and flexible organisations in the future.
In this article, we explain the four stages, and the high level issues and questions that organisations need to address as part of each one.
We will be sharing our advice for each phase of the approach along the way via our social media campaign #remoteagainstcoronavirus
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Stage 1: Prepare
Many organisations will have already started planning and putting some emergency measures in place, but use this phase to ensure you’re thinking holistically - about technology, people and policies - and then move to the later stages to ensure you are staying ahead.
Technology – get the basics in place but also look to new solutions
You might have already started auditing your remote working capabilities. Hopefully everyone has a laptop and an internet connection? Phew, that’s a start. Once you’ve done a basic assessment however, plenty more questions come to mind - particularly around information and data, how people access it and how people communicate.
- How about a VPN to access the network?
- Do you use cloud storage or local databases?
- Can everyone access the information and the data they need to do their job?
- Do we have ways to communicate with each other?
- Surely everyone’s got a mobile phone these days don’t they?!
Thankfully, there’s a great checklist created by our friends at Remoteplaceless for just this task here. This is also a time that some new cloud based tools might come in useful – At Hoxby we use the following tech stack:
- Slack - For community messaging
- G-Suite - For all documentation and storage
- Google Meet or Zoom - For video calling
- Hubspot - For CRM
- Basecamp - All project management activity
- Workable - Workforce management
- Zapier - For app integrations
- Mural - For whiteboarding and collaboration
- Trello - For all task management
- Hootsuite - For all our social media management
- LucidChart - For our process mapping
- YouTube - For all video publishing
- Typeform - For all form completion, from applications to feedback
- Xero - For our finance processes
- Futrli - For finance forecasting
Let us know if you’d like to discuss how quickly you might be able to put these to use in your organisation.
Policy – Don’t just adapt ‘Working From Home’
Now, remote working and flexible working policies are not equal. Working from home on a Friday so that you can get some real work done without distractions, or so that you can put the washing on and save some time at the weekend isn’t the same as having to do all your work remotely for a few weeks or months .
The reality of the situation is that we are likely facing a marathon, not a sprint, and even in the best case scenario, there is a good chance that organisations are going to need to work remotely for a month or more.
The key difference is that “working from home” is a temporary situation, while remote working is an entirely different approach to getting things done. It requires a different set of abilities, resources, and skills and a different set of policies around communication, decision making responsibilities and working practices.
Done well, asynchronous working can be liberating and hugely productive- benefiting individuals and companies alike. Just giving people autonomy over how to set up their desk or work environment can lead to significant increases in creativity and productivity. When coupled with more autonomy on when and how people get their work done, engagement and productivity can go through the roof.
But to make this work, you have to get everyone into the same mindset. We suggest you start by thinking strategically:
- What do you want to achieve with remote working?
- What are the goals you’d like to get to?
- How much are you willing to change?
A good remote working policy includes a vision, a description of the company culture, a trust and communication agreement, digital resources and tools such as internal wikis and collaboration software, and of course, and performance expectations for everyone working remotely.
Leading organisations are already thinking about these questions, rather than assuming that this is a temporary crisis and everything will come back to normal once the office reopens in a few weeks’ time.
Clearly, employee wellbeing is always a priority for organisations, so communication channels, support and advice needs to be provided for people who will now be working remotely.
Unfortunately up to now 1 in 3 remote workers received no training or support in how to work effectively remotely. With such big changes in how we usually communicate, behave, and learn how to be productive again remotely, organisations also need to ask:
- How can we support our employees social and emotional needs?
- What do we need to do for our freelance or contractual based workers?
- How do we make sure that everyone feels they are still connected to the organisation?
Given the potential risks of isolation, and the impact of change, stress and anxiety on our mental health - it would be wise to read up on how to help everyone through this challenging time.
Stage 2: Implement
As many countries around the world move beyond ‘contain’ into a second, more serious, ‘delay’ / ‘protect’ / ‘serious’ stage. This could see schools closed down, social gatherings outlawed and travel significantly restricted for everyone.
As this becomes a reality for organisations, we will be running free webinars and teach in sessions for organisations to learn from our experience and ask questions.
Interested in joining our webinars? Sign up to our mailing list!
Below we have three initial implementation challenges we’ve identified. We know there will be many more - depending on your company, your industry and the restrictions put in place - so we’d like to hear what your biggest challenges and pain points are in implementing remote working.
We can continually use our 1000+ associates to crowdsource the best advice to help organisations implement and deal with these challenges.
Virtual Conferences and Events
Cancelled conferences and events have been some of the first practical things to hit organisations. Thankfully there is a virtual alternative, and it can even be better than the real thing.
Firstly, there’s no longer lots of talks you have to sit through that you don’t want to hear. Content such as keynote speeches, panel discussions and Q&As can all move online and become self-serve. Rather than using social media for amplification, this can be used for participation too – even Boris Johnson has had success engaging audiences on Facebook Live.
The key questions to think about though include:
- What is the purpose of the event and how else could this be achieved?
- How do you make the event still feel prestigious and exclusive for delegates?
- What physical interventions (such as delegate packs, gifts etc.) could you provide?
- How do you make the event engaging, personalised and tailored to individuals?
At Hoxby we turned a wellbeing event into a wellbeing week of virtual engagements - videos were shared, webinars held, introductions made and conversations staged over the whole week which gave delegates far more access to the event content and to each other than could ever have been achieved at a physical event. It requires good planning, facilitation and technology – but it can be done, and as well as helping to stop the spread, it can save the environment too.
This might seem like an easy one to solve. The temptation is to add some dial-in details to the outlook invite and hey presto, the meeting problem is solved because everyone can dial in! It was always a nightmare trying to book a room anyway, and it encouraged lots of wasted time and idle chatter amongst participants. Not to mention the catering bill. Unfortunately, conference calls can be an even bigger waste of time. Does this sound familiar?
The problem isn’t
always just issues with getting conference call technology to work for everyone all the time, or even getting the same engagement and connection between people as you do in face to face meetings.
The problem, as articulated so well by the ex-Chief People Officer at Twitter is actually the meetings themselves - they tend to be a waste of time.
Most of us put in a meeting as a default action, rather than thinking about what the outcome required. More often than not meetings fall into one of six types - status updates, information sharing, decision making, problem solving, idea generation or team building.
Sometimes getting people together is the right thing to do - if there is a real discursive, value driven discussion to be had - but often we’re really just sharing information.
This is an opportunity to rethink whether meetings are necessary and starting again with a new frame of reference. So rather than focusing on who should be in the meeting, ask:
- Why are you having the meeting in the first place?
- What are the outcomes and outputs you want from it?
- Can the information you wanted to share be shared in another way - perhaps in a video, an internal wiki document or a Microsoft Teams/Slack channel?
We already introduced a number of rules for leaders in remote teams based on our last five years’ experience at Hoxby here. Suffice to say, that whilst the principles of good leadership still apply, virtual leadership poses a unique set of challenges which leaders need to be aware of.
Chiefly, remote working in distributed teams throws a huge focus on the level of trust in a team.
A series of studies by Paul Zak at Harvard identified teams with high trust to be more energised (106%) less stressed (74%), more productive (50%), more engaged (76%), less likely to experience burn out (40%) and less likely to go off sick (13%).
Experiments around the world from the US to Papa New Guinea have shown that humans are naturally inclined to trust others – but don’t always – and a remote environment is more likely to breed paranoia than when you are all face to face in an office, and more likely to stimulate questions like how to tell who is actually working? Or how to tell if you’re missing out on conversations or key decisions?
We will be hosting a webinar bringing together a number of viewpoints on how to do this in a distributed environment in the next few weeks, asking questions such as:
- How do you quickly establish trust in a virtual environment?
- What is the right level of transparency, and how should you change how you communicate when leading remote teams?
- What other skills do remote leaders need?
- And how can you become a more authentic remote leader?
Stage 3: Mitigate
Hopefully things don’t get this far, but as Angela Merkel recently declared, it is certainly a possibility that the vast majority - perhaps 70 or 80% - of the global population will become exposed to the virus.
This could put countries on a war footing, with governments focussed on protecting critical services and employing contingent workers such as retired medical staff and covering social care volunteers’ salaries to mitigate the situation.
This is the phase where organisations may be faced with a comparable situation, and below we propose different options for how to respond.
Tasking by output
Like governments, identifying critical functions required to keep the lights on in the business will be critical during this stage. If a significant part of your workforce is off sick, what provisions do you have for customer service? How will your financial reporting get done? Rather than thinking in terms of how you replace an entire finance team, the question organisations might ask is:
- How do you get financial reporting done?
- How could we outsource by task or by output?
- How could we leverage networks of expertise which aren’t affected by the situation in our locale?
There might be creative ways around short term challenges such as this, for instance by using freelance workforces like Hoxby, automation software, or a combination of the two.
Another way to think ahead for this phase is to consider how to reduce the reliance on people within your critical processes. Automation has been a big trend for businesses for a long time, but now might finally be the time that certain processes or activities need to be automated out of necessity.
There are also a number of tools out there which might be able to help organisations to automate key processes, which would at least provide a basic service and function to keep the organisation going during the peak of the crisis. At Hoxby, we use Zapier, a tool that connects software programmes together to automate workflows, and remove the manual work required. Questions you might need to ask are:
- What critical business processes could we automate quickly?
- How do we reduce our dependence on people in certain critical functions?
- What technology exists which could complement or replace what we do already?
Crowdsourcing / Using Contingency / freelance workforces
A more creative solution is to think about how you could get different groups of people outside of your organisation to work for you. From sites like ‘Fix my Street’ which get citizens to report and track potholes, to lego’s infamous ‘ideas platform’ for new characters, there are lots of organisations already using the power of communities of customers, citizens or freelance workers in one way or another.
There are a growing number of communities and platforms that provide easy access to a range of specialist services, using the power of the crowd - at Hoxby we have a deep pool of experts across PR, Marketing, HR, Admin and Finance, . It might help keep the lights on in the darkest hours.
Stage 4 / Ongoing: Improve
As Churchill famously remarked, never waste a good crisis. Whilst emergency, reactive measures might need to be taken in the short term, organisations that also take a more strategic long term view towards the benefits of remote working stand to gain huge advantages over those that treat this as an isolated incident and return to ‘business as usual’ when the worst passes.
There are opportunities to develop your working practices, your organisational culture and structure, as well as to trial using new technology. We believe the results can make organisations more productive and the world of work a better place for all of us.
A more adaptable, flexible organisation
The Hoxby model of distributed, asynchronous working, with a virtual community of 1,000 associates makes for a more flexible and adaptable organisational structure than traditional organisations.
For instance, where a new automation solution can make a process more efficient, it’s easy to move resources around to focus on work that adds value, rather than keeping people locked in org charts and superfluous roles or even whole departments.
A more empowering, diverse and inclusive culture
Giving workers greater autonomy and flexibility over how, when and where they work can also drive engagement and productivity. Where leaders embrace the challenge of creating trust in their teams in a distributed working environment, everyone can thrive, and workplace cultures can become more inclusive and diverse.
Conclusion - create a remote working strategy and use the time now to plan ahead
Whilst there are lots of urgent actions at times of crisis like this, in the long run it pays to think more strategically about what is important to you and your organisation.
By being strategic it’s possible to see this as an opportunity to lead the way in making your organisation more flexible, more productive and more enjoyable to work in in the future.