COVID-19 has forced us to work remotely from home, and many employees also have to take care of their younger children, help their older children with home schooling and to make the family life work. Everyday life is therefore more complex and stressful to a lot of people these days.
This challenges your ability as a leader to create team spirit, commitment and intimacy – leadership ingredients you would normally use when leading an efficient production unit.
At the same time, you have to consider how to ensure the required IT support of your employees and how to anchor new ways of meeting internally as well as externally, how to share knowledge, train and educate, etc. in this new (hopefully temporary) reality. In short: How do we ensure a high level of productivity under these difficult conditions?
Our experience is that you can come a long way with three simple actions:
- Ensure the right team set-up to be able to work efficiently remotely
- Keep pressure on production without stressing your employees
- More leadership – it is needed
If you succeed in keeping up production under these challenging conditions, you will be better equipped going forward for similar situations which could challenge normal ways of working. You will also be able to work even more flexibly in your team and consequently able to offer your employees the widest degree of flexibility without compromising on productivity.
Ensure the right team set-up to be able to work efficiently remotely
When production and operations are to be kept up under these conditions, you need to set the groundwork. It is important that your roles and allocation of responsibilities are in place. Many of them will be the same as before, but you will probably need to establish new ones as well.
You have probably defined a number of initiatives to ensure the transition into remote case production, but who is responsible for these? Who is to be responsible for communication and knowledge sharing when we are unable to meet up physically, and how and how often should this knowledge sharing take place? Who is in charge of the Friday breakfast, social events, etc. that can support employee well-being, etc.? And how should they actually be carried out?
When the team and the organisation are unable to meet physically or to sit in the same room, it is critical that you quickly make sure that the virtual meeting works. The technical solution and tools should be distributed throughout the organisation, and everyone should be able to use them NOW.
This requires training, in particular for some employee groups, to get used to Skype, Microsoft Teams, etc. It is important to dedicate time for targeted training sessions to help ensure that all employees are able to handle their tasks virtually and that the virtual meetings become as efficient as possible.
In general, it is important to focus on establishing a highly frequent and efficient meeting structure. You can for example begin with a daily, virtual board meeting for the entire team. You should make it a rule of thumb to have a dialogue with your employees at least once daily. We also find that many benefit from (re)-establishing a buddy structure that offers each individual employee a confidante that they can discuss concerns, decisions, etc. with.
It is also important that your employees have the necessary prerequisites for being able to carry out efficient case processing from home. In other words, that they have access to relevant tools and systems to be able to process cases from home. You should also consider how to ensure professional discussions virtually and how to assure the necessary quality across the organisation. Does this mean that e.g. your production process should be revised?
In many public organisations, it is necessary to meet the citizens as part of the case processing. Can you do that virtually, and what does it take? First and foremost, it is essential to verify that it is legal to do the meetings with citizens virtually. Not all case types will necessarily be suited for virtual meetings. You should therefore select the best suited cases, which are typically the less complicated ones. It is also critical that the technology is in place, e.g. monitors, camera, microphone, virtual meeting platform, etc. Also at the citizen’s end. We recommend to train your employees in how to execute an efficient meeting meeting and to continuously receive feedback.
Keep pressure on production without stressing your employees
In a time when production primarily takes place from home, and many employees have to balance work life with home life, there is a great risk that this will be at the expense of productivity. This is both natural and understandable.
The problem is just that many public organisations still need to deliver. There are still the same high demands on production volume, response times, quality, etc. So what can you do to avoid losing momentum in production?
It is first and foremost about keeping a high ambition level. The current situation cannot become an excuse for slacking off. Of course, you need to be realistic about the effect the current conditions will have on your targets. But your point of departure should be that you are able to deliver as always.
This is ambitious in a time of transition where both employees and leaders have to adapt to a new way of working and to balance work hours with e.g. home schooling. Use your target and ambition to drive retention of your production cadence and use problem-solving if this should drop.
It is also essential that you as the leader focus on operational planning and management. Major changes in daily operations can result in major drops in productivity. You should therefore establish “hypercare”, i.e. highly frequent planning, follow-up, coordination and problem-solving. Your results should not be achieved by overburdening your employees in the short term but should instead be achieved because you step up and prioritise tasks and support your employees closely.
Finally, you and the rest of the management team should have a somewhat longer perspective in the form of tactical scenario planning. After you have found immediate solutions to current challenges and issues, you should begin working with a continuous and structured approach on describing risks and opportunities respectively with a perspective of 4-8 weeks and with related action plans. Involve relevant managers (not necessarily everyone) in this work, prioritise the most important actions, and execute the necessary actions. Do not be afraid to make mistakes. We all are.
More focus on your role as leaders – now remotely
When the distance is increased between the employee and the leader, and there is such a massive pressure on the organisation as the one we are experiencing at the moment, it is crucial that both you and the entire management team step up. Your employees need a visible management team to take the lead, take responsibility and to communicate clearly. This means specifically:
- Take care of your fellow human beings: In addition to thinking about safety and prevention, as the leader, you need to think beyond these aspects. You have a responsibility to those who are afraid; those who you may be forced to let go; and to your trusted partners who are concerned about bankruptcy. As a leader, you have a responsibility for how your actions affect your fellow human beings.
- Take responsibility and handle your stakeholders: You cannot please everybody, but pay attention to everybody, and take responsibility for your decisions.
- Communicate and take the lead: You need to communicate constantly, both internally and externally, and it is okay that you do not have an answer for everything. In times of crisis, the leadership team should be visible and set an example. If you need to tighten your finances, you should be the first to take a paycut. Walk the talk.
- Predict and think in scenarios: Think in terms of scenarios, and seek to predict what is likely to happen in both the short and long term. This requires that you sit down and evaluates how you are likely to be affected, and how your market, competitors and partners are likely to be affected.
- Plan and execute: Draw the navigational chart that you expect to navigate by in coming months, and use it to set the right course according to the challenges you expect to encounter. Your plan will be revised several times as you go along, and that is okay. It is all about launching a process that should be revised continuously. You should then begin to execute and feel free to start out small. The important thing is to show that things are taking place and that results are created.
When you and your organisation soon become world champions in cooperating remotely, this could even become part of the solution to the world’s climate challenges as we can reduce our needs for transport and consequently our emissions, while optimising our time spent.
If you want to know more about how to act as a leader in these times, you can read more in the following link.