A leadership approach to a "new norm"

This article is not based on any articles I have read, or professional development sessions I have attended - it merely results from some thoughts on a cold and rainy day. I sincerely hope they are useful to you. As this is an opinion piece, you may well disagree with some of the following points and comments, and that is absolutely fine. I only ask that you consider these points and comments carefully, in relation to your own business and professional circumstances.

The Coronavirus pandemic has been described as a crisis, as causing chaos and panic, and there is no doubting the significant global impact it is having on business generally, and this impact is, reasonably in my opinion, expected to grow in the immediate future.

For so long now, the "flavour of the month" for any number of business writers and advisers has been to refer to business "disruption", which was really just a buzz word for the changing business environment. Well, now we have a very real and significant "disruption", and on a large scale.

The pandemic is causing some businesses to refuse accepting cash (coins and notes), significant drops in business turnover necessitating a closer-than-normal scrutiny of costs (particularly lobour costs), resulting job uncertainty, some businesses reducing their business hours or even deliberately closing down temporarily, reductions in stock market values not seen since the global financial crisis - the consequences are almost endless, and you are as aware of them as I, thanks to relentless publicity in the press, social media, etc.

I respectfully suggest that, the longer this "disruption"prevails, very real business leadership is going to be required to identify employee concerns, and to help employees, particularly those who may be "feeling"the very real, negative and constant publicity and social media attention. In these circumstances, open and honest conversation between employer and employee is important.

My thoughts on this "disruption":-

- the impact of the pandemic on business, employment and personal life will be significant and widespread. There is every reason to believe that we will all be impacted by it, either directly or indirectly. This is real and inevitable.

- as a result, and certainly from a business perspective, there will need to be strong and definite leadership, and this applies to all businesses - yours and mine included.

- the business leader will need to stay very focused on maintaining the course, not getting caught-up in the hysteria, whilst still being aware and empathetic to employee needs and concerns.

- maintaining cash flow and following-up debts will be critical.

- internal "audits" of waste (time, processes, materials, cash) are important.

- accommodating and encouraging (if not, enforcing) cleanliness is crucial. Providing hand sanitisers around the office, factory, and warehouse, with posters instructing people to use them. Providing individual telephone headsets to be used, rather than using the normal 'phone handsets which anyone, and everyone, can use. If desks, computer keyboards, etc. are shared, ensure they are regularly, properly and completely cleaned using antibacterial wipes. Even if not shared, they should be regularly cleaned using antibacterial wipes.

- more and more businesses are asking people to work from home. Of course, this is not always possible, but with many people catching public transport (trains, buses, ferries, trams) to and from work, where it is possible, the option of working from home can mean that the risk of potential exposure can be significantly reduced for the employee.

- employees working from home do introduce new challenges both to the employee and to the employer. For example:-

1. There is a need to ensure that the work-from-home employee still feels very much a part of the team. This can be achieved by daily catch-ups using Skype, Microsoft Teams, Zoom, Go To Meeting, etc. and discussing work and work flow matters, normal daily work problems, sharing work and team successes, but should also be used as an informal check on their needs and well being - this is important in my view. They may not be at work physically, but they are at work mentally and emotionally.

It is also worthwhile to remember that we are (the employer is) now encroaching on the employee's private residence (even if the arrangement is requested by the employee). Work and home are now blended. The employee may be permitted to work as, and when, it suits them, so long as the work gets done and they are contactable when required, but if you want a happy and dedicated employee, it is imperative that "home is where the heart is" is not replaced with "home is where the work is". This should be borne in mind during the daily catch-ups and the informal check on the employee's needs and well being.

2. In my opinion, it is in the employer's interest to ensure that the work-from-home employee is equipped with normal work-standard equipment (computer, scanner, internet, 'phone, etc.), whatever your normal work-standard equipment is at work for that employee position. If the employer expects comparable work from home, then the employee must be provided with comparable equipment to facilitate that standard.

3. In addition to the normal work-standard equipment, additional equipment may be required, including additional software such as cloud-based software and "apps", and very importantly, business-grade anti-viral software.

4. Systems will need to be reviewed and amended to facilitate a number of people working from home.

5. Electronic, paperless filing will be essential.

6. The use of high-grade, secure, file and document transfer software will be required. For example, we already use a highly secure file transfer system to allow for the transfer of confidential files and documents between our office and our customers; this can equally be used for the secure transfer of files and documents between our office and employee home offices.

7. The rules relating to, and/or prohibiting, the use of business computers for non-business, immoral or illegal use should also be applied to the use of home-based computers used for work.

8. On-boarding and initiation of a new working-from-home employee will be as important, if not more important, than for a workplace-based employee.

9. How does your Workers Compensation insurance policy deal with employees working from home?

10. Then there is the subject of outsourcing (the use of Australian based non-employees) and offshoring (using overseas based non-employees) to conduct work. This is a separate topic, but many of the above points will still be relevant, particularly in relation to security and confidentiality.

My advice is that the subject of working from home (or outsourcing and/or offshoring) should be approached, not from the point of view of being a temporary arrangement, but on the basis that the arrangements will be permanent. They are to become part of "the way we do things here".

This mindset will result in a different and, hopefully, more reliable, secure, and robust approach.

But, more to the point, when this coronavirus pandemic is over, and of course one day it will be over, and we all settle back down to "business as usual", working from home (as well as outsourcing and/or offshoring) may well be "the new norm" for our business. People (employees and employers) may become accustomed to it.

It is the major disruptions in life which cause major shifts from what was previously considered "normal".

To facilitate the implementation and on-going success of working away from the workplace, it may be prudent to have an employee who is charged with administering, monitoring, and successfully conducting and maintaining the non-workplace employment and contracting. And how better to ensure its success than for this person to be working from home!

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