Leading Your Business Through COVID-19: Shifted Your Teams to Remote Work, But Now What?

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By Dale Lawrence

While we all are experiencing a number of fast-moving business problems, most companies have shifted work to remote locations with little preparation. Like running out of the office at the sign of a fire, many employees didn’t take more than the basics. Hopefully the basics included a laptop and mobile device, but this may not be the case everywhere. If your company hasn’t fully assessed the business requirements for transitioning every role to remote work, you likely have gaps. Some gaps are likely hidden and serious.

The necessary steps include:

1) Identify gaps caused by the shift in business activities

A gap, barrier of constraint is anything preventing the process and the people involved from successfully achieving the objective or goal. In addition to the normal gaps in every organization, the Coronavirus/ COVID-19 pandemic (Black Swan event) has introduced new and potentially crippling breaks in the business. Like a Rubik’s Cube, turn one side and things out of your view are impacted. Work is rarely isolated. Considerations:

• Does a worker that is now working from home (remote) have the tools, access and skills to continue to be productive?
• Are there process hand-offs between other remote workers?
• How is information transferred? Company email or through a shared workspace? How are each employee’s internet service impacting reliability?
• Does your team understand how to be effective in a remote environment (see Propulo’s blogs for additional tips on working from home)?
• Does the organization have an effective method to capture gaps and elevate them to your leaders?
• How would the gap be impacted if part of your involved workforce were sick with COVID-19?

2) Understand the impact of these gaps and prioritize high, medium, or low

Not all gaps are created equal and it is very important to triage the list of gaps you are collecting. Each gap must be assessed to determine overall effect from the most serious including core business impacts, financial controls, and/or reducing customer experience to less serious ones that just require rework. Suggestions include:

• Capture all gaps on a spreadsheet with source, description, basic process flow, inputs and outputs, example of gap
• Have someone interview stakeholders to estimate seriousness, frequency and likelihood then have them formulate a weighted score
• Sort gaps to determine priority

3) Collect information on the prioritized gaps

Through some simple interviews, process mapping (Propulo’s Top Down process map is very fast and effective) and data gathering, a trained process excellence resource can quickly understand enough about the gap. I have frequently found that 3-4 hours can be enough to validate the root cause and form a hypothesis for potential solutions. Considerations:

• Was the process formalized prior to the transition to remote work?
• Are there more employees working within the same process?
• Is the output of the process matching your customer demand?
• What other processes are impacted (in effect, dependant on another process)?
• Are all of the workers remote or do some still work in the office?
• Is there proof the gap exists using an existing data source?

4) Determine how to overcome the gap

This is where some process excellence or human performance skills may be needed. From the hypothesis, there needs to be plan of attack. Leveraging a number of methodologies such as Lean, Six Sigma, Redesign, Rapid Results or utilizing your IT, HR, project office or operational teams, the key is select the fastest and most effective way to solve the gap.

5) Alleviate these gaps using the selected approach or methodology

Depending on how your process excellence expert determined the right way to solve, the time to completion and results will vary. Both qualitative and quantitative data is important to understand success. Also, the key is not only fixing the gap but also understanding the impact. Remember the Rubik’s Cube? Solving the gap, likely caused another. This is critical to understanding the fluid and interdependent nature of work. It is also never-ending. However, as I stated above, not all gaps deserve the same amount of attention.

During the massive changes to business during this Black Swan event, managing the shift to remote work may provide a long-term benefit. Your company will learn a lot about how work is done and the resiliency of the workforce. New ways to perform work will be discovered and we look forward to hearing your stories.