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Teaching a new dog old tricks – WFH

COVID-19 has made a global impact and altered our working livelihoods permanently.  Work From Home (WFH) quickly rooted itself as a household name along with Zoom and Social Distancing.  I find it disappointing that it literally took a global pandemic to change how and where most of us work.  Don’t get me wrong – I wish more than anything that the world never experienced the wrath of COVID along with the loss of life and permanent heartbreak it brought with it.  With that said, now that we are where we are, we need to continue to adjust to the “new normal” since our work experience will not just go back to the way it was.

In 2003 I embarked on an exciting new career challenge as VP/CIO for a global furniture company.  One of the many fun things I had the chance to do was define and execute a global IT strategy to connect not only our offices around the globe, but also integrate our overseas suppliers and third-party sales team.  The easy availability of technology such as Blackberry, Outlook Web Access, Portals and Virtual Private Network were many of the cutting-edge tools available for me to leverage right out of the box.  These deployments provided our company with the significant competitive advantage of working efficiently without having the entire company co-located in one place.

Later in 2006 I ventured out on my own to start a company that offered remote managed services to support major Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) translator software packages.  Having already set up a virtual company infrastructure provided me with the blueprint for a low cost, high quality services provider – all employees would be remote without a central office.

I overcame two key issues in this journey.  First, customers were very timid to trust a vendor who did not have a regular physical presence in the customer’s office.  Second, hiring the right people who could be successful in this type of role involved a lot of trial and error.

How do these learnings apply to the current WFH transformation underway?  Because the opportunity to work remotely has finally become a more accepted, even required, norm.

Though everyone has a different circumstance, those who embrace the change will no doubt see an immediate gain from the efficiencies of WFH. Lower office costs while eliminating commute times and the things that go with them (driving stress, vehicle expenses, pollution).  Give yourself and your employees higher quality of life and more flexibility on working time.  Focus yourself and other employees on being outcome/deliverable focused instead of just keeping busy.  Give people the freedom work at the time of day/week they are most productive.  Most of all, put trust in the people who are skilled in what they do and let them get the work done.  There is no need or easy ability to micromanage.  Provide feedback and guidance regularly when deliverables are being met or not.  There is always room for improvement on the new way of working.  Continual transparency between everyone is essential.

By looking for the positive outcomes of the newly mandated “normal,” businesses and employees might surprise themselves by solving formerly unsolvable problems, forcing true creativity, and identifying ways to work smarter while building trust and resilience as a team.

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