blurry picture of a neon sign that says "Focus"
PHOTO: Stefan Cosma

More than 33 million Americans have filed for unemployment benefits since mid-March, an eye-popping number that portends significant struggles for companies and employees. But the economic downturn, of which the severity and length remain unknown, isn't the only challenge companies will be contending with in the coming months.

The revolution in remote working will likely continue after a return to normalcy, when cost-conscious companies realize they can forgo that multi-million dollar commercial real estate lease, especially when three in five US workers would prefer continuing to work remotely once stay-at-home orders are lifted. 

Organizations will be challenged to answer how they are going to plan for a future buttressed by three different conditions: the continuation of a remote workforce, the eventual return of at least some office workers followed by the return of workers who had been furloughed, and an ongoing economic recession.

It has never been more important for organizations to pay special attention to their frontline managers and workforce. Are they set up for success? Do they have the right data literacy? Do they have access to the right information, tools and data to easily tell a story or help them make faster, better decisions? Are they supported by relevant digital products and experiences to drive customer engagement and show customer loyalty?

Thinking through questions like these will help your teams work efficiently while being able to scale to meet needs of the changing market and workforce demands.

Helping Managers Work Smarter

It’s a scene that plays out every day in email inboxes across industries of all types and sizes. A manager sends a request to a distributed team asking, “Can you pull this data report for me real quick?”

The team rushes to pull, organize and provide analysis on the requested data — and that’s assuming that particular data is easily accessible. This daily exercise takes time away from more strategic activity, creates friction between managers and teams, and often exposes a manager’s data literacy knowledge gaps.

It’s a common practice that undermines productivity, and today — more than ever — companies must get serious about empowering managers to work more effectively.

In a remote environment with a distributed workforce, not to mention at a time of global upheaval, company priorities must be clear and understood throughout the organization. Managers are struggling with leading and managing teams in this new normal of remote work. The days of being able to closely watch their workforce are gone, and this group is now struggling to grasp the right productivity-related insights they need. What are the most important metrics? How can managers and teams have regular access to the data they need without endless back-and-forth and one-off requests?

In a recent West Monroe survey, nearly 60% of managers said they spent at least three hours per day on manual tasks such as email, data collection and data entry. Activities like these make up 51% of the US economy, accounting for nearly $2.7 trillion in wages.

The foreseeable future of work calls for companies to invest more in tools, training and support for managers so they can get out of their inbox and spend more time hands-on with employees and customers.

Arming managers with the information, tools, training and support they need to be effective will increase operational throughput, improve employee engagement and reduce operating costs. Best-in-class organizations create a blueprint to help identify and realize improved operational performance that is based on a quantitative and qualitative view of the current state of their management teams.

Related Article: Working Remotely: A Manager's Perspective

Technology Investments to Enable an Adaptive Digital Workplace

Belts are tightening, employees are nervous, and boards and executive teams are anxiously crunching future projections. It wasn’t so long ago that we were in similar straits during the 2008 Great Recession. Today we’re looking at an economic event that could be deeper and last longer.

This is not a time to panic. This is the time to optimize productivity and enable adaptive digital workplaces. How can you accomplish more with the same number of (if not fewer) resources?

The last economic downturn left its mark. Due to its severity, many organizations jumped to dramatic cost cutting, despite the long-term effects some of those cuts eventually had on their businesses for years to come. While many of those organizations have learned from past mistakes as the conversation about process automation and analytics grew more sophisticated, the current moment demands accelerated action.

As states take steps to gradually reopen economies, organizations need to start investing in longer-term digital workplace strategies and tools. Strategies that can adapt and be flexible to support different workplace requirements will be necessary: enable 100% remote work, resume a hybrid in-person/remote work environment, and then switch back to 100% remote work. Companies need to start considering how workplaces can adapt to provide business resiliency and promote employee safety.

Some of the key focus areas include:

  • Impacts of employee distancing on key business processes.
  • Understanding how contact tracing apps can safeguard employees.
  • Strategizing on disseminating key policy and standard operating procedure changes to frontline workforce.
  • Exploring how automation can be leveraged to digitize key revenue generating processes.
  • Implementing intelligent virtual assistants to deflect customer phone calls to the contact center and reduce call queue and completion times.
  • How virtual tools and technologies can be used to support distributed teams.

Companies need to create an adaptive digital workplace activation plan addressing six key dimensions: digital culture, work environment, employee collaboration, security, business process and resilience and successful support.

Now is the time to do more with less. Investing in the right productivity optimization digital workplace tools and employing the correct business processes can get you there.

Related Article: Will We Ever Go Back to the Office Again?

Bringing 'People, Process and Technology' Together

In a recent survey we conducted of CEOs responding to the pandemic, 40% said their organization’s top priority was effectively managing a remote workforce. Our job is to help business leaders see the forest for the trees and find productivity solutions that bring people, process and technology together.

We urge business leaders to consider the big picture. Focus on managers who can in turn influence larger teams. Make smart technology investments so teams have better access to data and can automate rote functions. Determine and improve the processes that are slowing you down. By looking at all three components together, you’ll be setting up your frontline staff for success — creating better customer experiences, making employees happier and more productive, and creating a digital workplace that can be scalable to adjust to changing workforce conditions as they happen.