The COVID-19 crisis is all consuming. For businesses, it has meant taking an urgent –and more serious— approach to a trend creeping up for the last decade: Remote working, driven by the explosion in mobile networks, cheap devices and reliable bandwidth.
Finally, COVID-19 has made the trend of a remote workforce reach its tipping point. Everyone is scrambling to set up processes that allow employees to work from the safety and security of their homes. And in these uncertain, volatile times, it makes sense for us to share our experience with turning remote working into the default mode we plan to carry into the post COVID-19 era.
Remote working has worked out well for us at ITC Infotech so far. We’ve promptly put the hardware, networks, systems access, tools, security and training for Work from Home (WFH) in place, along with continuous focus on taking care of each employee’s requirements to be productive in less than a week from the word go!
To our surprise, over the last few weeks, we now have more answers than problems! I can see just one issue with this success: When employees working from home want to take a break, will they apply for leave and turn up in office? ☺
As the leader responsible for tracking and improving employee productivity and deployment, COVID-19 brought with it three unique challenges for me:
1. How to ensure effective resource management?
With the uncertainties around COVID-19, we have some customers either deferring project extensions or putting them on hold, while some are announcing new initiatives aimed at putting business back on its rails. This has meant a constantly shifting demand for resources from our customers and changes in the availability of the talent pool. This translates to tracking employees’ availability, skills and capabilities continuously – and at speed—to ensure they can be rapidly re-skilled and re-deployed.
To do this, we are leveraging technology and a virtual marketplace! We are leveraging a portal to show people availability with skills. The portal is accessible to all resource managers across the company. They can access the portal over a VPN from home. Every day, at a defined time, all resource managers virtually come together, with the help of this system, to discuss their resource demand, availability and utilization and identify the right resources to fulfil their demands internally. Analyzing supply and demand used to be a periodic exercise. With the help of enhanced systems, processes and automation, it has now become a continuous exercise to plan, track and leverage capacity.
There was a time when remote working was not very common, and the existing systems and processes used to cater to that requirement of minority users working remotely and productively. Now, it has become essential to have live, rich dashboards and mobile apps that track several metrics and make them available to employees as well as the business leaders. We have created new tools to track manpower productivity, availability and feedback from employees and customers. ITC Infotech’s BCP (Business Continuity Planning) Dashboard and Mobile Apps for Timesheet Submission and Employee Connect/Wellness during Covid-19 are such examples, which are making productive and safe WFH possible for all our employees and our customers.
2. How do you hire people and on board them in the times of social distancing?
Remote hiring has made considerable progress in recent times. We see scheduling tools, chatbots and video platforms being used. Some organizations even use sophisticated facial, voice and sentiment analytics to improve their recruitment accuracy and speed. However, the key element is the next step: On boarding employees so well so that they become productive from Day-1. Remember, these employees are not available in-campus any longer, so the processes of making them productive must change substantially! For the moment, we have made onboarding completely remote. In addition to providing home delivery of hardware/software to new joinees, we have also focused on providing a sense of belonging by utilizing a buddy system which pairs new employees with managers/leaders. These managers/leaders are available to new joinees for initial mentoring, for resolving queries and improving their understanding of role, work requirements and company culture.
3. How do you fine tune project processes?
After the enablement of WFH we have noticed that distributed Agile projects have speeded up! Scrum meetings happen more religiously and stakeholders participate more actively. I cannot be sure if WFH has made things more fun for employees (having fun is a tenet of Agile!), but on the face of it, I’d like to believe it has relieved the pressure on travel, made more time available and therefore made things work more smoothly. It is a fact that if people have more time, process adherence improves.
Over the last few days I’ve often wondered why we didn’t do all this before we were compelled by COIVID-19. I don’t have the perfect answer. But it could be because we had the re-assurance that time was on our side, that we could go to market and hire people and make them productive with some hand-holding (there is a reason that term “hand-holding” makes sense, but sounds so last century now!). The world has changed. Time is not on our side. We must learn new ways to run business and we are learning fast!