Skip to main content

Getting your digital workplace right during the Covid-19 pandemic

(Image credit: Image Credit: Brooke Cagel / Unsplash)

Covid-19 has put the business continuity plans of every company to the test. We’re living through unprecedented times and dealing with a situation completely out of our control. But while leaders have no way of managing the pandemic itself, they do have control over how their business adapts to the uncertainty. And, with most office workers likely to be home-based for many months, ensuring that the digital workplace is set-up to make employees productive when working remotely is key to helping organisations survive.

Focus on your company culture and values

A strong culture is the lifeblood of an organisation and underpins everything it stands for. Where and how employees work has changed dramatically overnight, but that does not mean businesses should forget about what makes them different from their competitors.

Values act like a north star that keeps everyone going in the same direction. It’s essential to reinforce these to all team members through regular virtual town halls and meetings so that they are front of mind. This will ensure customers get the same service they did before the pandemic. Businesses that continue to deliver excellent support despite all the challenges they have faced will further strengthen their relationships with customers. And this has the added benefit of helping growth in the long-term, leading to more customer retention and making them appeal to potential new customers.

Getting new hires up to speed with company values from the beginning is also essential. Technology can play a role here. Companies like ServiceNow have created mobile apps to help leaders virtually onboard new hires and engage with them before they start so that they are ready to work and understand what is expected of them. This ongoing engagement is also important as it can help new hires settle in, reassuring those that may be anxious about starting a new job during a crisis.

The right culture will give employees a creative, open platform and will encourage innovation and experimentation. It will create a safe workplace environment to allow leaders at every level the chance to make bold decisions without the fear of making mistakes. This has always been important for businesses but has become even more essential during the pandemic.

Encourage your team to look after their physical and mental health

With the world we know changing so dramatically and there being so much negativity every time we look at the news, it’s more important than ever to promote a healthy body and mindset. Leaders have a vital role to play here. They need to be role models, understand their team’s home setup and encourage them to switch off at times, take breaks and be flexible in the way they work. Businesses should focus on outcomes and not on activity; performance and not the number of hours sitting in front of a laptop screen.

Research from the Trade Union Congress found that the average Brit spent 219 hours commuting last year. This shouldn’t now be seen as extra time for work. It should be focused on managing wellbeing and mental health: more time to read, train for a 10k race or walk around the local park. This will help people clear their minds, step away from their laptops and increase focus when they are working.

Create a digital workplace now and communicate the changes

Organisations always prepare for crises. Time is spent investing in drills around data centres and cyber-breaches. But less time is spent testing the workforce and workplace for remote working at the scale we’re currently seeing.

Before this pandemic, many organisations did not have working from home policies and had to put these together quickly. Some invested in the right tools, training and policies during ‘business as usual times and tested these as part of business continuity plans. This gave them confidence that they could operate when people needed to work remotely, and also helped build working from home into their culture. It had the added benefit of highlighting what gaps needed to be fixed and optimised.

Now that this way of working has been forced on so many businesses, communication about what is working and what is not, is key. Leaders need to constantly communicate with employees and workers need to make sure they are speaking to each other. Creating a unified, consumer-style employee service experience across all departments will make this so much easier for workers.

People may no longer be in the physical office but with collaboration tools, virtual meeting rooms and virtual coffee breaks, employees can create a digital version of it. Workers should be encouraged to set and communicate expectations around their working day and when they will be available.

Creating a digital twin for a workplace will ease a lot of the issues that can be caused by not being in an office. If colleagues are used to seeing each other in real life, encourage the use of technology to maintain that same level communication. If workshops need to be run, video conferencing tools should be used. When there is a need to collaborate, virtual whiteboards, mind mapping tools and visual task boards can help. If customer briefings or events need to be delivered, then encourage interaction through the use of polls, voting and Q&A sessions.

Those companies that had previously embraced cloud-based tools have found the pivot to remote working a lot more straightforward. Cloud has proved its value during this crisis and the digital native companies have barely been disrupted. For businesses that are implanting these tools for the first time now, getting employees trained up so that they can use them to be productive and collaborate with colleagues in the right way, is critical.

This global pandemic has also demonstrated to businesses that they need to focus on continuity planning. There will be new challenges that arise when some employees go back to the office while others work from home. Now is the time to start planning for this to maintain a company’s values as well as employee productivity.

Nerys Mutlow, evangelist in the chief innovation office, ServiceNow