Shifting from an office-centric cooperative framework to a remote, smart (not always) work can be time consuming and likely to fail to different extent. However, a clear path to implement a compelling change will reduce the risk of leaving team with no guidelines: a lack of leadership and vision is far worse than the change itself.
Before the COVID outbreak, very few companies had a contingency plan for full remote working.
Adaptiveness has then become a new Key Performance Index, as to say work force is now looked through how they are able to cope with remote work.
A few executives in multinational companies found remote work daunting for emotional disconnection due to physical distance and different time zones.
The COVID-19 pandemic has compelled firms to adapt remote work as a do or die solution. Therefore, executives had to fix several collateral issues linked to a potential disruption of operations:
unclear roles: having planned little, many firms found traditional roles were somehow affected by remote work, namely in making tasks different in timing and in workload allocation,
inconsistent social norms: straight to the point, working through Zoom is not a perfect substitute for direct interactions, and the video conferencing etiquette is far from being an established discipline,
low common identity: working from home makes employees feel detached, losing their sense of belonging.
Addressing the potential disruptions starts with a clear assessment of what could go wrong with remote work, and that considerably varies among firms due to different extent of IT awareness, numbers and diversity. First, team leaders should draft a task list; second, there would be a revision of such tasks to align them with a physiological level of disruption inherent to remote work, thus resetting projects and corporate milestones; third, team homogeneity should be properly addressed: are interpersonal relations fine, or are there some latent conflicts, and how are members emotionally coping with remote work which is, most of all, a change in personal habits?
Indeed, HR and executives should step in holding on the bar though such a transition. As few projects could be pulled down in priority or deferred, teams can suffer for that in terms of excessive or insufficient workload, change of assignments or redundancy.
Keeping teams efficient and busy is a key to hold tight during a forceful change from a relatively traditional office life to a more individualist way to work. In spite of the evidence, fruitful cooperation among employees should be the result of a mutual mitigation between guidelines and spontaneous arrangements, where new charismatic figures can stand out for their attitude and capabilities in adapting to new conditions as well as supporting others along the process. Moreover, further education and skills acquisition shall be central in keeping cohesion and morale.
In summary, COVID-19 might be the incipit for a more productive and human centered way of working, assuming that the transition is properly managed. We will have time and chance to discuss the matter in the future.