The current pandemic made working remotely commonplace in Quebec, and it also disrupted many other things, notably our relationship with technology and our talent management. COVID-19 was a learning experience for the business world. Here are five lessons we learned:
1. Big office space is becoming unnecessary
Whereas remote work might have been occasional prior to the pandemic, it became the standard for many employees almost overnight. To this day, many office towers remain empty as return to work has been delayed in the midst of the global crisis.
“I think working remotely is here to stay and many businesses are examining how to use their office space,” says Charles Douville, Senior Vice President and Regional Head of Commercial Banking—Quebec Region, for HSBC Bank Canada.
Some organizations have already announced they’ll maintain working from home until early 2021 while others are thinking of ways for their employees to split their time between their homes and the office.
“One thing is for sure, the old dynamic where teams are constantly working alongside each other and are spontaneously sharing ideas around the water cooler is not about to return,” Douville believes.
As a matter of fact, Canadian businesses revealed, through the HSBC Navigator survey carried out at the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, that among the major hurdles to overcome in the coming months were improving the morale of their employees (52%) and accessing state-of-the-art technologies (25%). No less than 70% of Canadian businesses also said they expect certain aspects of flexible work conditions to become the norm for at least the next two years.
2. IT tools are critical
Businesses that still had doubts about the importance of taking the technological plunge have realized, because of the pandemic, that it’s vital. No less than 44% of the businesses surveyed by the Navigator study indicated that technology helped them to remain agile and resilient when faced with the numerous challenges they had to overcome during the first half of this year.
“There is little chance that we will ever go back to the way things were before,” Douville believes.
Indeed, of the businesses surveyed, many expect high-speed internet (43%) and videoconferencing tools (47%) will become more integrated to the standard methods of doing things over the next two years. Over half of the surveyed businesses said they would carry on the habit of virtual meetings even after the pandemic. Businesses also indicated that among the major hurdles they will have to overcome in the coming months, 25% said training their staff on the new ways of doing things will be one. Optimizing the use of videoconferencing and collaboration tools will be at the top of the list of priorities for nearly 30% of these organizations over the next two years.
“It is important to support your employees throughout this transition to keep them motivated,” says Douville.
3. IT safety and security are non-negotiable
Working remotely became the norm almost overnight, and this opened the door to several IT security issues.
“Many businesses had a business continuity plan, but that plan did not predict that all the employees would work offsite at the same time,” says Douville. “The control mechanisms in place at the office were not all built to accommodate 100% of the workforce working from home at the same time. As a result, businesses quickly had to address some security issues and make changes to their technological infrastructure to allow for a complete shift of their employee base.”
He explains that there were a lot of electronic fraud attempts in the early weeks of the pandemic.
“We quickly offered a webinar on IT security to our clients in order to help them remain vigilant and review their control systems,” he adds.
4. Open and Strong Communication with Your Employees Are Essential
When the pandemic was officially declared in March, many workers found themselves having to work from home while caring for their children. Couples were put under a lot of stress and people who live alone became totally isolated.
“Remote work can be difficult in this unprecedented situation, so it is crucial to maintain a connection with your employees,” says Douville. “It is important to ask how they are doing and remind them of the resources available to them if they need help getting through this crisis.”
With employees working from home, it is even more important to keep them motivated, foster their team spirit and their sense of belonging within your company. “To achieve this, you need to communicate with them frequently and keep them informed on various issues,” says Douville.
Some companies might find themselves needing to hire and onboard new employees during this time. That requires coming up with new and resourceful ways of doing things. “We have assigned a coach to our new employees to help them get integrated in their teams,” says Douville. “They can communicate several times a day, if they need to, and it doesn’t only need to be about business. This strategy has worked well for us and we recommend it to our clients so that new hires can immediately feel part of the team.”
5. You must plan for the worst-case scenario
Prior to this pandemic, crisis planning may not have been top of mind for many organizations. However, it is clear that managing in the age of COVID-19 has proven that planning for the worst is necessary and in fact, vital to business continuity.
“When businesses prepare their financial plans, they should always account for the worst-case scenario,” Douville believes. “No one knows how much longer this pandemic is going to last. We need to quickly pivot and adjust when we realize things are not going according to plan. That is how a company will be able to sustain itself and get through any given situation.
Original article published in French by Radio-Canada.