We are now 23 months past the arrival of Covid-19 in January, 2020,[1] the world is a changed place, and I am happy to see that a good number of my March, 2020 recommendations on how to address this COVID-19 pandemic situation,[2] have made their way into the policies of several governments near and far.  Thankfully, though, the mortality rate has not been as high as initially anticipated with the “stronger” suggested steps.[3]  Some industries and businesses have done fabulously well, while others have not, and some are only barely still here.[4]  But, as workers and consumers, we are ALL still here.  Other than essential workers in the food, medical, other services and retail sectors, many of us “office workers” are and have been, working from home.

 

We do not know whether Covid or “some” sort of Covid will be and become an endemic thing that just does not completely go away.  And, we do not know whether we will all be asked to get booter shots against it and them, on a regular basis.  One thing is certain, though, and this is the fact that Remote Work (“Remoting”) has taken a solid hold of both the workers and those for whom they work.  It is getting better organized, more entrenched, and businesses and governments are rushing to cater to it, grow it, and make it more comfortable.  So, what then, are the key requirements for a peaceful, productive, and promotable remoting experience?

 

 

THE 5 KEYS TO GOOD AND EFFECTIVE REMOTING

I would say that there are 5 (“five”) key requirements for a peaceful, productive, and promotable remoting experience, and these are: Systems, Trust, Empathy, Ability, and Mindset, or simply “S-T-E-A-M”.

 

(i)         SYSTEMS (S5/C9):

There are two types of Systems needed, one group for supports and one group for coordination.  If the remote workers were hosted at a single secondary site, such as with a sudden office relocation due to a compromise of their original or customary space, then the employer would have been responsible for all 5 (“five”) Supporting Systems for Safety, Security, Sanitation, Sustenance, and Socialization.  However, with fully remote workers, the employer is not responsible for any of these, and especially not anyone’s safety and security.  Remote workers in their own homes are pretty much responsible for their own safety and security, unless working with tools provided by the employer that are or may be hazardous to their health.  That, though, is supposed to be rare, nowadays, with factories and research institutes being better suited.

 

The systems for coordination, on the other hand, are almost always under the employer’s control, by their nature.  These 8 (“eight”) Coordinating Systems are for communications, collaboration, completions, complaints by clients, coaching, compliance of the workers, cybersecurity, and contingencies in general.

 

 

(ii)        TRUST:

What has become abundantly clear, is that “trust” does not equal “Face Time” or being seen.  Good workers in the physical office can still be good workers in their own homes, without micro-managers hovering over their every move.  There are, however, cases of employers “digitally” hovering over and monitoring employees, which can range from activity monitoring and logging websites visited, gathering granular productivity data, and taking occasional screenshots, to keystroke logging, live video recording, and voice recording, whether with or without disclosure to the worker.[5]  All of that, however, is for another discussion.  Suffice it to say, at this point, that employers should certainly consult with their legal advisors before getting into “any” type of monitoring, because what is lawful in the employer’s jurisdiction of organization or control, may not necessarily be lawful where every employee lives.  Mass worker actions (standstills, protests, working to rule) and class actions (generally bad for business), really should not be invited-in.

 

Trust should also arise from having Common Goals.  This can be producing widgets, service customers, or other outcomes, depending on what the entity does and values.  Ongoing reference to and updating of, such tools as Mission Statements, Project Charters, and Statements of Values, can also serve to publicize the goal, outline the steps to get there, and ensure more widespread buy-in.  And finally, another way of ensuring trust, and that goals are both common and being met, is through honest and constructive Feedback, and that would be 2-way feedback, being both from employer to employee, and from employee to employer.  There should also be a commonality of goals, and eSupports, or emotional supports for employee health and wellness, such as counseling, holistic remedies, and assorted therapeutics like massage and yoga instructors and providers.  And all of this, leads us directly to the third key of good and effective Remoting, which is Empathy.

 

 

(iii)       EMPATHY:

There are 5 (“five”) elements of empathy, including 4 (“four”) types of care, and these care types are, in no particular order, Kinder Care (child care), Elder Care, Client Care, and Self Care.  Then we add-in the “E” to make the equation of Empathy = “MC2”, which stands for the Magnetic Care Square.  If you place the worker in the middle of this square, and have one of the care types at each corner of the square, then the job of the employer is to help the worker not “have” to be drawn so long or so closely to any one of those corners, that one or more of the other corners is unduly neglected.  It is also the job of the employer to help the worker remain sufficiently engaged with all 4 of these care types, that they are not actually drawn out of the square by one of them, and therefore become effectively disconnected from the rest of the care types.  Of course, not every worker will have cares at all corners of the square, but the model holds true.

 

All of this has required delicate balancing and will continue to do so, along with a requirement that the supervisors and managers “be in the workers’ business” to a somewhat greater degree than they ordinarily were, since they cannot physically see the worker that requires an absence, but will need to have paperwork or a voice or video call performance, that justifies that late start or that urgent absence request.  The need to cultivate those managers with more eSkills, being empathy, as opposed to the computer and internet champions who can do hard coding, have clearly become more important.  If the workers are not feeling right or cannot focus due to other cares and commitments, then no amount of machines and tools, are likely to make it happen.

 

 

(iv)       ABILITY:

Remote Workers also need to bring some of their own good qualities to the table, because it is not all or only about the employer.  But, at the same time, the employer will need to encourage and even help to build and develop these qualities, as a part of that employment contract, and as an indispensable necessity of doing business, if it intends to “continue” doing business as a going concern.  The first quality is Audacity, because people must be willing to try new ways of doing things in this new normal.  To stand still without trying is both failing to try, and trying very hard to fail; especially when all of your competitors are jumping through hoops to test new organizational models, new suppliers and supply chains, and hardening and backing up their operations in general against fires,[6] floods,[7] political and social unrest,[8] and hoarding – by consumers and companies, alike.[9]  As a direct result of this, Remote workers and Resilient systems are now spoken of in the same sentence, more often than not.

 

Secondly, the usual Biases must continue to be addressed, even if you cannot see your people or the way they interact (or fail to interact) with one another, under your nose, so to speak.  These include the prohibited biases listed in applicable laws and codes, systemic biases that were never honestly discussed and addressed in the past, and the “presence” bias.  With this last one, care and steps must be taken to ensure that those workers who actually do work in the office on an occasional or regular basis, due to their roles, are not unduly placed on a faster promotion path than those of their colleagues, equally or even more talented, who are mostly or fully remote.

 

The third quality is Clarity, and this one must be mutual.  To the extent possible, roles and the performance requirements related to those roles should be made clear by the employer, and that clarity should then be confirmed as understood by the worker.  I say “to the extent possible”, because we are all living in a very changeable environment, and the actual functions of various roles can change very quickly – both by being added to and by being subtracted from, and hence the need to revisit that skill-fill treadmill every few years, to get and stay current.[10]  This is where clarity interacts with Audacity, as both the managers and the managed, must have the audacity to consider and show some agility, whether prompted by situations, or speeches, or sense.

 

The fourth quality is Digital Literacy, which goes beyond the basic digital literacy of using a computer but having technicians physically present.  Although a technical support worker can take remote control of a device almost anywhere in the world, that should be the exception and not the norm.  Hence, because those Remote Workers will be spending a good deal of time in the digital domain, which is full of dangers and risks, but still navigable in a relatively safe way, they must be armed with the right tools to do so, and have a good command of the “WEB-DVC”.  This acronym stands for:

  • Work Programs;
  • Email etiquette and Chatiquette;
  • Basic troubleshooting;
  • Device care and management (at a “basic +” level);
  • Version and document controls; and
  • Cyber awareness (of phishing, of social engineering, of link and attachment policies).

 

Having and circulating clear and current Email and Social Media Policies, are indispensable, here.  Similarly, while BYOD (bring your own device) ecosystems were tricky even when IT technicians could see and touch those actual devices from time to time, when workers were physically in the office, that whole calculus changes when remote workers can potentially buy and install all sorts of random, conflicting, and potentially corrupted devices and peripherals without any knowledge of IT until something goes wrong.  For these reasons, many of the employers who allowed it before, albeit grudgingly, remain exposed to risks and will need to address them, purposefully.[11]

 

 

(v)        MINDSET:

The fifth and final key to good and effective Remoting, is Mindset.  This starts with the employer, but it must be shared with and also taken-on by, the worker.  It has 4, “GRCC” components, of Growth, Raft, Continuous Disruption, and Continuous Adaptation, as follows.

 

The first mindset component, is Growth.  The employer needs to believe in training, coaching and mentoring, and providing meaningful and sincere opportunities for people to expand their skills and abilities, try out new work experiences – including shadowing and deployments across units and departments, and give them as broad and as deep an understanding and experience of the employer’s operations as possible.  In this way, you develop supervisory and management talent in-house, you combat skill obsolescence in the face of changing and declining roles,[12] and you show true and tangible interest in talent development, building loyalty and easing succession planning.

 

The next mindset component, is the “RAFT” on which everyone travels, in this new normal of Remoting.  It stands for Respect, Accountability, Fairness, and Transparency.  With Systems, Trust, Empathy, and Ability having been established already, there should be Respect of the employer for the workers and their concerns through open and honest communication, full disclosure of any monitoring or tracking embedded in employer-owned or supported systems, and respect for the Magnetic Care Square.  There should also be respect of the workers for the employer and its needs, through feedback, common goals, and broad-based nurturing of talent.

 

Accountability, refers to owning one’s decisions and the outcomes of those decisions; thinking things through and being able to explain the reasoning behind the choices one makes; and being a good custodian of employee assets and relationships by following applicable policies and procedures, engaging in employer-sponsored or employer-directed training, and being one on whom others can rely to do what they say, and to be where they are supposed to be, and when.

 

When it comes to Fairness, this is a confidence at all levels and on both the management and labor side, that the employer’s rules and regulations will be fairly and equitably applied.  This means there will be no favouritism, no biases in the allocation of opportunities for growth and promotion, and that any and all suspicions and allegations of wrongdoing will be fully and effectively investigated with no pre-judgement, and a hearing of both sides before any decision.

 

Finally, Transparency means that to the extent possible, management will not make and implement decisions without communication down the line, and will not take important decisions that impact their workers in a vacuum.  For example, worker consultation and input should be sought when hours or tools of work change, when the conditions or location of work changes, and workers should be advised when there are significant personnel movements.  This last item could be a change in senior management, the creation of a new unit or group, or when a specific worker is terminated who had seniority, or after a widely known event or investigation.

 

The mindset must also have an understanding that there WILL be a Continuous Disruption coupled with Continuous Opportunities, and that there MUST, in response, be Continuous Adaptation coupled with Continuous Improvement.  Life and business do not follow a straight or uncluttered path.  This is the norm, and it is a basic law of existence.  New obstacles will arise, and existing but previously unseen ridges and potholes on the road of various sizes, will try to make you stumble.  But, with each and every one of these recurring disruptions, is the opportunity to overcome it.  Both the employer and the workers must be ready, willing, and able to accept this disruption and the opportunities it presents to adapt and adjust themselves, the way they work, and the way they think, with continuous improvements and the micro or major adjustments in roles, operations, approaches, and responsibilities needed to get their jobs done.

 

Some inevitable side-effects of the pandemic, are the fact that some were never able to take time off their jobs (essential workers); the fact that some used the time on lockdown to discover how much they really disliked their jobs; the fact that some businesses were able to pivot on the same axis (the sit-down restaurant moving to take out-and delivery only, and the yoga and fitness instructors going more permanently online to deliver their classes); the fact that some personal services workers were also able to pivot into a different line of work (the hairdressers, barbers, and masseuses who started driving for ride hailing services); and the fact that some blue-collar and white-collar workers moved to Gigging, or started new lines of work, as their own bosses.[13]  This reinforces the Caveat that nothing will retain those workers who are really set on leaving, and it also re-emphasizes the need for exit interviews to help employers adjust, where needed.

 

 

SUMMARY

And so, there we have it.  Remoting is likely here to stay, in one or more forms, and hopefully, the Pandemic is not.  Nevertheless, we need to get used to both, as they have worked together to change life and the work life, as we used to know it.  Whether acting as legal counsel, or as management and strategic consultants, we can only give reasoned advice and make recommendations, that those hearing and reading, can decide whether and how far, to heed.

 

Many years of experience and the Covid-coping experience, have shown “us”, that Systems, Trust, Empathy, Ability, and Mindset, should now be your key concerns in worker retention, and in the best practices for maintaining your operations, your resilience, and your market share – especially if you are also managing any remote workers who you do not physically have in the office, and who may or may not return to the office in the near future, according to the ever-shifting pandemic-related regulations of the many different jurisdictions in which they reside.

 

If you have a better idea that will help you proceed at full steam, go for it, but mind the bumps!

 


Author:

Ekundayo George is a lawyer and sociologist.  He has also studied organizational and micro-organizational behavior, and gained significant experience in programs, policy, regulatory compliance, litigation, and business law and counseling.  He has been licensed to practise law in Ontario and Alberta, Canada, as well as in New York, New Jersey, and Washington, D.C., in the United States of America.  See, for example: https://www.ogalaws.com.  A writer, blogger, and avid reader, Mr. George has sector experience in Technology (Telecommunications, eCommerce, Outsourcing, Cloud), Financial Services, Energy, Healthcare, Entertainment, Real Estate and Zoning, International/cross-border trade, other services, and Environmental Law and Policy; working with equal ease and effectiveness in his transitions to and from the public and private sectors.  He is a published author on the national security aspects of Environmental Law, has represented clients in courts and before regulatory bodies in both Canada and the United States, and he enjoys complex systems analysis in legal, technological, and societal millieux.

 

Trained in Legal Project Management (and having organized and managed several complex projects before and while practicing law), Mr. George is also an experienced negotiator, facilitator, team leader, and strategic consultant – sourcing, managing, and delivering on complex engagements with multiple stakeholders and multidisciplinary teams.  Team consulting competencies include program investigation, sub-contracted procurement of personnel and materials, and such diverse project deliverables as business process re-engineering, devising and delivering tailored training, crisis consulting, and targeted engagements through tapping a highly-credentialed resource pool of contract professionals with several hundred years of combined expertise, in: healthcare; education and training; law and regulation; policy and plans; statistics, economics, and evaluations including feasibility studies and business cases; infrastructure; and information technology/information systems (IT/IS) – also sometimes termed information communications technologies (ICT).  See, for example: https://www.simprime-ca.com.

 

Hyperlinks to external sites are provided to readers of this blog as a courtesy and convenience, only, and no warranty is made or responsibility assumed by either or both of George Law Offices and Strategic IMPRIME Consulting & Advisory, Inc. (“S’imprime-ça”) including employees, agents, directors, officers, successors & assigns, in whole or in part for their content, accuracy, or availability.

 

This article creates no lawyer-client relationship, and is not intended or deemed legal advice, business advice, the rendering of any professional service, or attorney advertising where restricted or barred.  The author and affiliated entities specifically disclaim and reject any and all loss claimed, no matter howsoever resulting as alleged, due to any action or inaction done in reliance on the contents herein.  Past results are no guarantee of future success, and specific legal advice should be sought for particular matters through counsel of your choosing, based on such factors as you deem appropriate.

 

[1] AJMC Staff.  A Timeline of COVID-19 Developments in 2020. (American Journal of Managed Care).  Posted January 1, 2021, on ajmc.com.  Online: <https://www.ajmc.com/view/a-timeline-of-covid19-developments-in-2020>   The World Health Organization (WHO) announced the discovery of a cluster of pneumonia-like cases in Wuhan, China, on January 9, 2020, and by January 31, 2020, and by January 31, 2020, the Novel Coronavirus had been identified, and the WHO had declared it to be a Global Public Health Emergency.

[2] Ekundayo George.  COVID-19: Potential National & Subnational Measures.   Posted March 10, 2020, on ogalaws.wordpress.com.  Online: <https://ogalaws.wordpress.com/2020/03/10/covid-2019-potential-national-subnational-measures/>

[3] Ibid.

[4] CNN Business Staff.  These businesses were the surprise winners of 2020.  Posted December 30, 2020, on cnn.com.  Online: <https://www.cnn.com/2020/12/30/business/winners-losers-2020-business/index.html>

[5] Matthew Finnegan.  The New Normal: When work-from-home means the boss is watching.  Posted October 29, 2020 on computerworld.com.  Online: <https://www.computerworld.com/article/3586616/the-new-normal-when-work-from-home-means-the-boss-is-watching.html>

[6] MH&L Staff.  Factory Fires Top Reason for Supply Chain Disruption in 2020.  (Material Handling & Logistics).  Posted April 17, 2021 on mhlnews.com.  Online: <https://www.mhlnews.com/global-supply-chain/article/21162322/factory-fires-top-reason-for-supply-chain-disruption-in-2020>

[7] Dr. Serasu Duran (University of Calgary) and Dr. Feyza G. Sahinyazan (Simon Fraser University).  B.C. floods reveal fragile food supply chains — 4 ways to manage the crisis now and in the future.  Posted November 25, 2021 on ucalgary.ca/news.  Online: <https://www.ucalgary.ca/news/bc-floods-reveal-fragile-food-supply-chains-4-ways-manage-crisis-now-and-future-0>

[8] Will Green.  Firms must adapt to ‘new normal’ of civil unrest.  Posted January 16, 2020, on cips.org (The Chartered Institute of Procurement and Supply).  Online: <https://www.cips.org/supply-management/news/2020/january/firms-must-adapt-to-new-normal-of-civil-unrest/>

[9] Dr. Yossi Sheffi, MIT CTL.  How Companies Can Break the Hoarding Habit.  (Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Center for Transportation and Logistics).  Posted July 27, 2021, on supplychain247.com.  Online: <https://www.supplychain247.com/article/how_companies_can_break_the_hoarding_habit>

[10] Stephanie Kasriel, CEO, Upwork.  Skill, re-skill and re-skill again. How to keep up with the future of work.  Posted July 31, 2017, on weforum.org.  Online: <https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2017/07/skill-reskill-prepare-for-future-of-work/>

[11] iTNews Asia Team.  Companies remain exposed to unmanaged BYOD risks during pandemic.  Posted June 16, 2021, on itews.Asia.  Online: <https://www.itnews.asia/news/companies-remain-exposed-to-unmanaged-byod-risks-during-pandemic-565973?utm_source=feed&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=iTnews+Asia+>

[12] Supra, Note 10.

[13] Joanne Lipman.  The Pandemic Revealed How Much We Hate Our Jobs.  Now We Have a Chance to Reinvent Work.  Posted May 27, 2021 on time.com and updated Jun1, 2021.  Online: < https://time.com/6051955/work-after-covid-19/>

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