The government advice to stay at home in order to tackle the coronavirus outbreak has changed the world of work overnight.
For some organisations this unexpected change will encourage them to develop new creative and innovative solutions. For many who simply cannot trade from home – they will need to access the generous package of support made available by the government whilst planning for a different future.
Many organisations and people are feeling real fear – it’s a natural response to crisis. Since the change measures were introduced last week organisations have been consumed with business continuity planning (asking questions such as can we continue to trade? Do we have enough staff and can we pay them? Does everyone have the right kit to work from home?). As human beings, our fight, flight or freeze response has kicked in and we are focused on personal safety concerns of health, finances and the welfare of loved ones.
Psychologist Russell Shilling (in Fast News) reported that training and preparation are key to how we deal with a crisis. The current change management challenge is that the majority of organisations and people alike were not prepared for the rapid and seismic impact that coronavirus would have. There has been little or no time to train people on the practicalities of working from home let alone consider the psychological impacts of change at this scale.
Panic and overwhelm can affect anyone, whether you’re working on the shop-floor or leading the company, and it is essential that specialist support is accessed to address mental health concerns at this time.
Once through the initial stage, organisations need to act fast. The ones who will shine at the end of this are those that both tackle the immediate challenge at hand – how to rapidly and successfully adopt homeworking – and take action to maximise the benefits of a long-term change to the way we work.
So, what does successful homeworking look like? Like any change, it depends on your baseline – whilst home or remote working is the norm for many, for some this is the first time they’ve done it. It’s critical that each organisation has a clear position, that is shared widely and which people can get behind, on what they want remote working to look like – both now and in the future.
Homeworking is actually only one piece of the puzzle for true agile working. The Agile Future Forum defines agile working practices in terms of time (when people work), location (where people work), role (what people do), and source (who is employed). Without realising it many organisations have been forced into thinking about the latter – by considering reduced hours and furloughing for their staff in order to survive financially. Organisations who sustain this significant change will consider these four aspects as well as how they can make homeworking work in the short-term.
Based on our experience of introducing agile working practices into a variety of organisations, from employability and criminal justice to local government, the approach required to deliver sustainable results is one of solid change management practise. For us this means: plan for it, engage people and measure impact along the way. The coronavirus outbreak may have forced change upon us but it can still be delivered successfully.
How to effectively deliver change then? Whilst approaching change from a practical perspective is necessary, the people aspect is even more vital. Drawing on Beck’s (1964) cognitive model we know that how people think about change and how it makes them feel can influence how they choose to respond. People’s behaviour will play a major part in the degree to which organisational change is successful. Those in organisations responsible for implementing must develop an approach company-wide yet at the same time recognise that everyone responds in different ways and at their own pace.
Homeworking suits many people but not all. For each person who enjoys an improved work-life balanced from no commute and flexibility to plan their work around other commitments, there is another who is struggling with lack of boundaries and routine or missing the social interaction the office environment brings. Right now, school closures, family responsibilities, and social distancing add extra layers of complexity for people to deal with. They need a combination of practical tools and training to work from home, clarity over their goals and a trusted relationship with their manager, and psychological support to build their resilience during this time of rapid change. Moreover, this approach needs acknowledge that for change to stick everyone needs to be engaged in the direction in which the organisation is headed and committed to playing their part in making the change happen. Simply training people how to use Microsoft Teams is not enough.
What are the possibilities with homeworking – or better, agile working practices – then? In a public sector organisation we worked with, engagement levels reportedly increased after a move towards remote working. Research by The Agile Future Forum demonstrated benefits of working from home include cost savings resulting from building closures and reduced sickness absence, and greater levels of autonomy reported by employees. Moreover, a Stamford University study found a 13% increase in productivity and employees reported an increase in work satisfaction.
In order to realise these long-term benefits, organisations need to both employ tactics to enable the immediate transition to homeworking, and to adopt a systemic approach that considers all aspects of agile working practices and the organisational culture that will facilitate their success.
Visit our Covid-19 rapid change services page to find out how we can enable successful remote working in your organisation.
About the Author
Impact People & Change use business psychology to enable organisations with a social purpose to successfully navigate change. We combine research evidence with real-life experience to deliver practical and psychological solutions to challenges change can bring. Contact us on 07894223097 or firstname.lastname@example.org