COVID-19 has pushed many of us into remote work situations, something many workers had been asking for long before the pandemic arrived.
While roughly 30 percent of employees had worked remotely at least part of the time prior to COVID-19, adapting to this new arrangement has been a brand new undertaking for many. Add all the extra stress of a global pandemic and people sharing space not designed for work with roommates, spouses, and children, and it’s easy to see why the transition has been a major challenge for a lot of us.
However, adversity and change are often accompanied by opportunity. Being forced to completely rethink how things get done, how we support our customers, and how we ensure business continuity has led many people to new ideas that might have received no airtime in the recent past.
For us at LogMeIn, the move to remote work remote work led to a surge in business from both new customers and existing clients we supported with remote work kits and resources. At the same time, some of our traditional office roles were no longer needed, and our employees were asking what our plans were for those colleagues.
Many companies have been forced to make tough decisions like reducing pay or furloughing team members, but we wanted to avoid that. Given the unprecedented situation we all found ourselves in, it was as good a time as any to get creative. We had a demand from one side of our business and a supply of talent on the other side, so we decided to explore how we could match the two.
Reimagine What Is Possible
Nobody could have imagined at the outset how this pandemic would change the way we work and live, yet people are resilient and adaptable. They are finding creative ways to connect with each other and keep spirits up. As an organization, you can tap into that creativity by considering what roles are needed most and how your employees who may not be obvious fits for those roles could, in fact, be valuable contributors.
At LogMeIn, our remote working tools saw a surge in use as everyone shifted to being remote. We were in desperate need of extra help to support the increased demand from new and existing customers, and that is when the spark of an idea flickered into view.
We had several employees whose roles could not be done outside of the office, such as our facilities team members and the baristas who worked in our onsite coffee bar. We were not recruiting as much while we figured everything out, so our talent acquisition team members had a little spare time in their days. We had the demand, and we had the supply — all we needed to do was match it up.
We asked for volunteers to provide first-line customer assistance, and within a few days, we had 100 employees volunteering to help field customer inquiries. A training program was established, and by the end of the week, we had a whole new team ready to go to help our customers.
During normal times, we would have gone out and hired or contracted in those additional resources we needed. However, the unusual circumstances caused us to try something new — and now we know we can try it again.
Shift to Virtual and On-Demand Training
As you’re considering new ways to leverage your existing resources, you may be worried that the move to remote work could inhibit a company’s ability to keep investing in its people. The fact is that learning does not need to happen in a classroom, and virtual training can be equally effective in ensuring skills and knowledge transfer.
Given the erratic schedules many of us are keeping while juggling our home and work lives, self-paced on-demand learning content can offer one effective solution. Convert your current development offerings into shorter virtual learning sessions, perhaps complemented with live office hours to reinforce the learning and give people the opportunity to connect with a trainer.
People can continue to learn and grow in this remote environment, and many even appreciate the flexibility to learn when and where they want. Take these facts into account when teaching new skills in a time of high demand, and you can train and enable a whole new team quickly and effectively.
As employees broaden their skills through training, they’ll also need opportunities to put their new knowledge and skills into practice. One way to do this is to identify or create low-stakes assignments employees can tackle independently. This will help employees develop both the skills and the confidence they need to use them, all while providing some basic support to overstretched teams.
If it is all hands on deck and there is no time for low-stakes assignments, then have experienced team members act as mentors to the newly trained, thereby providing a safety net. For example, we put together a Slack channel where new team members could find answers to common questions or get instant help from experienced colleagues.
Providing the Right Tools
Beyond ensuring workers have the skills and experience for their new jobs, businesses also need to provide their employees with the tools they need to handle their new tasks and collaborate effectively with their remote colleagues.
A survey conducted during the early days of the COVID-19 outbreak in the US found that, despite the disruptions of the virus, 75 percent of respondents felt prepared to work remotely. While that certainly leaves room for improvement, it also highlights how the growing us of videoconferencing technologies and remote IT support proactively prepared employees to navigate unstable times. With the right tools to support your workers — especially those taking on new tasks — it is possible to achieve almost everything you could in the office.
Culture Matters More than Ever
This is a very unique time we’re in. Patience, empathy, and understanding are essential to creating an environment in which everyone can thrive. How we manage our cultures during a time like this will have profound effects that linger long after the beaches, playgrounds, and restaurants have reopened.
Employees tend to leave organizations when they no longer feel a positive connection. While everyone is apart, it is more important than ever to foster connections between teams and colleagues. Frequent check-ins, for both work and social purposes, are easily carried out through videoconferencing tools, and we’ve seen teams get creative with trivia nights, baby showers, and birthday celebrations. That said, it’s important to understand what works for different people based on their varying home situations. Offering flexibility and a listening ear to one another will help all of us get through these uncertain times.
Managers with high emotional intelligence and a strong sense of empathy will be the ones who come out on top. When people are taking on new roles, support from their managers and peers is key to their success. Managers also need to set clear expectations that volunteering to help wont impact performance reviews, and that it’s okay not to be perfect the first time an employee attempts a new task. That’s the only way to create a safe and supportive environment where people feel empowered to try new things.
COVID-19 has presented many new challenges to businesses. As we put sharp minds to work on solving those problems, it will inevitably lead to more ideas and solutions. It’s important to be open to all of them.
Who knows where our internal supply-and-demand experiment will lead? Perhaps some of our volunteers will find new career paths, while others will use what they’ve learned to be better at the jobs they did before the pandemic.
Adversity can bring opportunity. My hope is that we can all reap the rewards of a more skilled, flexible, and dedicated workforce as we navigate whatever new challenges lie ahead.
Jo Deal is chief human resources officer at LogMeIn.