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From solitary to solidarity: how to collectively adapt to blanket distance working practices

A completely new model for work organization

A completely new model for work organization

The advantages and disadvantages of home working and the associated psychosocial risks, as well as the ways to prevent them, have been the subject of several studies and are relatively well known[1].

However, the extreme health crisis of Covid-19 and its impact on the modes of organization of work are incomparable with classical home working. It’s not just an extension of regular home working, it’s a completely different way of working for the following reasons - that do not apply in the current context

1. In companies, employees chose home working on a voluntary basis

Consequently, it was perceived positively by employees who opted in to work from home. They could thus more easily deal with the negative aspects themselves. The disadvantages of distance working could be compensated by other aspects of professional and private life;

2. An employee in a regular home working context could organize his work space and was not in close proximity to his family, especially his children

He had the means (albeit more limited) to differentiate and separate his personal and professional space and time, since he could go out to take a break from work. He was not constantly preoccupied with the health crisis, or its effect on his own and his relatives’ health.

3. Most companies have good practices to support normal work from home

In particular, the necessity to stagger the work from home of different team members so that they are not all absent from the office at the same time, to plan regular physical meetings and to train managers on remote work.

In an emergency, a tailor-made operational response needs to be built collectively

To be immediately operational, the solution must be co-constructed by leaders, managers and all employees. It should necessarily be unique for each company, adapted to its context, its business operations, its culture and its organizational structure. To support this co-construction, four major areas must be addressed:

1. Rally around trust and solidarity

Crisis communication must underline the confidence of leaders in their teams and the spirit of solidarity, reassure employees on the economic outlook and activity of the company and thank them for their engagement and contribution. Managers must transfer this message of trust to each employee.

2. Clearly define the collective guidelines and rules

The guidelines for health (requiring employees to inform their employer of their symptoms, etc.) and operations (partial unemployment, childcare, travel, etc.) must be clearly defined and regularly updated as the situation evolves.

The rules of organization and management within the company must be clarified. These rules specify which working tools are available (videoconferencing, instant messaging, corporate social networks, shared folders, etc.) and minimize irritating technical problems. They set guidelines for the use of VPNs and videoconferences – use webcams for more proximity or have certain meetings in audio only to free up network capacity. This clear and transparent framework is essential to reassure employees and help them to organize themselves.

3. Offer mechanisms to reduce the impact of isolation

Professional (and even personal) relationships are completely dematerialized and distant. To reduce the negative consequences of isolation, it is necessary to establish mechanisms that allow groups to come together in different ways, thus supporting individuals in the event of difficulties. Sia Partners offers all of its employees:

  • Moments and Google+ communities for informal, fun exchanges to share personal experiences, ideas for activities and contests;

  • An extensive distance learning catalogue  (e-learning, micro-learning, distance training);

  • A crisis line and psychological support system manned by the HR department, and helped by a team of volunteers.

 

4. Transform management practices

 

The fundamentals and good practices of distance management must be rapidly adapted to the unusual current context to:

  • Organize and manage the work

 

Firstly, clearly define the objectives, priorities and indicators. Which projects continue, which must evolve, be suspended or postponed? How do you measure progress of activity?

Managers must then move away from hierarchical monitoring of employees’ activity and establish a more transversal mode of managing their team’s results.

Simple solutions can be set up quickly, such as telephone meetings of 5 to 15 min daily or 30 min weekly, sharing dashboards, regular reports by e-mail in a pre-specified format, etc.

  • Support employees

 

Managers should communicate a twofold message: on the one hand showing concern for the health of employees and their loved ones, and empathy regarding the difficulties encountered, and on the other hand a message about the supreme importance of maintaining activity and commitment in the face of the economic crisis. Balancing these messages, ensuring that they have been understood and listening to staff’s reactions will help manage what might otherwise be perceived as paradoxical statements.

Because informal contact is much more difficult at a distance, it is necessary to set up alternatives for maintaining managerial proximity. Specific meetings can be organized once or twice a week to find out how things are going, allowing everyone to share their experiences and difficulties and to find solutions as a team.

Several fundamentals of team motivation must be reinforced: give meaning to action, recognize and reward the added value of contributions, give regular feedback.

The individual and the group are able to adapt quickly to these new modes of organization and to find solutions. This requires promoting everything that fosters collective intelligence and the learning organization. 

The size of the company, the nature of its activity and its culture will necessarily affect its ability to change ways of working.

But given the uncertainty about the duration and extent of the crisis, this revolution is essential for the survival of the company, and for the health and well-being of employees. In any case, what this short term situation is forcing us to do is a first step in the profound transformations of our ways of working.

 

[1] See for example « Télétravail à domicile, Guide d’aide à l’évaluation des risques et à la recherche de mesures de prévention associées à destination des entreprises et des salariés », Assurance Maladie et CARSAT Nord-Picardie, 2012

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