Stuck in my home prison ... and time keeps draggin' on ...
Stuck in my home prison ... and time keeps draggin' on ...

Digital Business Continuity – Supporting a Work-From-Home Culture

Summary: Conversations about Business Continuity during the coronavirus pandemic always start with Work-From-Home. Second in a series of articles about Digital Business Continuity – real-time lessons learned, improvements we can make now and in the future.

Another week goes by, and the stories of businesses coping with the coronavirus pandemic continue to come in. This interruption is unique for so many organizations; how many disaster recovery and business recovery plans truly contemplated a scenario like this? The systems are all running, the buildings are still standing, connectivity is still available. Raw material is in stock, and component parts are (to a certain extent) ready as well. But the critical component of so many businesses – the people that take the orders, make the products, ship the orders, and service the customers – are all gone.

Not literally but figuratively – people are not coming in to work to take / make / ship / service, and so stuff is not getting done. In some ways, this is a good sign – a clear indication that the robots have not successfully taken over. But we are all enjoying a crash course in macro-economics, supply chain interdependencies – and the critical importance and difference-making power of communication and collaboration, especially when it is digitally facilitated.

Stuck in my home prison … and time keeps draggin’ on …

For back-office workers, the storylines consistently center on working from home (… keep doing the same job, just do it remotely). And to be fair, many organizations are handling this new way of working with aplomb. They are led by management teams used to traveling to customers and remote sites, with their camera-equipped notebooks and that securely connect to the corporate network. Our smartphone-obsessed culture and wifi-enabled coffee shops have certainly set the expectation for connectivity everywhere, anytime.

But there is something very different going on, in these days of shelter-in-place lockdowns – changes that organizations are struggling to process. Many processes are still driven by printed forms and ink-on-paper approvals. Many teams are led by change-resistant people who cling to the comfortable current state even in the face of transformational change.

When the group leader does not have experience or comfort with a different way of connecting, it is not necessarily the end of the discussion. These individuals will show their true leadership skills when they flex, adapt, and encourage all – including themselves – to try something different. Because it will take something different to effectively communicate at a distance, and “keep the trains running”, in the days and weeks ahead.

More Lessons Learned – Real Stories of Digital Pivots

As I mentioned in my previous article, I am gathering more stories from the field. These are real examples of Digital Business Continuity (DBC) – innovative and interesting reactions, and the important lessons to be learned as we all scramble to recover our footing, rebuild our companies, and remain in business.

  • From Europe comes the story of the acquisitive, PE-backed company that has been acquiring tech services firms around the globe. A hallmark of their corporate culture is a highly decentralized structure – a smart strategy where you can effectively focus on the end customer. But a certain amount of decisiveness can come in handy; over the past three years, the firm had been unable to come to a consensus on their video and collaboration platform. Everyone has an opinion, and some strongly held beliefs about which technology was solid and which was “evil”. The result? Endless demos, discussions, conference calls (via phone, of course) and debates, with no decisions. Until recent world events, of course; earlier this week, the firm held a single meeting to make the choice so they could quickly facilitate work-from-home and global collaboration. The decision was finalized after an hour-long call, and in hindsight was fairly easy – they selected the platform that integrated best with their identity and workplace infrastructure. It was all about security, productivity, and complexity reduction. In retrospect – so much time wasted on dithering and delay, on attributes that (in the end) really didn’t drive value for the company.

DBC Lessons Learned – Are technologists slowing down change and innovation in your company? Resistance to change can be a powerful force to overcome, especially when the decision is less of a business imperative than, say, making the next payroll. To be sure, technology demos, evaluations, and bake-offs are important parts of the decision process – but how much is needed before the team can make a call? And how much opportunity time is being wasted with all of this dithering?

  • Some firms have been surprised at the quick upswing in demand for video conferencing as their teams embrace work-from-home. For some, this is a daunting new use of technology; they have never taken their notebooks out of their desktop docking stations, never fired up the video chat software, never collaborated online in this manner. Demands for training material and hand-holding from their traveling peers or the IT help desk is a drag on productivity for the rest of the team. Many IT folks are telling me about normally office-bound workers who really struggle with this new way to work – it has been available for years, but they have never taken advantage of it.

DBC Lessons Learned: Are traditionalists slowing down change and innovation in your company? Find ways to break through the resistance by proactively new and different ways of getting the job done – when there is little pressure to do so! It truly pays to invest in training for all of your digital workplace investments. Have teams make a point to switch to video chats and collaborate on documents. If you wait until the next disaster hits, the simple technical steps will get in the way, and further frustrate an already harried situation.

Practice practice practice … you’ll be glad you did.

Macro-Economic Lessons

Of course, there are some industries where working from home is impossible. I am not sure I realized how bars, restaurants, coffee shops, and other foodservice businesses made up such a large part of our economy. A friend from the East Coast told me the story of a local restaurateur who, realizing that they had a lot of perishable food (vegetables and stuff), had an impromptu farmers market, giving the stuff away in their own neighborhood. Other chains are quickly pivoting to different ways to sell their food – like the pizza parlor selling “take-out kits”; all the components of a pizza put together in a single box, enabling a nice family activity to cook up a pizza.

DBC Lessons Learned: As the fundamental nature of your business changes, can you take a lesson from the world of digital startups? How fast can you pivot your products to a new and different way to deliver value to your customers? How fast can operations pivot to focus on internal process – the innovations and improvements you could just never get time to address? And how fast can your teams pivot their use of time, to ern new skills and practice them with their internal business partners?

What’s In Your Digital Business Continuity Plan?

Few, if any, organizations have planned for a disruptive event such as COVID-19. We are all being tested in a number of ways – personally and professionally, with an emphasis on the human impact. This is something that is impacting the entire world – and our businesses, our neighborhoods, and our homes.

How can we share our lessons learned? How can we all prepare the people that we care about – our co-workers, our customers, our friends and family – leveraging the digital capabilities that surround us? What a tremendous opportunity to share what works – and what does not – and lift all boats in this rising tide of change.

This is one in a series of articles, covering a wide range of real-time lessons we are still living through. I have more stories to tell – please feel free to add yours, or reach out and connect with me! I want to add your Lessons Learned to this list, and help many companies improve their business’ resilience in the face of future disasters.

Tell us your story!!

# 26 March, 2020

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James MacLennan

... is the Managing Partner at Maker Turtle LLC, a digital consultancy focused on creating value in ways that align with your strategy and drive engagement with employees, customers, and stakeholders. He is an active creator, providing thought leadership through on-line & print publications, and public speaking / keynotes.