What does effective management look like for a remote, distributed workforce?
This is a question companies across the globe have been grappling with since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. Of course, there have been countless stories about the sudden scramble to Zoom. But business leaders know that management and communications are more involved than requiring weekly video calls.
Before the pandemic, many companies had only partially digitized their operations, still relying on physical paperwork and in-person meetings to drive many processes. But since the start of the pandemic, even organizations that embraced cloud-based operations have struggled with ensuring that their decentralized workforces are all on the same page, especially if regional offices have had a history of operating semi-autonomously.
With revenue crunches and continued economic volatility in the forecast, organizations have found they can no longer tolerate ongoing inefficiencies they might have ignored. Gone are the days when a company can afford to tolerate production or other delays from a regional team, especially if those delays are avoidable with effective communication.
The vital need to keep employees engaged
In addition to the obvious challenges facing businesses worldwide, there's the challenge of corporate culture. Many executives have long resisted remote work because they believe it impairs teamwork, collaboration, and synergy.
Even distributed workforces that relied on some level of remote interaction pre-pandemic usually held monthly (or more frequent) regional meetings to keep staff members aligned with company goals and keep people connected to the company itself. A monthly meeting at headquarters, a regional office, or a hotel conference room might include team-building exercises and after-work drinks, both helping to fuel camaraderie and engagement.
In these challenging times, employee engagement is more than just a buzzword. Given the public health imperative to social distance, employees are dealing with social isolation in their personal and private lives. This isolation has significant adverse mental health effects, especially for those with pre-existing mental health conditions and those juggling childcare or adult caregiving. If left unaddressed, the social isolation that has become a hallmark of the pandemic can impair individual workplace productivity and threaten to diminish team performance as a whole.
Increasingly, organizations also find themselves compelled to engage in matters beyond profit maximization. The May 2020 murder of George Floyd, which sparked a summer of protests for racial justice, forced companies to grapple with whether or not to take a stand, as well as reevaluate their own policies and practices. The January 2021 capital insurrection, which saw scores of firms actively voice opposition and cut political donations to lawmakers, also has captured employee attention.
When the barriers between the professional and personal are blurred in the way they have since work-at-home became the norm, employees need ways to communicate about more than just their task lists. In fact, smart organizations have facilitated these discussions and used them to drive their own internal and external responses.
Intranet can provide the missing link
Obviously, the pandemic has made communication more challenging and conveying corporate culture much more difficult. But, as in all great crises, some solutions have emerged. One of the most effective ones is the deployment of a modern Intranet that can help firms manage operations across, and communications to, distributed workforce and help keep employees connected and engaged.
Some organizations already had Intranets when the pandemic hit. But like videoconferencing technology, Intranet technology saw uneven adoption across industries. Many organizations previously treated their Intranets as the equivalent of a "junk drawer," says Dhiraj Sharma, CEO of Simpplr.
Many organizations had deferred their Intranets' management to the IT department (rather than distributing content creation to department leads and HR). Or they failed to get employee buy-in, leaving their sites to contain a jumble of disjointed information. And in some cases, they'd fail to integrate their Intranet with parallel, cloud-based systems — systems employees may have found easier to use. As a result, Sharma notes, employees "end up abandoning it to look for answers, more easily, elsewhere."
But the pandemic has forced companies to reconsider how they leverage — and manage — all of their communications software. More companies are seeing how a modern Intranet can help managers communicate consistently across the organization, get employees the resources they need, and facilitate employee-to-employee communication to keep engagement up. And increasingly, they are finding their legacy systems require an overhaul.
Modernizing the Intranet
Employees need Intranets that are user-friendly, easily accessible, customizable, and integrated with other frequently-used applications. And managers need these features as well as features that optimize productivity by streamlining and digitizing formerly manual processes.
Further, a modern Intranet must allow managers to communicate consistently across the organization and help foster connectedness. An ideal Intranet also has social networking tools that enable employees to share personal and professional news on their feeds and to engage with others across the organization.
But firms crunched for time and resources may be leery of new enterprise-wide technology projects. It can take a lot of effort to build a custom solution and develop the kind of organization-wide buy-in necessary to make that effort worth it. However, for firms who understand that an Intranet is a strategic imperative in the current environment, it's worth investing in an off-the-shelf solution. For Chris Lewis, IT Applications Manager at Crowdstrike, a Simpplr Intranet solution was the right call.
"In the midst of evaluating a build vs. buy Intranet solution, we realized that building a custom solution may solve a very specific organizational process but would require a lot more effort and resources," he says, noting his firm's deployment of Simpplr was far easier. "The technology has saved the organization time, money, and helped decrease Crowdstrike's IT tickets."
Managing remote workforces post-pandemic
As the pandemic gradually heads to an overdue end, it's clear that remote workforces and work-at-home positions will remain a fixture of corporate life in the years to come. Many organizations have announced their intentions to keep some or all of their staff members remote for the foreseeable future; others have declared their intentions to keep a portion of their staff remote indefinitely. And more and more organizations are now multinational in scope, taking advantage of Internet connectivity to establish branches overseas to compete in new markets. As such, the challenges of corporate communication and organizational culture-building will remain.
It's also clear that firms will need to continue to build and invest in their IT infrastructure to drive employee communications and productivity. Videoconferencing is a part of that. So is modern Intranet technology. But an effective Intranet's role transcends the task-based functions for which videoconferencing is most frequently used.
"Ultimately, you want the intranet to be a resource for employees — a place where they can refresh themselves on the company's mission and where it's headed," says Sharma. "When you can't be together in person, you have to find other ways to maintain a cohesive organization. With a little bit of teamwork and practice, your Intranet could be the best way to achieve that.”