Nearly three-quarters of companies plan to make remote work a permanent reality, for at least some of their staff who were previously on-site, according to a Gartner Covid-19 Bulletin from April 2020.
It’s a radical shift. While there are significant benefits reported for teams working from home rather than offices, there are also very real challenges, and many of them come down to the need for good processes.
In most offices, finding information is as easy as asking a co-worker. But with large numbers of workers now remote, organic process touchpoints – like conversations around the coffee pot – are suddenly gone.
In addition, those already-dusty procedure manuals and complex flowcharts lying in the office are even less likely to be deciphered, leaving vast numbers of employees adrift with little support in the everyday tasks they’re expected to execute in this new context.
This vacuum can introduce significant anxiety. As any new employee will attest, not knowing where to look for something, from documentation to software access credentials, can be stressful. It’s also unproductive, and employees searching for information on what to do next, or who to hand tasks off to, can lose time and momentum. Communication technology may feel overwhelming, resulting in staff who come up with their own solutions.
The inevitable outcome is process variation. As staff develop new methodologies to solve the problems they face in isolation, process execution becomes individualised. That introduces significant instability, as steps are short-cut and compliance takes a back seat to convenience.
That kind of unmanaged process evolution results in breakdowns and delays that cost the organisation time, money, and customer goodwill.
The simple solution is to make the process information available in a way people can – and will – utilise, from wherever they’re working. They need a cloud-based process tool that invites engagement.
An online process platform provides a central source of truth for everyone. It makes processes clear, with information that is easy to find and simple to use. Linking process documentation to information management systems and document libraries ensures that no matter where they’re working, teams have everything at their fingertips, from forms and policies to instructional videos and linked sites.
While providing process information for a widely scattered workforce is crucial to smooth operations, there’s another benefit to creating a cloud-based location that everyone can turn to when they’re thinking about their processes: it provides a portal for innovative thinking.
The inclination to find new approaches, to eliminate steps and to change the way things get done isn’t a bad one. As workers adapt to the working-from-home paradigm, they’ll inevitably see places where efficiencies can be gained through new ways of doing things. And those changes will need good governance.
When remote workers are given a platform where they can offer suggestions and engage in process conversations, those ideas can be brought to light, evaluated, and approved. Where they offer savings and improvements over the status quo, they can be scaled across the organisation for greater efficiency and effectiveness.
By establishing process champions that encourage and oversee these changes, a business can ensure that process evolution is managed in a way that welcomes innovation but also protects stability and best practice for everyone.
With the move to remote working, many people are discovering technological tools that they’d rarely considered before. Microsoft saw video calls on its Teams platform grow by 1,000 per cent in March alone, as people working from home found new ways to meet and collaborate.
That creative thinking can be turned to how processes are executed, too. Process automation tools can accelerate process execution by taking on the task of routine data handling and routing. They can reduce errors in data transfer and speed up the handover points between staff and process steps, freeing employees to focus on value-adding activities that require a human touch.
Maintaining productive practices in a next generation workplace is a process opportunity. With remote work becoming the new normal, businesses need to provide easy and effective ways for their staff to find the information they need to execute business processes well. With platforms that engage workers wherever they are, organisations can encourage innovation that builds on the benefits of remote work and streamlines those improvements for everyone’s benefit.
Thomas Kohlenbach is a senior product evangelist at Nintex
This article was originally published in the Autumn 2020 issue of The Record. To get future issues delivered directly to your inbox, sign up for a free subscription.
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