Maintain productivity through the Pandemic with Globally Distributed Teams
The onset of the Covid-19 pandemic brought many problems for individuals and businesses. Overnight, it changed how we are able to work, and suddenly continuity plans that were once thought over the top became wholly inadequate.
With just a few days’ notice, businesses all over the world had no option but to send thousands of employees to work from home, or to arrange alternative locations for key teams on the fly. Business in general were not prepared for this scale of reorganization. In general, businesses do run disaster drills, ensuring people get out of building in case of fire and so on, but sending everyone to work from home due to a global pandemic? It is simply not something that has been prepared for.
However, even as the pandemic grew, projects needed completing and clients needed to be served, so businesses found ways to continue to be productive while ensuring that employees were safe and protected from the risks of Covid-19.
Distributed Teams prove effective
Even though the entire pandemic response, including the home and remote working solutions, were born out of necessity for many businesses, the outcome is something we at My Team Abroad were already familiar with. Distributed teams are incredibly effective, and many businesses saw little disruption once the initial setup challenges were overcome.
Industry organizations have carried out several studies in regard to the response to the pandemic, in particular the need to move to a distributed worker model, and how that has affected both productivity and client satisfaction. What is clear from studies across multiple industries is that while there were some initial issues as systems and workflow processes were created and implemented, since then the majority of businesses have maintained output and client satisfaction throughout the crisis.
With that in mind, it is perhaps unsurprising that businesses of all sizes are now looking to the future, and how the experience learned from Covid-19 could shape future operating models. While there are complexities in managing teams dispersed across the world, with cultural, political and social differences being challenges to overcome, the ability to reduce costs and transfer workloads through the process offers huge benefits to businesses of all kinds.
In a world that modern communications have made ever smaller, global cross-functional teams can bring vital energy to any organization.
The Covid-19 Response
If we look at the way business responded to Covid-19, the initial stage was focussed on ensuring the safety of the workforce. Once the decision to work from home or alternate locations was taken, then the challenge of creating systems and processes to enable those workers to function effectively was looked at. In many cases, existing continuity plans for technology risk and identifying key individuals provided a strong and existing platform to create the new strategy.
Importantly, while those contingencies helped in the initial rollout, few businesses would have planned for the long duration of those alternate strategies that have been necessary for the pandemic response. The surprise for many management teams has been how robust a distributed team model has proven to be throughout these challenging times.
For many businesses, one particular challenge has been the need to operate in several local conditions that differ greatly in terms of government guidelines and public health response. As the disease spread differently in each individual country, team members have been operating under those distinct local responses, creating localized challenges that must also be managed effectively.
This displays the strength of the distributed team model, as workloads can be shifted between both individuals and different teams to accommodate ongoing local restrictions for individuals or groups. This flexibility has enabled a global response that reflects local conditions, maximizing productivity in challenging environments through efficient use of all assets available.
One area of challenge that has been identified during the pandemic response is the need for technology standardization. With many employees working from home, one of the first noticeable variables was that not every individual working from home had the technology available to do so comfortably and efficiently. From laptop choice and monitor size, having the technology capable of performing work tasks is essential, and providing standardized hardware to all ensures that each team member has everything they need to be an effective member of the team.
This also improves operational effectiveness and provides security continuity across the organization too, improving the client experience and enhancing productivity. With consistent technology, processes can also be distributed around local offices, enabling an organization to adapt to changing local conditions and government guidelines to maintain operational efficiency.
The key area that many assume about remote working is that adapting such a strategy comes with a productivity penalty. However, while the pandemic itself caused disruption for individuals as illness of infrastructure issues caused them to be offline and unable to work for extended periods, teams that were fully functional maintained productivity levels comparable with existing systems. In some studies, around half of businesses suggest that productivity actually went up, albeit marginally.
Another challenge for distributed teams is compliance. Maintaining appropriate standards across a distributed team means some form of monitoring to ensures process and standards compliance, however few such systems were in place prior to the pandemic, as it is a situation previously not encountered often enough.
Returning to Work
The initial decision to move to remote working may have been taken and implemented quickly and en masse through necessity, but the return to work is unlikely to be the same process. The need to maintain social distancing ensures that only a fraction of employees can return in one go. Some companies are suggesting up to 50% of workers will be returning, but this depends on the nature of the environment, local guidelines and indeed, whether workers feel comfortable returning or not.
The distributed worker model has proved to be a game changer, not just for businesses themselves, but for employees as well. In many industries today, the conversation is no longer about consolidation into ever bigger locations, but how much of the workforce can continue to work remotely instead.
Post pandemic, it is unlikely that the business world will ever return to what we think of as ‘normal’. With steady improvements in communications and the technology we use to carry out work tasks, a global distributed team strategy is now not only a proven concept for effective, efficient approach to business, but is becoming more refined and capable as we move forward. Remote working across thew world using distributed teams has arrived, and it is here to stay.