In this monthly post, I highlight some of the best thought-leadership articles and reports that cross my desk. I note why they rise to the top of the pile and are worth reading (or skimming), even if they focus on functions or industries outside your areas of interest. Among the criteria I use to make the selections are freshness and provocativeness of insights and timeliness, analytical rigor, depth of prescriptions, and overall readability.
The COVID-19 pandemic continues to dominate the thought-leadership publishing agenda of professional services firms. Many are weighing in on how to manage a workforce under these difficult circumstances, including the long-term implications of remote working and how to bring employees back to the office safely. Here are some of the more interesting pieces I’ve found.
Bain & Company
Agile works at home”
What’s a collection of articles from consulting firms without at least one about the virtues of agile? This piece looks at the challenges remote agile teams face and how to overcome them, finding that remote working may accentuate agile’s benefits. It may be a little early to make this claim—the rosy glow around remote working may be fading—but the authors make an interesting case nonetheless.
“Recent experience suggests that agile’s advantage actually expands when teams work remotely. One reason for this may be that the things that make traditional ways of working challenging—lack of prioritization, multitasking and unclear decision-making—are even bigger problems when a business goes virtual. By contrast, Agile’s clearly defined roles, events, artifacts and timing become even more valuable.”
The authors of this article offer a way of thinking about getting back to the office, including multiple versions of remote working and taking a job-by-job or function-by-function approach. They then explore six important areas of work life, such as routines, cybersecurity, and coaching, and how to move from remote by necessity to remote by choice.
“Even though restrictions are lifting, organizations do
not need to return to all of their old ways of working. Rather than taking a ‘yesterday, forward’ approach that resets the clock to pre-COVID-19 days and reseats all employees at their onsite work stations, organizations can choose a ‘tomorrow, backward’ philosophy that embraces a future built on the lessons of these last few months of remote working.”
Remote work works—where do we go from here?”
These authors also take a before-and-after approach to the workplace. They advise on how to return to work and then how to adjust for the long term.
“As we begin to emerge out of lockdown, leaders must rethink the environment in which their companies operate. Succeeding in this uncertain period requires using two gears, moving together, in a maturing cycle of modelling, iterating and pivoting. While Gear 1 focuses on a trusted transition back to physical operations, Gear 2 explores how to transform for the better. Gear 1 focuses on risks; Gear 2 breaks open opportunities. Yet they are interconnected and interdependent, meaning a poorly executed transition will block the path to transformation.”
This is one of the more detailed pieces I’ve seen
about how companies should think about back-to-work approaches, including what to do about employee testing. (Korn Ferry discusses how Kroger, the US grocery chain, is employing testing.) The authors also propose a five-step process to create new or test existing workplace policies and procedures.
“Since every organization is different, no universal
plug-and-play action plan exists. Regardless of your industry, size or where you are in the development of your plans, however, a first and fundamental step toward implementation of your plans is conducting a risk review. One efficient mechanism for performing the risk review, creating the framework, and helping you make key strategic and regulatory decisions in a focused and stepwise approach, is to answer a series of detailed questions addressing the following topics: employee testing, environmental and facility controls, human resources policies, administrative controls, and medical monitoring and tracking.”
From testing to SOPs—
developing a ‘Back to the Workplace’ framework that will pass the coming employee referendum”
This report offers a comprehensive and detailed look at how companies should think about returning to the workplace—for example, how to handle workers who never stopped going into the office, those who are in the first wave of returnees, those who might eventually return, and those who will work from home permanently. It’s interesting that Korn Ferry, an executive search firm, is competing directly, and aggressively, with consulting firms on this issue.
“In many cases, the pandemic has altered or even completely upended how an organization does business, eliminating the need for an entire array of roles and creating new ones that might have been unthinkable at the firm. Under this scenario, some employees may be able to shift to new positions and adjust skill sets accordingly. Others may not. Only a truly systematic analysis can help organizations determine if their workforce is truly the right fit.”
Shaping the future workforce
Can reopening your
workplace help you reimagine your future?”
The two documents here—on reopening workplaces and contactless operations—display an impressive level of detail about the nuts and bolts of getting back to the office. In the reopening workplaces piece, the authors point to about 85 “interventions for protecting workforces.” As far as I can tell, no professional services firm has published at this level of depth on the topic. Perhaps others were afraid of giving away too much intellectual property.
“As executives in the private and public sectors make plans for bringing employees back to workplaces amid the COVID-19 pandemic, they may wish to consider interventions that can help mitigate health risks to workers and customers. Informed by the experiences of companies across the globe, this page presents two sets of documents: one covering each stage of the return to a reopened workplace, and another focused on designing and implementing contactless services and operations.”
McKinsey & Company
Reopening workplaces amid COVID-19”
Kudos to the authors for weighing in on this timely,
yet not obvious, topic. The piece contains lots of interesting insights on workforce inclusion that could benefit leaders of all kinds of organizations in this difficult moment.
“People are now connecting in entirely different ways, often experiencing greater connectivity than they did before the pandemic. However, this environment does not guarantee greater inclusion at work. Without targeted intervention, noninclusive dynamics among on-site teams have the potential to be amplified in a remote context. For example, the habit of interacting primarily with familiar team members versus building new connections, supporters, and champions may be even harder to overcome when impromptu, in-person interactions are no longer possible. This dynamic is especially true for employees who already felt like an ‘only’ on their team.”
Sustaining and strengthening inclusion in our new remote environment”
This article discusses how a McKinsey organizational-change favorite, the influence model, can be used to help promote the adoption of safe behaviors in the workplace.
“We believe that instead of relying on compliance and enforcement, leaders now have an opportunity to shift to addressing the underlying thoughts, feelings, and beliefs that ultimately determine whether people will change. Getting ‘underneath the iceberg’ of what motivates individuals to act is crucial to managing the COVID-19 crisis. Enter the influence model, which has four interrelated and evidence-based practices to drive mindset and behavior change.”
The long haul: How leaders can shift mindsets and behaviors to reopen safely”
The authors discuss four actions to “transition to the office of the future”: redefine the role of the office, define work-from-home guidelines, remodel the office, and update your ways of working. They offer some interesting ways to think about the issue and suggestions for how to accomplish the transition.
“Our surveys show a small percentage of employees prefer to work remotely all the time, so it’s important to assess what flexibility means for them. Meanwhile, other employees will want to socialize with team members and feel that they are part of the organization. How many people will need a place to collaborate with colleagues in person, and how often? The answers to these questions will determine both the success of a business and the extent of the physical remodeling that companies will need to do.”
Creating the office of the future”
This is a short but timely piece on why it’s important for companies to keep diversity and inclusion in mind when planning layoffs.
“Research shows that women and minorities have historically been disproportionally impacted during layoffs, and that during the first half of this year, unemployment is rising fastest for women and people of color. The net result is that layoffs, while undertaken to strengthen a company during a period of crisis, ultimately pose a substantial reputational risk given growing pressures for actionable D&I policies and commitments in the wake of widespread unrest over racial inequality and injustice.”
& inclusion during workforce reductions”
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