What have we learned about operating a business during the pandemic? Well, alongside the challenges of juggling home and family life, there are some remarkable themes emerging that point to an interesting future
Working at home can be intense. Relentless video calls, fewer natural pauses in our day, and less human contact, is tiring. The sudden shift has also been hard for people with young children or individuals working alone in apartments.
But while leaders seek to support their teams, and find ways of helping them stay well, the past few months have also yielded positive experiences that are challenging the narrative of office life.
“You would imagine people would be head down doing their job, but for the most part it has forced the spotlight on team working,” says Bernadine Reese, managing director at Protiviti.
“People have been forced to see whether they are connecting with their teams and getting everyone’s views. As a business, we’ve also become more conscious of working across all our different offerings to customers; on balance, I think it has been a positive experience.”
Six months ago, would any of us have believed home working could support more collaboration, innovation, and inclusion? Perhaps not, but that is exactly what’s happening. As Protiviti has embraced this new way of working, stories of coming together and continuous improvement, are being written.
“As part of a recent sales meeting, we showcased a new proposal tool called Sway,” adds Bernadine. “If we were sat around a table, it would have been easy to mention it and move on. But because we were all online, someone shared their screen and immediately people asked: ‘How can I get involved?’ Where does the training come from?’
“I do question whether that would be the case, had we not been in a virtual meeting.”
From collaboration to innovation (and beyond)
Working together to develop better products or services, or new ways of doing things, has never been more pressing. While some businesses have increased sales during the pandemic, others have changed what they do entirely, and almost everyone is looking to develop new insights.
“Right now, there is probably not enough focus on innovation,” says Roland Carandang, global leader for Protiviti’s digital identity practice. “There have been people on our webinar forums coming up with some great ideas, and their method of sustaining those is to keep doing the same thing.
“But what people aren’t looking at is having a more systemic view of innovation. I am a big believer in looking at the bigger picture. We have been doing a lot with an innovation system called Luma. We use their human-centric design methods and to me they hold a lot of promise.”
Design thinking is a method of creative problem-solving that focuses on people first. It can help improve products, processes, and services. The Luma system, which has been designed to work across countries and cultures, can be applied to any problem, in any setting, according to the company.
At the moment, Roland believes it is supporting the company to innovate how it operates and help people feel more included.
“You are in a virtual room, for example, and everybody has time to add comments about what is going well, what is not going well, and where they see opportunities,” he says. “It really does force a more balanced perspective. It can be easier for people to participate because they know all their views will be documented. That to me is the bigger opportunity on inclusion.”
Design thinking and growth mindset – the ability to develop our basic qualities – are also closely aligned, he says. “Feedback with my team has always been important but it has become more important now; it’s also more openly asked for.”
When Roland and his colleagues started business planning for next year, one of his directors suggested asking the managers what they would like to be doing, as a starting point. He’s also seen others speaking more openly with the leadership team and sharing their perspectives. The ideas are better, he believes, and they are being built on.
“That’s happening as a result of including people at the table more, and that’s pretty consistent.”
Taking it to the market
It’s natural to assume that what works for one business, might work for another, and the evidence from client conversations suggests this is true. Once something has been explored internally, it has the potential to be applied outside, for the benefit of others.
“I think this is an opportunity for some financial services businesses to rebuild their online customer journeys,” says Reese. “At the moment, it is quite remote: you fill in a form, it goes somewhere, you don’t know what’s happening to it. Technology might allow some face-to-face discussion at certain points of the process, which would make it more engaging.
“At the moment, I’m not hearing that there is a big move from people to change how they are dealing with their customers, but I think video calls do open the path to people thinking what else they could do: if you are a branch manager and need to meet people, or if you are a financial adviser needing to speak to clients, for example.”
Towards a more human approach
Overall, these insights mean businesses have an interesting opportunity to connect better with everyone: people they work with, and people they work for. While video can feel distant, both Roland, Bernadine, and their colleague Paul Middleton, believe the past few months have helped everyone get closer.
“As a leadership team we used to meet monthly; at the moment, we meet every day,” says Paul, who is a managing director in the business. “That’s good, and brings a closeness, a camaraderie. The shared adversity brings us together and we have developed a collegiate team.
“I think you begin to know more about people,” he adds. “I’m speaking to other clients and they have been sharing stories of people who have been ferocious in the office, who are more human in their home environment. I’ve also seen very quiet people come to the fore and shine.”
Roland says the business has three core values as part of its strategy towards 2022: innovation, inclusion, and integrity. These elements were being developing already, but “because of the isolation we have been in and the remote working we are doing, we have quickly found ways of developing them”.
“Could they have happened before? Yes. Are they happening more systemically now? Yes.”
In the next article in this series, we will build on the importance of bringing people together and explore why a principled people strategy is something that all businesses will need in a post-pandemic world.