Virtual reality

Dec 07, 2020
Lory Kehoe draws on his experience of leading a ‘remote first’ organisation to share his seven steps to virtualise any company.

Microsoft’s CEO, Satya Nadella, put it very well when, earlier this year, he said: “We’ve seen two years’ worth of digital transformation in two months”. Whether you think we will return to the pre-COVID-19 ways of working or a place that is almost the same as how we operated previously, or that we are in uncharted territory, the remote working genie is out of the bottle. Companies must, therefore, consider the following to keep employee engagement high.

1. Ask and listen

The most effective way to find out what your team members want is to ask them. Create a short survey with questions (no more than ten) that can lead to the creation of a set of plans. 

2. Be flexible

No single solution will work for everyone, so flexibility is vital. Some people may not want to return to the office, some may want to do three days in and two days out, and some may wish to work from co-working spaces close to home. Each of these solutions will most likely mean change, but the real question here is: what is the best way to support your employees and enable them to do the best job possible?

3. Ways of working

Just because people are not working in the office does not mean they are available 24/7. Businesses must establish practical ways of working that ensure customers are happy, and the work gets done with respect for employees while avoiding burnout. A tip here is to set your emails to send at a specific time during appropriate working hours. An ‘always on’ culture stems from leadership, so if you are a leader and want this practice to stop, it is up to you to set the tone. MIT did an interesting study titled What Email Reveals About Your Organisation, which you can read here.

Something to bear in mind is the importance of tone in your emails and Slack or WhatsApp messages. As we now spend less time together physically, the subtleties of body language are lost and the tone of your writing is more important than ever. Writing tone tends to get short when we are busy and/or tired, which can result in people picking things up the wrong way. The Conversation published an excellent article titled Ten Rules of Email That Will Reduce Your Stress Levels, which you can read here.

4. Policies and procedures

Work closely with HR and your legal team to ensure that company policies and procedures are documented and added to your company handbook. Very few companies, if any, have the perfect solution for full virtualisation, and I suggest being honest with your team members on this. As the situation continues to evolve, a trial and error approach may be the best of course of action. For example, the plan once restrictions are lifted might be that people work from home three days a week and spend two days in the office. Having spent two years working with a technology company that adopted a remote-first approach followed by a remote-friendly approach and then switched back to a remote-first strategy, it’s essential to have a clear company-wide policy. Furthermore, work with your HR business partner to document the policy, communicate it, monitor it, seek feedback through surveys, re-evaluate it, make changes as necessary, and start the process again.

5. Hardware and software

Despite what people think, selecting hardware and software is the easy part. Be clear on what laptops you will supply and any other home allowances for desks, chairs etc. Also, select your video-conferencing provider of choice and stick to one. Keep it simple and be consistent. Do not forget to work closely with your in-house IT team to ensure that all laptops are encrypted, and there is a full inventory for all devices.

6. Training

Weekly technology tutorials are a great way to ensure everyone is comfortable with their new technology tools and getting the most out of them – whether it’s recording sessions, using polls or setting up break-out rooms. Don’t assume that everyone knows how to use these new tools.

7. Embrace

Before COVID-19, remote working was a perk that was offered by some companies. In my opinion, some form of remote working is here to stay, and it has become ‘table stakes’ to offer it. Companies that listen to their employees and make flexible arrangements will attract and keep talent, while companies that don’t will look rigid and struggle.

Lory Kehoe is Adjunct Assistant Professor in Technology Trends at Trinity Business School. He is founder and former managing director of ConsenSys and previously worked in Deloitte, where he founded the firm’s EMEA Blockchain Lab.