Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Best Practices for a Post-Pandemic Workplace

It’s been several months since stay-at-home orders were enforced, and now, even as cases continue to rise and fall throughout the US – many organizations need to get on with business. According to the recent statistics, the pandemic jump-and-plunge data will likely continue until the development of an effective therapy or vaccine. However, with no clear indication of when that may be, companies now need to work through effective, safe and measurable best practices to return to office (RTO).

A successful RTO is holistic, transparent, and continually monitored and adjusted as needed—consider the process as an end-to-end “journey” rather than a solution. Businesses and employees are navigating unforeseen circumstances, and an RTO should consider every step involved carefully and mindfully.

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When looking at the way companies are adapting, it’s like Thomas Friedman says – there are two eras: BC (Before Corona) and AC (After Corona). Companies should take advantage of COVID-19 to ensure they have a constant and consistent communication plan. The best practice for an RTO is to approach communication efficiently, effectively and with a multifaceted approach.

Companies will need to address and learn to fight FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt), as information overload can be a fundamental communication challenge when navigating the pandemic or any other crisis.

A crucial step in creating a safe environment at work starts with the employees. Companies should enlist regular self-health checks for all employees. With various resources available, such as COVID Resistance from EPAM, employees can manage self-checks at home before returning to work. Companies will also need to enforce reasonable access control when employees arrive and consider the ‘at-work experience.’

Helping employees feel safe and secure at work will allow everyone to be more productive. It is critical to normalize managing communal spaces, enforcing social distancing where available, and applying methods like contact tracing to ensure the utmost best practices.

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Another element to dilute employee concern is to phase-in. Deploying a phased model that adheres to common geographies, business units, and other key organizational factors will allow employers to adjust to more people and monitor at a lower-risk for companies, allowing each phase to be better by implementation execution. While RTO is a practice being implemented, there are some cases where this might not be a possibility.

In a world seeking to become increasingly mobile, COVID-19 has accelerated the need for flexibility and convenience. As per the recent IDC annual conference, “accelerating automation activities” is being seen as one of three likely “permanent effects of COVID on technology.”

Within automation, the noted three pillars: infrastructure, labor and operations. Additionally, intelligent automation, as we define it, addresses “labor”, which, according to IDC, “45% of repetitive work tasks will be automated and/or augmented by using ‘digital coworkers’, powered by AI, robotics and RPA. This provides a significant advantage for companies striving to stay competitive.

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AI integration can help bridge the skills gap, help reprioritize employee tasks, and curb employee burnout. With the right data, machine learning can help businesses adapt to the emergent trends and retrain at scale to meet demand.

Newly found remote-work leaders are seeking ways to further engage their at-home workers; likewise to Massively Multiplayer Online (MMOs), remote work requires teamwork. MMOs have been seen to shape effective team culture and collaboration. MMO player and EPM consultants Carroll Gau shares his view, “There’s definitely a lot we can learn from MMOs about how teams and cultures are formed. And also how they deal with solving problems, setting expectations and decentralizing. It is eerily similar to real life.” Gaming has become increasingly social, competitive and collaborative to combat the complex, strategic gameplay that can take months to complete.

Similarly to work settings, there is a lot that organizational leaders can do to bring teams together and reinforce common goals. Leaders need to work diligently to keep teams balanced and communicate effectively. Team collaboration is essential; both leaders and team members should take conscious steps to contribute to team culture and reinforce common goals, whether it’s leveling up in MMO or completing tasks in the office.

There is a lot to be learned from MMOs leaders. Through how they deliver clear, concise communication to how they navigate through stressful and instant challenges. Furthermore, MMO leaders collaborate to celebrate the efforts of the entire team, and to recognize the contributions of different members needs to be a conscious effort.

Albert Rees
Albert Rees is SVP, Head of Business Consulting at EPAM Systems, Inc. Mr. Rees has 20+ years of experience in the business and management consulting industry. Prior to joining EPAM, he served as President of North Highland, leading the North and UK Region, and overseeing more than 400 consultants and support people. In addition to having full P&L responsibility for the region, Mr. Rees has provided large-scale business transformation advice to numerous Fortune 100 companies.

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