Media / Insights

COVID-19: Normal New Normal

In the scramble for business continuity and the distribution of workforces around the world as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak, has the working environment “norm” as we know it, really changed forever?

The new normal is to talk about the new normal.  Although it is a carefully constructed government slogan to prepare people for a future operating model, it is in fact very relevant to us all. The world has changed, it’s a fact, and as a result we are all experiencing a significant change to our home and work life. As the government’s advice adapts in response to the development of COVID-19, we can, as a business and individual, begin to understand where exactly we are heading.

Culture Change. Tick it off the To-Do list.

Working with a large range of diverse organisations over the years, has led to many conversations about enabling the remote work force. The benefits around location and working hours in terms of productivity, lower costs, and employee morale have often been a hot topic. Seemingly, the barriers to the remote model being adopted by companies has never been technological or financial, as the benefits have always been very compelling. Which is exactly the reason why it always exists on a company’s wish list come annual budget allocations.

Quite simply, the barrier to adoption has always been cultural. It was a big and risky jump, but within a very short timeframe that hesitancy has been completely removed by the needs of organisations in response to COVID-19. The culture change has happened, and there is no going back from it. The shift to remote working is here to stay, so now is the time to understand the challenges and leverage the benefits as quickly as possible.

> Management by Presenteeism

The concept that ‘working longer, means that you are working harder’ has long being scoffed at, but is far from eradicated. The same people who laugh it off are often the individuals who the next day exhibit exactly the same behaviours. It’s bad for mental health, productivity, teamwork and will eventually become toxic, in turn damaging the working culture. Having experienced such management personally, it is abundantly clear that on every occasion the business bottom line is severely affected. The source of the issue is often driven by poor managers who lack the basic communication, social and empathetic skills, so instead resort to draconian measures to protect their own place in a traditional top down organisation. Whenever they have been faced with the prospect of managing a remote team and had the opportunity to steer company opinion, they have resisted and used whatever tactics needed to avoid exposure. Hopefully, these managers will now have no rocks to hide under, will be discovered and be discarded, as they are simply not needed. A new breed of management is needed for a new breed of workforce. It is now the time to step forward and shine.

> Office Space

Business Continuity and £ per employee costs need to be considered quickly. Forward-thinking organisations are already calculating what a 60% rotating seating plan would like in terms of facilities costs and how their technology landscape is prepared for it. Where social distancing dictates fewer employees in the same space in the short term, as restrictions are relaxed the desk vs employee ratio can be reduced. A future rota providing a balance between flexible working for employees and 1 week a month in a “traditional” office delivers a plethora of benefits. Now is the time to adopt this approach as the hard shift has already been implemented with the outbreak of COVID-19.

> Adaptive Portfolio

Don’t stop, adapt. Understandably many businesses at the start of lockdown put everything on hold. Recently the brakes are being taken off and businesses are beginning to think about new world priorities and how their business change initiatives need to switch focus.

Through recent experiences, Speculo has begun to understand the key steps in reviewing your Portfolio to enable a change of direction and speed;

> Triage
Rapidly changing Business Priorities, Tactical and Strategic Objectives mean Business Cases for in flight projects could now be completely invalid. Quick and insightful analysis of the current portfolio is required to ensure re-alignment drives the right outcomes for the business.

Once understood one or more of the following actions can be taken:

> Consolidate
Investigation and analysis of in-flight project commonalities, across key characteristics, can provide economies of scale. A detailed understanding and considered criteria is required here, especially at times when resource is constrained.

> Accelerate
Earned Value  and Benefit Analysis can offer insight in to which initiatives should be prioritised and progressed at speed. Blended and Bespoke Methodologies work well here to inject cadence.

> Hibernate
Projects which are larger in scope and commitment offer a more complex proposition. They can be quickly prepared for a short or long hibernation, which done correctly allows for a quick restart.

> Closure
Initiatives that have delivered the majority of value, offer lowest value against refined priorities or leave people pausing to think of their purpose should be stopped immediately.

> The Death of Methodologies

The last 10 years or so has seen the world of project delivery methodologies, associated training and certifications explode. Cutting to the chase, there are many flavours and subtle derivations of waterfall and agile methodologies but very rarely will you find any of them fit perfectly.

As a business, Speculo firmly believes effective delivery needs to focus on clarity and cadence, the what, rather than the how. Adopting a methodology before you know what you are creating is the epitome of a horse before the cart approach. We need to first understand the objective and then choose the tools from our toolbox to create them. Crudely, the analogy of selecting a hammer for the tasks and then deciding to make a Victoria Sponge Cake does not make any sense.

Blended Methodologies have to be the answer. Having implemented projects recently which used what could be labelled “SCRUM Sprints within a PRINCE2 work package” it is clear that the decision must be made by the project team, not by what a framework tells you to do. As a result, the projects were a great success and the approach worked incredibly effectively. Releasing yourself from the rules written by someone who does not know you project makes logical sense, after all, rules are made to be broken.

> The Physical Limits

Technological change is becoming much less about hardware and more about software. Not just software development, but software selection, design, deployment and configuration. There are millions of “off the shelf” products that are infinitely configurable to make a bespoke solution for your “software-defined” infrastructure. With recent experience of a socially distant hardware install, including minimum people power, the correct PPE, and method statements to ensure contact and interaction is minimised, it is clear that the time now spent managing Datacentre access and physical build is minimal. Without simplifying the process, once the wires are plumbed in, the configuration is all done remotely. The IT landscape has come a long way in reducing datacentre footprint in the last 5 years and person to person contact is not a limiting factor in deployment. We should not be putting key projects on hold because they require physical installs or deployment, we should be adjusting work practices quickly to adapt to the current situation. Any company pausing critical work due to access issues should have a very good reason because there is a good chance their competitors won’t be.

> Do not “OverUber”

OverUber (adj) – The risk of reading a Silicon Valley success story and adopting it verbatim as a strategy.

This undertaking can often be a bridge too far for established companies. Extremely successful companies under 5 years old that have grown up in the “cloud” invented remote working, their teams know nothing different, they work flexibly and collaborate effectively without boundaries. They make it look easy and we have lots to learn from the cultures they have created. However, trying to make your organisation work as they do from day one is very likely to fail. Established organisations have history, culture, politics and people to deal with. Decide on a set of business-aligned objectives, define what is realistic for your team to achieve and most importantly understand the journey and direction before you set off. Aiming for the impossible is admirable but replicating a 5 year old company structure with 100x the employees is what failed “Digital Transformations” are made of.

Embrace the Flexible Workforce

Attracting and locating talent proximate to a company HQ or office has always been a massively limiting factor in getting the best people into your business. Organisations rely on people locating themselves close to business hubs and hotspots in large cities. However, we are now seeing the dawn of an era where this no longer matters, an era where a business can now truly recruit the best person for the role, not the best located person.

Additionally, businesses can create efficiencies in recruitment. Why recruit permanent members of staff when times are unpredictable? Why sign up temporary workers for fixed periods when you don’t know you have the pipeline of work to warrant it? Businesses require flexibility and expert resources on-demand. Recruitment focus should shift in the new world, businesses should be making the hiring process fit the expert they need, not the person fit the hiring process.

Key Takeaways

In summary, companies that can pivot quickly and address the following key points will emerge from this crisis fitter than ever:

1. Embrace flexible working and empower employees. Create a culture of trust immediately, the benefits for the business and the employee are immediate and powerful.

2. Drive efficiencies via forced circumstance. Have a plan to reduce office space requirements where practical and possible.

3. Prepare for the worst (again).  Remote working capability has the added benefit of enabling Business Continuity planning, ensure the wider DR/BC plan is reviewed and updated with the working practices, technologies and invocation/rollback procedures.

4. Review and Realign projects in progress. Ensure that the objectives are still valid and the value to be delivered is aligned to the business strategy.

5. Deliver projects with the outcomes at their core. Let the key objectives define what tools are used, do not be held back by methodologies. Cadence is king.

6. Hire the experts. Don’t be ham strung by outdated recruitment and resourcing models. Geographical boundaries have been removed, ensure existing processes are adjusted quickly to allow you to take advantage of a much wider talent field.

Get in touch

If you’d like to discuss remote working, flexible workforces and how Speculo helps organisations deliver projects on time and budget, get in touch today. 

Virtual PMO

A flexible, financially efficient approach to delivering change and business transformation. Speculo’s Virtual PMO delivers all the benefits of your own Project Management Office including on-demand project expertise, but without any ongoing commitment or common project inefficiencies.