It’s no secret that remote work or telecommuting was gaining popularity in the United States over the past decade. According to one recent study, about 4.3 million people work remotely at least half the time — a number equivalent to about 3.2% of the entire workforce. All told, the number of people who work from home in some capacity has increased by an impressive 140% since 2005 alone — a trend that showed absolutely no signs of slowing down anytime soon.
Based on all of the above, it’s safe to say that it was already established that remote work played an important role in the future of business. Few people probably realized that “the future” would arrive quite as quickly as it did.
At one point during the Coronavirus pandemic, more people were in lockdown in the United States than were alive during World War II. Many employees were working remotely for the first time and countless organizations had to find ways to adapt to the brave new world we found ourselves in.
These same organizations are now trying to figure out the best strategy to accommodate these newly remote, flexible workers. Believe it or not, the most important component of that strategy is still the one that far too many people are overlooking.
Why Information Management Matters Most of All
There are a number of important components that are necessary to make any remote employee strategy truly work. Obviously, you need video conferencing and chat tools so that people can communicate and collaborate with one another. These workers need not only reliable Internet connections of their own, but a secure way to access a business’ network so that they can continue to share data and be as productive as possible.
But while these elements are important… they’re not the most important component that should be at the heart of your strategy.
By far, the number one most important part of any successful remote, flexible work strategy has to do with a true information platform at the heart of it all. At its core, an information management system is exactly what it sounds like — a solution designed to enable not only the storage of critical data, but also the organization and retrieval of that same information.
Think about it like this. Your average business is creating an enormous amount of data on a daily basis pertaining to not only the work of its employees but also its products, its services and its customers. But without a way to share that information and make it easy for anyone to access from anywhere, the actionable intelligence and insight it contains remains trapped inside. At that point, the data is essentially meaningless — it’s little more than a bunch of 1s and 0s sitting on a hard drive somewhere.
During a period where more people are working remotely than ever, the problem of information sprawl actually gets worse, not better. Data is being created from so many difference sources that are essentially siloed off from one another that communication, collaboration AND productivity are harmed in ways that you simply cannot afford.
By having the right information management software at the heart of your remote, flexible work strategy, on the other hand, you accomplish a number of important goals — essentially all at the exact same time.
- Give your employees a solution that gives them anywhere, anytime access to all of the critical data they need to do their jobs in the most effective way possible.
- You also have an overarching strategy that applies not just to the sharing of information, but that also works in accordance with all of the principles of governance, compliance and security.
So, you’re not just providing your employees access to the tools necessary to do their jobs. You’re doing so in a way that gives you better visibility into who is accessing what information and from where, which ensures compliance with rules and regulations you must adhere to. You’re also adding yet another layer of security, thus protecting your employees, your customers and the very business you’ve already worked so hard to build.
But the major reason why this is so important right now is that sooner rather than later, COVID-19 will be officially behind us. However, the businesses that we’re about to return to will likely barely resemble the ones we left in mid-March. Remote, flexible work is absolutely here to stay and by putting this critical component in place as an organic part of your remote, flexible work strategy today, you’ll be able to reap benefits that will continue to pay dividends long after COVID-19 is finally gone.
If you’d like to find out more about why an information management solution is the number one most important part of any remote, flexible work strategy, or if you just have any additional questions you’d like to discuss with someone in a bit more detail, we’re here to be a resource for you and your team.
According to figures, before COVID, only 7% of workers in the U.S. had access to a “flexible workplace” benefit or telework. Now, 64% of US employees are working from home now, according to research conducted by SHRM’s COVID-19 Business Index.
This swelling of remote work is spurring many organizations to reevaluate their suite of business applications and tech solutions. In a TechRepublic article this year, Mike Vance, VP of IT at KSM Consulting says:
“It means evaluating what systems you have and how you can potentially migrate to the cloud, even in this [remote] environment. Your IT professionals still have the access that they need to do that work. Streamlining their tech stack is also aligned with what your core business function is, the systems that support that, and ensuring they are resilient and ready to function as they need it to.”
Vance continues to lay out a simple process for IT organizations to right-size their tech stacks in these strange and unprecedented times — a process certainly worth recapping.
Step 1: Conduct an Audit of Your Tech Stack
The first suggestion and natural starting point is to assess which constituents of your tech stack are actually needed. Vance suggests deploying employee surveys to assess which solutions are most useful and most utilized.
“I’d be doing them probably the first couple of weeks… I would analyze the results, figure out what you need to dive into deeper to make sure they’re fully productive. Then move that to biweekly for a month and then monthly until we get out of this window,” Vance says. “You could uncover a lot of things in regard to preparedness in organizations that they didn’t know before.”
Step 2: Develop a Feasibility Matrix
The next step is to collect qualitative data from the IT staff and use that data to put together a feasibility matrix — which analyzes responses from the employee surveys to determine which tech solutions are critical. From there, define which of those are feasible to continue using in a remote work environment.
Again, Vance guides us to the most critical consideration in assessing software solutions in a remote work environment:
What is the feasibility and how does it balance with the ROI of that solution?
In other words… “What’s the return I get out of making this investment during this time? How hard is it to get it? Is it even feasible to have this while being remote?”
Vance goes on to highlight the importance of collaboration and communication solutions to a remote work tech stack, while balancing them with diligent information security practices to minimize the risk brought on by remote work.
Step 3: Eliminate Redundant, Unnecessary Applications and SaaS Licenses
An organization’s tech stack is an ever-evolving organism. Many organizations keep adding to their suite of tech solutions — which naturally means a bloating of data stores and information repositories. It also means that there are SaaS solutions that aren’t being used much anymore and licenses which can be cut from the budget.
With an audit and resulting feasibility matrix in tow, IT departments can start to execute on that information and retool their tech stacks, trimming the applications that are unnecessary and cutting down on redundant SaaS licenses.
The Glue that Binds the Enterprise Tech Stack: Information Management
As mentioned a moment ago, as the tech stack grows, so too does the amount of information, data, files and documents that are a natural by-product of doing business. Not only does the amount of information grow, usually the number of repositories grows, as well.
Think about it. If an organization standardizes and adds a communication tool, a collaboration tool, and a project management tool, for example, that’s three more silos where information will be housed.
To combat this information sprawl, organizations should consider an intelligent information management platform like M-Files. With M-Files, information and files can live wherever they need to live. M-Files connects to existing repositories, presenting information to users based on what it is, not where it is. It allows users to perform Google-like searches for critical information across the entire information ecosystem.
M-Files also helps enforce companywide information security and governance protocols, even in a remote work environment. By layering M-Files as an umbrella over the entire tech stack, compliance is preserved, and only authorized personnel have access to sensitive information.
Ultimately, intelligent information management underpins the enterprise tech stack and can be scaled along with it as companies right-size that tech stack.
5 Tips for Maintaining Work-life Balance
We now have worked from home for months, with varying degrees of freedom to move around. Depending on which country you are based in, you may be totally confined to your home complex or are able to run your errands in the city. During this time, the world has experienced some more things,
- Many more COVID-19 infected people, some even in our known circle
- Many losing their jobs or having reduced incomes
- Economy taking a hit, as people are spending money on essentials only
- On the work front, a lot more time being spent in front of laptops and mobile devices
All these changes can bring more stress to our lives. Negative energies of these financial, emotional, and work pressures can impact your health. We need a balance in our existence to survive and thrive. Here are five quick tips for maintaining this balance,
- Exercise more – Start your day with some physical exercises, yoga, and meditation. The combination can be very peaceful and calming for your being
- Shorter meetings – Set 15-minute or 45-minute meetings instead of 30- and 60-minute ones. A lot of times, the meeting only requires that much productive time
- Frequent breaks – Take frequent breaks. Do not be shy to take 10 minutes here and there to look away from the screen, spend time with the family, or just stretch
- More video calls – Video calls will bring additional dimensions of a conversation, which makes meetings more dynamic and enjoyable
- More ad hoc calls – Do not let your calendar drive your day. Allow for ad hoc calls with your colleagues to mimic hallway chats or water cooler gossips
The idea is to pace ourselves, before these long hours start creating fatigue. Set an end time for your day. Unless something is urgent, close your laptop at that time, after which it is your family and/or me time. More importantly, use your weekends to revitalize for following weeks. The COVID situation can last for months. In this digitally connected new world, we owe it to ourselves and our employers that we stay healthy both physically and emotionally by maintaining a work-life balance in our lives. Maintain social distance, stay safe, and stay healthy.
In July, the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) published a policy brief with some tremendous evidence-based information on potential productivity gains from teleworking in the post-COVID-19 era.
First, four key themes from the piece — supported by data and evidence — are:
- Remote work may be a permanent fixture after COVID-19.
- Remote work varies substantially across countries, sectors, occupations and firms.
- In the long run, remote work has the potential to improve productivity and worker well-being but carries some ambiguity and risk in its overall impact.
- To minimize risk of harming long-term innovation and worker well-being, remote work should be a choice and not “overdone”.
We wanted to take a moment to give you an abbreviated synopsis of some of the more interesting, actionable findings.
Remote Work Affects Productivity in These 2 Main Channels
Perhaps one of the most compelling sections of the report, it lays out the two main factors that shape the impact of telework on firms and staff.
Telework can improve or hamper firm performance, with its overall effect depending importantly on two main channels:
- A direct channel affects firm performance through changing the efficiency, motivation, and knowledge creation of the workforce.
- An indirect channel is for telework to facilitate cost reductions that free up resources for productivity enhancing innovation and reorganization.
The path to productivity gains is laid out in this model:
Will Remote Work Improve or Harm Your Firm? These are the 4 Determining Factors
According to the model above, there are four main factors that will determine whether remote work will help or hurt your firm’s productivity:
1 | Worker Satisfaction
This one can break two different ways. “Telework can improve firm performance by raising worker satisfaction and thus worker efficiency, e.g. through better work-life balance, less commuting or fewer distractions leading to more focused work or less absenteeism. It is, however, also possible that worker satisfaction decreases with telework, e.g. due to solitude, hidden overtime and a fusing of private and work life, or an inappropriate working environment at home.”
Thus, it is important to give workers the choice to work remotely and offer a flexible work environment where employees can choose what’s best for themselves.
2 | Cost Reductions
Telework can also improve firm performance through facilitating cost reductions. A few ways this happens:
- Lower capital costs by reducing office space and equipment required by the company
- Labor costs can be reduced as telework enlarges the pool of workers firms can choose from
- Hiring costs may decrease if higher worker satisfaction reduces voluntary quits and turnover
- Potentially attract workers at lower wages than would otherwise be the case – in particular if combined with other measures that improve work-life-balance such as flexible hours – to the extent workers are willing to give up a higher salary in return for these amenities
3 | Communication
The report points out that the reduction in in-person interactions — and communication quality, in general — can hamper productivity. “A wide range of evidence supports the notion that personal meetings allow for more effective communication than more remote forms such as emails, chat, or phone calls. For instance, personal communication has been shown to be more convincing, to attract more attention, or to better allow observing social clues. Disruptive forms of communication may surge to compensate for the lack of personal communication, e.g. increased email traffic or virtual meetings.”
4 | Knowledge Flows
This factor is near and dear to us here at M-Files. The lack of personal interaction can decrease knowledge flows among employees. At M-Files, a few cornerstones of our information management solution are:
- The ability to share information easily with colleagues
- Improving the discoverability of critical, helpful information
- The flow of information between individuals, departments, business units and external parties
Workers learn from in-person encounters with colleagues — water cooler chats, dropping by a teammate’s office — and that interaction cannot be understated. The report says: “Innovation depends importantly on the sharing of knowledge: ‘What each individual knows is less important. What counts is collective knowledge.’”
To compensate in a remote work environment, firms should realign their digitization efforts to promote knowledge sharing in the absence of interpersonal engagement. And to that end, information management tools like M-Files are absolutely critical to ensure a healthy knowledge flow.
In Remote Work Environments, there is a Point of Diminishing Returns
The report goes on to explain that there is indeed a point of diminishing returns with teleworking. In summary, worker satisfaction increases in a remote work environment — enough to offset potentially negative effects on communication, knowledge flows and managerial oversight.
“The relative strength of these channels in turn is likely to depend on the intensity of telework: the negative effect due to the lack of personal interactions likely becomes stronger with telework intensity, as opportunities for in-person communication diminish, while worker satisfaction improves with low levels of telework but may suffer from ‘excessive’ teleworking, e.g. due to solitude or a fusing of private and professional life.”
Thus, there is a sweet spot for maximizing productivity. Not offering remote work is bad. Too much remote work is bad, also.
Ultimately, firms must ascertain for themselves where that point of diminishing returns is and aim to create a more flexible workplace where employees have the option to choose whichever volume of remote work suits them best.
And to maintain productivity, they need to be equipped with digital solutions like communication, collaboration and information management — at the very minimum.
Why do we need to transform business operations?
Change is a continuous process. Your business undergoes frequent changes due to market dynamicity, competitive landscape, and futuristic strategies. Standard operating procedures and business processes undergo constant improvements to enhance productivity, ensure compliance, and help businesses operate better.
In such scenarios, technology acts as a backbone for visualizing business efficiencies and achieving your desired outcomes. You need to orchestrate business process reengineering (BPR) to upgrade your technology infrastructure and keep up with emerging trends in order to support your organization’s vision.
What are the potential risks involved?
BPR could seem like a daunting task, with multiple risks looming overhead while planning an enterprise-wide transformation. In general, the various associated risks can be categorized into the following:
- Longer time and cost to realize the change
- Unpredictable outcomes
- Possible reskilling of resources
- Business adaptability to change
The role of BPM
Business process management (BPM) automates process control and simplifies performance monitoring with the help of an agile platform.
BPM de-risks the challenges associated with long-term and unpredictable BPR.
- BPM breaks the long-term objectives into a series of sequential short-term objectives called as milestones
- Milestones cover a small area of the business process and the impact is comparatively limited
- Each milestone has its own measurable end results ensuring the path to the overall objective is as predicted
- Any challenge can be corrected and modifications can be implemented within the milestone zone with ease
Enhance Lean Projects
The teams working on lean projects can make full use of the BPM program capabilities. This will allow you to design new ways to run the business and have a focused group of people addressing business needs. The system will become more customer-centric, maximizing the value and minimizing unnecessary elements from a process. BPM also improves process visibility through a dedicated dashboard that helps the project owner optimize the value chain to derive better results.
Improve and Ease the Transition
You can improve your business processes either with a holistic model or by adopting a series of steps, like pre-defined milestones, that can be set up with BPM. The advantage of the latter is that it helps your organization gradually adjust and adapt to the changes, making for an easy and seamless transition. BPM aids continuous process improvement with a systematic approach and facilitates testing waters at frequent intervals for course correction. This can help you isolate and reduce any risk arising due to the planned changes.
To conclude, BPM-based process improvements prove to be more reliable and successful due to its model of milestone-based change management, reflected in better user experience, scalability, adaptability, and continuous incrementable business benefits.