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.
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.
TL;DR Worker efficiency improves with low levels of telework but decreases with ‘excessive telework’, implying a ‘sweet spot’ where worker efficiency – and thus productivity – is maximized at intermediate levels of telework.
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.
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.
Due to the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic, it is no longer business-as-usual, and most businesses are having to adapt and learn new ways of operating. For some, this means implementing advanced infection control measures in an effort to maintain status-quo production levels. Others are ramping up production or rapidly retooling to meet increased demand. While others still are turning down production or completely shutting down.
No matter what situation you find yourself in, there are ways your CMMS can help support these new ways of working.
Virtual communication is more important than ever before
Contractors and vendors who can no longer access your site
Workers from different departments or on staggered shift changes
CMMS features — like adding asset images, identifying equipment with QR or barcodes, adding files and media to work orders, reporting and shared dashboards — can all enhance your ability to virtually communicate important information.
Communicating new or evolving information quickly
Our collective knowledge of the coronavirus is evolving daily, as are the recommended precautions and impacts to our businesses. Therefore, it is important that business leaders have a way of quickly communicating these changes to workers to maintain their safety.
In Fiix, the task groups feature lets you quickly communicate changes to:
Highlight updated PPE required for tasks per advanced infection control measures along with instructions on wearing, inspecting, cleaning, and storage.
Make changes to sanitation procedures or frequency.
Increase ventilation rates and frequency of air filter changes.
Ensure detailed procedures and manuals are accessible on each work order in the event of the need to cross-train workers.
Install new engineered controls such as physical barriers.
In addition, using the available notifications options, you can configure how active and inactive users are automatically notified of changes and new work orders.
Discouraging the use of shared tools
A good workaround here is getting your team to use their mobile CMMS app on their own personal device, instead of relying on shared terminals. The Fiix app even facilitates access to your CMMS when the internet connection is unstable or unavailable.
Determining what is essential
By searching and tagging open work orders with the highest priority, you can quickly obtain a hit-list of the essential maintenance items for your facility. This critical information can be shared with business leaders to inform staffing adjustments and highlight any anticipated supply chain issues. This sort of itemized and prioritized communication with management demonstrates the critical role maintenance teams play in overall business continuity planning. In Fiix, you can build scheduled reports to automatically send an updated essential work order list to the appropriate people at whatever interval you want.
Taking the time now, to be faster later
Even if you’re working in a facility where production is currently slowing or shutting down, this may be a good opportunity to take time to sharpen the saw, as the old saying goes, to come back with the ability to cut down the tree much faster.
Reviewing backlogged maintenance tasks, brushing up on your own professional development, or implementing those additional CMMS modules you’ve been meaning to get to are all great ways to set yourself up for success down the road. Beyond the features we mentioned above, here is a great checklist to ensure you’re ready for when your plant starts operating again.
Lean on your Fiix community
We know that these are challenging times for many of our customers, partners, and community in production environments, and that adapting to uncertainty can be complicated. That being said, there is tremendous maintenance expertise within our growing Fiix community, so do not hesitate to reach out to explain other situations you are struggling with. We’re here to help you through.
The world has been forced into remote work. Each country has instituted its own brand of lockdown in an attempt to flatten the curve and a recent Harvard Business Review (HBR) article presented data on which nations were and weren’t prepared to deploy a remote workforce.
Researchers scored the social distance and remote operability of 42 countries across the globe. Scoring was based on three factors:
Robustness of key platforms — technology-mediated remote work, e-commerce, digital media and the country’s digital foundations — key to business continuity
Proliferation and resilience of digital payments options to facilitate transactions
Resilience of the internet infrastructure to traffic surges
Check out the results below. Note that higher scores represent better performance along each index.
Digital transformation has been the centerpiece of discussions in tech circles for years. But the coronavirus crisis really transformed “digital transformation” from just an overused buzzword. It became a real-life application of remote work tools. In 2018, 70% of companies had a digital transformation strategy in place or were working on one, and this unprecedented situation exposed just how far along companies — and in this case, countries — are in their digital transformation journey.
The author of the HBR article pointed out several key takeaways from the data:
“There is a divide between the resilient and the fragile: Advanced economies, at the top of the graph have more robust digital platforms, making them better prepared for the pivot to online work than developing economies in the bottom.”
“The United States is ready, but not ready enough: Despite some concerns, the United States is well poised for business continuity, with robust digital platforms and digital payment infrastructure. But with businesses asking employees to work from home, surges in digital traffic have stressed the internet infrastructure.”
“Much of Europe, with some exceptions, suffers from middling robustness of the platforms and vulnerable internet infrastructure. Speeds in much of Europe are much lower than in the U.S. overall, and the infrastructure is older.”
“Some Asian countries have proven to be innovative — and forced reconsideration of long-held assumptions: Being proximate to the origins of the outbreak, some have taken a markedly different approach to using digital technology. South Korea presents an interesting benchmark. Its internet resilience is among the best in the world, as is its use of digital payments, and its platforms are robust.”
How did your homeland fare?
Again, it’s interesting to see the data plotted, as it presents a yardstick by which digital transformation and readiness can be visualized. We contend that the cornerstone of digital transformation and remote work for every organization is information management. Intelligent information management platforms like M-Files allow users to access and manage business-critical information…
No matter where that information is stored — CRM, ERP, network folders, share drives, Salesforce
And no matter where on Earth the user is — home, office, hotel, airport, coffee shop