Preface: Our Experiences
Ryan has worked and managed teams remotely in different capacities for most of his 10 year business career. He has past experience as a regional COO of a Singapore-based private equity firm investing in East-Africa. He also started and scaled his own tech management consulting firm, working with specialist teams from India, Vietnam and other locations to serve clients in Europe, Africa, and Asia. He currently serves as the co-founder and director of advisory in Forbis Accounting providing business strategy advisory.
Tad has worked for 6 years to help and advise companies in recruiting talent befitting the ever evolving conditions of the market and organisational needs. The COVID-19 pandemic has brought about a rude awakening to many more traditional organisations to whom Working From Home was largely an alien concept. It can be safe to say that the transition has been smoother for some more than others.
Working from home will change the landscape of work for many organisations. This working paper explores the different challenges and opportunities created from remote working across a variety of industries and sectors. It also explores the strategies to overcome the strategies and maximise the opportunities.
Remote Work and Working from Home
The current pandemic (COVID-19) has reshaped our world, business and work. One of the biggest changes that has been discussed is remote work also known as working from home (WFH). Previously, many companies have tried working from home strategies with various degrees of success. With the pandemic, many organizations are now considering WFH as a legitimate solution rather than something only done by young and trendy tech companies.
It comes as no surprise that the most progressive I.T./Tech sectors across the board made much smoother transitions into a complete WFH structure. This is primarily due to the almost wholly digital nature of their products themselves, lending to many of these organisations already having the organisational architecture for a quick transition.
These are some key challenges we have noticed in the implementation of WFH schemes:
|Difficulties in maintaining productivity and focus due to distractions and non-conducive environment||Conflicting and messy scheduling due to different time zones & availability of people||Non-verbal, a large part of communication are missed out due to calls and text coordination||Conflicts due to geocentric teams with cultural barriers in the communication process|
Challenges: Exploring the Challenges in Different Sectors
Not all businesses are built equally, many businesses especially the traditional ones face more difficulties compared to companies that are IT centric. For comparison, we will be using some key factors of businesses which are how their sales and marketing are done, how they transact and how they fulfill their orders. These key factors of businesses often define how the business operates.
We have come up with a simple matrix for determining the difficulty of transforming an organisation to adopt work from home processes and technology.
|Sales & Marketing Channels||Digitalised||Digitalised||Not-Digitalised|
|Transacting||Online||Online and offline||Offline|
|Fulfilment of Products & Services||Online||Offline||Offline|
|Examples of Sectors & Companies||I.T./ Tech sectors. Particularly those dealing with non-physical products or services. ie. Youtube, SCE, Amazon Services.||The non-manufacturing function of companies. e.g. The parts of Nissan Motor Corporation not concerned with building cars.||The Industrial, Manufacturing and Medical fields.|
Challenges: Effectively Facing the Challenges of Remote Working
To effectively face the challenges of remote working head on and win – we have identified 2 broad areas that organisations need to focus on. By focusing on these areas, organisations can effectively build the tools required to:
- Manage their manpower and productivity remotely and
- Provide their employees with the structure required to work without an office.
The two broad areas of people management and effective technology implementation go hand-in-hand, most tech individuals will tell you that “a system is only as good as its users”.
To address the two areas effectively, you will need to:
- Start planning and strategizing on what the needs of your organization are and how these needs can be fulfilled digitally.
- Plan how you want to implement the technology.
- Consider how your employees will adopt the new processes and technology.
Planning Your Needs
Assessing the needs of the organization is the most important step in order to start reimagining the processes. To make the assessment, you will first need to understand the current state of your operations by answering the following questions:
- How digitised is your organisation currently? What areas of your operations are already digital?
- Which areas of your operations do you think will work remotely?
- Can remote working for the areas that can be remotely operated fit currently into your organisations capabilities? If no, what is missing?
Technology implementation for productivity can be categorised into 3 broad categories: Communication, Collaboration and Operational Process. Depending on your organisational activities, the solutions you will require are different. So the questions and answers that you get from planning your needs are critical and will make a real difference in how you define your solutions to the problems.
We have listed some descriptions, ideas and examples of the various buckets of tools that are utilised commonly by organisations in digitalising their operations.
Opportunities: Remote Working for Businesses
In an ideal world, businesses would be able to hire the highest (perhaps slightly over qualified) skilled people for each role they need covered in their organisation. However this ideal situation rarely happens due to any number of prevailing factors.
It can largely be boiled down to a skills shortage in that market. This is where businesses face a choice. Make do with the closest talent they are able to get, or instate remote work in order to access that ideal talent.
The former has been more common than the latter. The reason for this tendency can be put down to the organisation itself.
Many organisations, including relatively young ones, reuse an organisational structure which can sometimes be half a century old, under the skin. Born in an age when intercontinental communication and travel was not so widespread, they are not fundamentally accustomed to such a modern workstyle as remote work.
The administration of the organisation lies at the heart of enablement of remote work. However administration is also primarily concerned with maintaining the status quo. Therein lies the issue as to why many organisations are resistant towards remote work. The reason often can simply be down to the mountain of paperwork required to enable this.
The global COVID-19 pandemic was a rude welcome call into the 21st century for most companies which brings with it an ever changing socio-political environment.
The increasingly aggressive “sink or swim” environment has forced organisations to reluctantly consider previously alien concepts such as remote work. Organisations, now more than ever, are making more measured and serious decisions about what sort of talent they need, when and where. There has never been a better time to integrate remote working into the business. Lest the established players get left behind by the smaller and younger ones whose organisation truly spans oceans.
One example from Tokyo, Japan is perhaps a good study of remote working as a solution in one of the most inflexible corporate environments in the world. To protect the privacy of the parties involved, we will henceforth refer to the organisation in question as “Company A” and the employee as “Case 1”.
Company A is a tech company which provides a B2C (digital product) service which is 100% developed and owned in-house. They are leaders in their field within the domestic Japanese market. However, they constantly face stiff competition both locally and abroad.
Company A’s greatest strength is their constant awareness of their current status within the marketplace and investing directly into key pain points of their business.
Another advantage they have is as is with many tech companies. Their product driven business does make it easier for all stakeholders to comprehend the business as a whole.
However like many organisations in Japan, they never had any previous cases of employees working remotely. This status first took a hard right within the global COVID-19 pandemic.
Company A was one of the first public organisations in Tokyo to make the switch to all employees working from home as early as February 2020.
Remote working from across the oceans on the other hand was not so prevalent. With global travel bans and most organisations battening down the hatches, hiring and working with talent from abroad was also put on hold.
Enter Company A’s most recent and crucial pain point, customer experience. This is a much neglected area within Japan, even within the digital product realm, which leads to a deficiency in highly skilled talent in this field.
With their strong market awareness, Company A understood hiring talent on point with their business needs in this area would be critical to their long and short term growth of their business.
After an extended talent search, they finally came across the apt candidate (Case 1). Case 1 was thrilled about the opportunity to be able to work with Company A, and vice versa.
Case 1 was originally from abroad but has family in Japan and abroad. The COVID-19 outbreak necessitated Case 1 for personal reasons to return to their hometown outside of Japan just as Company A was about to make Case 1 a job offer.
Case 1 was very much aware that this may cause a company in Japan to reconsider their job offer. Therefore Case 1 was also extra transparent with Company A about their situation.
On Company A’s side, this was a unique case for them and they understood that there would be some internal bureaucratic maneuvering required.
This is the point where most organisations would give up regardless of the implications this move would have on the business. It is incredibly taxing for a business to change its internal bureaucratic channels to facilitate one person (This is exactly the final thought that goes through the stakeholders heads ahead of giving up).
Company A was sitting in this exact same boat but with one crucial difference. Their self-awareness extends internally as well. In short, the parties involved in the hiring process and their awareness of all their bureaucratic channels allowed them to choose the most apt one to push the hiring process through.
Although we began this section with a stronger mention of the organisation, Case 1 shows that both the employee and organisation have a part to play in influencing the remote working possibilities of an organisation.
Opportunities: Strategies to Maximise
Handling black swan events requires agility. Solutions need to be implemented quickly, and then re-assessed and adjusted to suit requirements in a continuous improvement environment. As such a strong strategy the authors would recommend would be to perform PDCA (Plan, Do, Check, Act) which is a continuous business improvement process cycle.
This framework can be applied to every solution that is implemented in short bursts, which would allow for quicker reaction time to adapt to the changing situations.