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How to glue a remote business together
Covid-19 has made us all recognise changes to working styles. Whether we’re working from home, juggling work with childcare and homeschooling or have been furloughed, the situation has brought new challenges. Although lockdown is currently easing it looks like working from home will be here to stay. Before coronavirus it was estimated there were 1.7 million people working from home in the UK. In the US there are estimates to suggest that 25-30% of the workforce will be working from home multiple days per week by the end of 2021. There’s no reason to suggest the numbers will be so different over here.
While you could argue that the shift to home working has largely been a success for businesses, it has nonetheless raised issues around the way companies operate. In many businesses, it’s shone a spotlight on a lack of communication and organisation that has been exacerbated by remote working. In addition to this, there has been a culture shift in how people relate to work. Employees expect flexibility and a certain maturity from their employers, not to be constantly monitored and checked up on.
But the question remains – how do you run an effective business where you’re confident people are doing their work well, but without micromanaging? This is what this article is about. Let us explain what the glue is in your business, and how you can manage it when working remotely.
Issues with remote working
So what are the biggest issues with running a remote business? We would say:
- Visibility – How do you know what people are doing?
- Communication – Especially with cross departmental projects, how do you ensure everything is done?
- Task setting – How do people know what to do?
- Accountability – How do you know if something has been done the right way?
In a recent webinar we ran on exactly this topic, communication between departments came out top as being the biggest issue. Which is no surprise, if you think about how much interaction is facilitated by being able to go over to someone’s desk, or by a chance meeting in the kitchen.
None of these issues are new. In a business working from one location, visibility, communication and accountability can still be problematic. But with employees working from home, away from the office environment, it’s far more challenging to ensure everyone is working efficiently.
What’s more, working remotely implies a certain amount of freedom and flexibility. Unlike with office working, you can’t check up on what employees are doing all the time. Working from home gives more control to the employee to manage their own work and time, but employers not used to this arrangement may feel uncomfortable. It requires a change in the company work culture, with the emphasis shifting from control to empowerment.
To run a successful business in this environment means balancing the desire for oversight with a way of ensuring everything runs effectively. It means finding a way of gluing all the varied and complicated business activities together.
What is the glue inside a business?
In a word: process. It’s what gets stuff done. When a new employee contract is signed, it’s how someone knows to set up their HR record. When a client approves the project scope, it’s how the work is kicked off. It’s the operations inside your business.
People often think of process as the minutiae, the unnecessary detail, but actually processes are the highest form of activity in your business. They involve all departments, they are how you deliver what your company provides and most importantly, they are what makes your business special.
The glue for your business are those key processes that deliver your value. And we’re willing to bet you currently don’t have oversight of these processes. For example:
- You may have HR systems, but do you have a way to manage all the activities involved in a new employee’s onboarding?
- You most likely have finance software, but does it look after the billing process end to end?
- You might have a project management tool, but does it cover how you sell to, onboard and deliver your service to your clients?
How are you managing these activities right now?
How businesses manage process
We’ve asked a lot of different businesses how they currently document and look after their processes, and their responses generally fall into two camps. Either they live in people’s heads, or they live in documents and spreadsheets. These aren’t great solutions, and this is why.
Processes are stored in people’s heads
- Things are forgotten or get missed
- The way they’re done diverges – different people do different things
- New things get added in (which can be good), but this isn’t visible
- People might not do the crucial things, if they don’t recognise their importance in the overall process
- When remote working, processes that aren’t documented are especially difficult to follow
Processes live in documents/spreadsheets
- They aren’t looked at – often they’re documented but never referred to
- People don’t see the value in them so process gains negative connotations
- The processes quickly become out of date
- They become a burden to maintain
Processes do and should evolve, but these two approaches means it happens in a chaotic way, with no visibility of what’s happening. Managing process badly, or not at all, results in the degradation of your business IP and the loss of what sets you apart from your competitors.
The impact of poor process
Losing what makes your company special is not the only effect of mediocre process management. We’ve carried out research into workplace stress, time inefficiency and experiences of onboarding, and found that process impacted them all.
- 43% have changed jobs due to work related stress
- Half of workers had quit a job because of being let down by the onboarding process
- 20% have turned up to find they haven’t got IT equipment
- 7% of people have quit a job on their first day
- 54% of senior managers say they waste a day a week managing process
- 34% say they waste two days a week
Taken as a whole, bad process affects customer retention, employee engagement, talent retention, supplier retention, operational waste, financial health and investment.
How to glue a remote business together
The solution as we see it is summarised by these 5 points:
1. Embed process
It’s important to have processes, but they’re useless without being embedded in your business. You can do this through training, paper checklists or software like Process Bliss, but the key thing is that the process is used.
2. Process is not for you
Process shouldn’t be a way for management to control every aspect of the business. It’s a tool to help your employees do a better job. Well written processes give access to the resources and information needed to carry out specific activities, not defining every single small step. Employees should feel like it’s their process, in place for their benefit.
3. People are smarter than process
You should allow people to deviate from the process, if the process isn’t working for them. Many people who implement process try to lock it down, which causes misery for those who have to rigidly follow the steps without being able to do things in a better way. Learn from the deviations to understand how the process can be improved.
4. Doers need to own process
Those using the process are closest to it, and have the best insights into where it works and where it doesn’t. Enabling them to actually change the process themselves, or to directly suggest feedback as to how it can be made better, is the best way to continually improve your operations.
5. Process is about change
Accept that processes will, and should change. What works today won’t necessarily work tomorrow. Business is all about adapting to circumstances, and your processes are where that takes effect. Learn from mistakes, take on board your employees’ views and allow for evolution.
Find your glue
Running a remote business in reality isn’t so different from running one where everyone works from the same location. The main challenge is cohesion – ensuring that all parts of your business continue to run smoothly when it may feel more fragmented than usual.
Process is the glue behind the most successful companies. Think of McDonalds, Apple and Amazon. It’s their consistent experience, delivered through process, that means their customers know what to expect and keeps them returning again and again.
Fantastic processes are why some businesses scale to great heights and others hit a glass ceiling and find themselves unable to grow. Are you ready to uncover the processes that are holding you back?