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Corporate life in the age of Coronavirus. Workforce @ Home - Key issues?

There has been a recent spate of work-from-home decisions by many companies in response to the fast-spreading Coronavirus. Microsoft, Facebook, Paytm - all have packed their bags and gone home (to work). Work-from-home has become a necessity and a business continuity issue for many companies. Across the world, the surge of actions to contain the impact of COVID-19 will only escalate. The spate of quarantines, travel bans, and office shut-downs have upended corporate life everywhere. A vital aspect of this risk-management is to put the maximum number of people into work-from-home teams.

To know more about why am I qualified to talk about work from home, please refer to this post.

In this piece, we will highlight some issues that derail work-from-home.

Once we have identified the nail(s), in future articles, we can go about hitting it on the head without risking our fingers. Fortunately, the nail is not in the haystack - not for us.

The key learning was work-from-home isn't about changing the scenery. You can't just make people do from home whatever they did at the office. Keeping business goals and KPIs in-tact, we had to redesign various roles in the company. We built the necessary systems with engineering@home too.

we had to do so much engineering - process and IT - because several problems appeared in the work-from-home model that I didn't anticipate before:

  1. The missing bulls-eye: When people work in teams, non-verbal interaction is a critical input for people to set their objectives for the day's work. A visibly upset colleague might bring into focus an issue that shouldn't have been deprioritized but was. The expressions of a boss might prioritize and deprioritize different activities. In its absence, there is a considerable risk of people going planting their favorite fruit and forgetting that the team needs bread.

  2. Loss of learning: In an office environment, you can walk into the next cubicle to ask for help when you need it. Since you are physically there, your colleague also pays attention. The interaction that follows is a person-to-person conversation - an art of which we have millennia of evolutionary experience. In the absence of this, people often fail to upgrade their skill sets.

  3. No muse, no inspiration: By design, Humans operate in groups. You get inspired by the successes of your colleagues. You get encouraged by the pep talk of your managers. When you sit in a group, you are motivated to do something to earn their respect. If one doesn't see who wants to sit at the same lunch-table as he does, he might take to Facebook to plug that hole in the soul.

  4. Muddled mind, blurry focus: Most people have many distractions at home. In their mind, it is a place where they either watch TV or quarrel with their spouse. The myriad of things that can distract you will put paid to any effort.

  5. When nobody's looking, drive in the wrong lane: Many people have trained themselves to operate systematically only in an office. At home, you face no imminent scrutiny. Even if the financial model you built has the wrong color scheme, you are unlikely to face censure anytime soon. Consequently, people become much more disorganized.

  6. Software-Software everywhere, not one that helps: By and large, people sitting in office have built productivity tools for people sitting in offices. They don't solve any of the issues #1-#5 listed above in any way. Even the latest crop of corporate messaging tools fall woefully short in this department. Less said about other software with UI designed 40 years ago, better it is.

Other pieces about work-from-home: problems and potential solutions; shall follow soon.

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