What can a business do in isolation when they can’t work remotely

Productivity for employees in lockdown
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In a previous post, before we found out about New Zealand lockdown, I wrote a few ideas on how businesses can adapt in these tough times. That, however, had a couple of flaws. Firstly, the lockdown itself. Half of the ideas disappear when you can’t leave the house. Secondly – remote work. Some industries just cannot work remotely (e.g. construction).

Yesterday I volunteered to help one construction company and we’re trying to figure out what they can do while in lockdown. We’re still figuring it out and I’m still learning how the construction works and what can be done. You’ll probably think “why would I do it – in digital space surely you’re busy enough”. And that’s true, yes we are busy. However, we’re all in this together and there are no exceptions. One of us fails and they drag down 20 others. Sooner or later it will affect me. I strongly believe that every New Zealand business that is not heavily affected, no matter how well or not so well they’re doing right now, should help out others. And I’m not talking money. I’m talking about knowledge and time. Because domino always breaks with one small piece only.

Back to the construction company. I’m going to use rounded data for ease of calculation but you can adapt it to yourself. Let’s say you have 10 staff and you cannot do anything for 4 weeks. That is 80 hours a day, 400 hours a week, 1600 hours in full lockdown (as long as it doesn’t extend). You can easily calculate how much productivity is gone. I’m not going to get into huge dollar values because that’s not the point. Let’s focus on productivity. There are 10 smart people at their houses unable to do anything. But are they?

What can your employees do?

Let’s focus on processes. I’m probably the least qualified to put strong processes in any business since I know my own business has flaws. But there is no business in the world without issues in processes, documentation, admin name it. That’s why here are the options. You can take the government grant, pay the rest out of your own pocket and pray for the best. Or you can suck it up and make it work. Here’s how.

Start with the survey. It’s as simple as that – one person can come up with a solution. 10 people can potentially come up with 10 solutions. Use survey monkey and ask your employees a few questions. What is your company you doing well and what you don’t do so well. Make sure that questions are very clear e.g.

Thinking about everyday admin work you have to do, what do you think we can do to reduce the time we spend on it?

Don’t be afraid of asking any questions, there will always be difficult answers for you. Straight up ask “what did your previous company do better”. As a business owner, you’re limited only to the knowledge in your own backyard but most of your employees will have a range of experience from different companies and even maybe from different industries. Learn from it and use it to your advantage.

Collect the answers and put them together in an easy to analyse format. Then pick up something that you can improve. Hard to imagine? Here’s an example.

Let’s say you’ll get answers that there’s always a mess in the files. Call MBIE and ask them whether one of your employees can go alone and pick up some files from your business and take it home. I can’t see why not. Get them to sort them in the next week.

How about miscommunication between teams? Create small teams of your employees, e.g. 3, 3 and 4 people and ask them to meet over Zoom or Skype for 2 days in a row (everyone has a smartphone these days so it shouldn’t be a problem). Ask them to come up with some ideas on how the communication process can be improved. Give them a deadline e.g. 2 days. The next day, create a group video conference of 10 people and ask them to present their ideas to the team. Then discuss the results and come up with a solution. This method can solve quite a lot of organizational processes. One important note though is a clear plan of discussion. Make sure that each group has 1 moderator that is responsible for the discussion and makes sure that everyone is focused on the topic. Other topics can be discussed another day. Video discussion can be difficult for people who have no experience with it.

There are a lot of things that an employee can do at home. It could be 160 of wasted hours or 160 of opportunity hours that will place your business ahead of the competition. Like New Zealand prime minister said – this is not holidays. Let’s make sure we use it right.

What if I really, really don’t have anything to give them to do

So what if your employees really can’t come up with anything, and you can’t come up with anything. Get them to learn something new! But set KPIs. If it’s a new online course – ask them to bring you a certificate. If they don’t see any opportunity – ask them to teach someone in your team something. For instance, someone in your company knows CAD better than others. Why not setup a 2h daily meeting with that employee teaching other employees their skills. It’s beneficial both ways. When I trained Taekwon-Do, no matter what rank you were you always trained the ranks below you because repeating something that you already knew makes you much better at it. Especially if someone questions something that you never thought about.

What about business owners themselves?

That’s employees but what about you? When I consult companies about improving their processes and digitising their manual work I always say “I come to you as 1 year old. You have 45 minutes to make me an adult in your industry”. What I mean by that is that I want to hear in a very easy and quick way everything that you do. After that, I can be devil’s advocate and not only find holes in processes and find solutions on how you can fix them, but I’ll also question many things that maybe you never questioned before.

What I’m asking from you – find yourself a friend. You have friends on Linkedin, you have your wife, other friends – connect with them. Tell them how your day at work looks like, what you do every day, what needs to be done at work and what processes you and your employees follow. Let them ask stupid questions – out of those stupid questions the solutions usually come. Maybe no one ever questioned before why you do something in a specific way – everyone just followed your lead. Spend some time with them, even video-meet every day. And most importantly – return the favour. Be that friend to another business.

A lot of businesses out there have this unique opportunity that the universe has given them to pick up some stuff that they never have time for. Here’s is an opportunity to spend some time and clean up some folders, cleanup some records, books, processes, methods, anything really. And barely anything requires you being at the office. Everything, however, requires your employees’ help. So make the most of it, ask them to participate, let’s turn this time into productive time, let’s make something good and let’s put New Zealand on the World’s map as a country that went into Isolation early, avoided the worst of the pandemic and got out smarter, better prepared and much more productive. Let’s fight this together.

Author: Ralf Klis

With over 15 years of experience in the digital world, I've seen it all and I'm often happy to share my knowledge. I've been involved in many R&D projects including one of the first TV Apps or mobile websites (back in 2005!). Now I'm passionate about making the digital presence work for businesses.