While no one has enjoyed dealing with the fallout of the Covid-19 pandemic, it has certainly provided many of us with impetus to change how and where our associates do their work.
Technology has saved many businesses from crushing productivity loss and caused many executives and managers to re-think how work gets done in their organizations, and especially how productivity is affected by working from home (or, any remote location).
But this is only the beginning. There are other changes on the horizon in the next 5-10 years that will demand that we change how we define work and how we measure productivity.
The Work from Home Experience
Companies were quick to move to set up their people to work from home because there was no choice. As restrictions begin to recede, businesses need to determine when they can re-open offices. Most companies can’t answer the “when” question right now, so let’s look at some variables:
1. Returning to the Office Doesn’t Need to be an All or Nothing Decision
By now, you've made some useful discoveries about the advantages and disadvantages of working from home during the last few months.
Write down your takeaways about what worked well and what did not. Make a list of each and think about how you can leverage the good outcomes and work around the areas that proved to be problematic as you decide when and how to open the office again.
Many companies are working on a hybrid plan where some employees return to the office a few days week. Other companies have learned that working from home has actually boosted productivity, thus opening up more jobs performed remotely for the foreseeable future.
2. Determine Which Departments Benefit from Working From Home and in Office
Generally speaking, those departments that depend on frequent and informal collaboration with coworkers work best in an office setting. If other departments are less dependent on instant and informal interaction, let them work remotely if they choose.
Many people find they’re more productive working from home. When restrictions ease, you can still run meetings or events that allow remote workers to see the larger team for collaboration and bonding.
3. Manage by Objective — Not by the Amount of Time You See Them in Their Seat
The comfort of a large office with stated start and stop times helps managers feel like their people are working because they can see them, but that’s the lazy way to supervise. Each job in your organization should have a set of measurable performance indicators that show the quality and output of work. If you don’t have this, now is a good to create it.
So, the manager’s job becomes less babysitter and more like a coach that discusses objectives, progress against goals, and ways to serve your customers more effectively and efficiently. It’s okay to do a live planning call each morning and perhaps each afternoon to review the day’s progress. At the end of the day, it’s the work that gets done well and on time that matters, not seeing people in seats. See our recommendation on how to work from a home office.
The Machine Learning Factor
Depending on who you speak to, 30%- 50% of the jobs we do right now will be performed by computers and robots in the next 15 years. That prediction may be a bit bold, but it’s not entirely wrong. Look at the number of jobs smart devices are doing right now, and better than most humans. If you ask Alexa or Siri something, you get an immediate answer that is right most of the time.
The “person” who handles “live” chat on many websites is a machine, and you can easily get you bank balance, make a payment, deposit a check, and even start a loan application without a human involved. Even a number of sales operations are supplementing their decreasing herd of road sellers with smart machines and devices. On its face, this seems a little scary, but the reality is evolving technology will inevitably create more jobs than it replaces, if we help our people prepare for the new world.
Ways to Prepare Sales Teams for the Future
1. Help Them Focus on the Intuitive or Higher-Level Aspects of the Jobs They're Doing Now
The closer the current job is to being repetitive, requiring little thought and problem-solving, the more likely it will be replaced by a machine. Accounting functions might eventually be better performed by a machine, but someone has to design the workflow, anticipate problems, and resolve problems as they occur.
In sales, perhaps computers deliver the right content to the right prospects at the right time producing a lead who is genuinely interested in what you do. But a human is in the best position to sense how another person is feeling and what the next best steps might be.
2. Help Them Develop Leadership Skills
Machines mostly do what we ask them to do, but someone must see the path forward and that is still done by humans. Leaders seldom get replaced. Rank and file workers do.
3. Match the Talents and Skills for Each Team Member to Open Availability
Each position requires a unique set of innate talents, developed skills, and required experience. The better the match, the better they perform, and that will help them bring new ideas and support in their roles only made possible by the time freed up with the smart devices doing some of the work for them.
4. Teach Your People How to Use Technology to Their Advantage
How many video calls did your people do last year vs. the last three months? We learned how to do that and are now learning more about doing it even better as more sales calls are made on video, training programs are delivered on video, and we even learned how to use old technology once again by speaking live on the telephone instead of over-relying on text messages and emails.
There are a wealth of technologies out there that provide us instant data, research, organizational systems, etc. Still, someone has to connect the dots to help them increase productivity instead of weighing them down. The employees who thrive in the future will invite technology and use it to greatly increase their effectiveness in their job roles.
New Job Creation
New machines won’t build themselves (although some experts predict that as the computing power of super computers increases, they can teach themselves much faster than any human can). Here’s glimpse of jobs that could be created:
- Anything related to the installation, maintenance, and repair of smart devices and networks
- Strategic planning for a large operation or even a small function inside a company. Again, someone has to see the big picture, and use the data from the super powered machines to chart a path for the organization, or even for their department of four people.
- Anyone who has strong creative skills. They don’t have to be award-winning artist or author to qualify here. Great mechanics find ways to solve problems when others are stumped. Strong salespeople are a constant source of ideas and solutions for their customers. Great managers find ways to restructure jobs, redeploy talent, and seek out the ideal candidates for an important position. Supporting, training, and encouraging creative thinking not only prepares you team for the future of work — it assures your top line and bottom line will benefit substantially.
According to a report published by Dell, 85% of the jobs that will exist in 2030 (only a decade away) haven’t even been invented yet. That’s exciting (to most) and an invitation to adapt the talents, skills, and experience of our people to the new world. What can you do today to make sure that will happen in your company?