Remote work. It’s what everyone is talking about right now.
Popular media focuses on the employee: Newsweek – “Half-Hearted Hybrid Isn’t the Remote Work You Deserve”, Fortune – “Here’s the one hack you need to be successful in a distributed workforce”, and Time “How to ask for remote work permanently.” Even Travel and Leisure is on board: “This Is the Best Country for Remote Work, According to a New Study.”
Business media, led by the Wall Street Journal, is trying to help companies deal with the new norm. WSJ has published over a dozen articles on the subject in the last month addressing everything from real estate and urban design to wages and new regulations requiring remote work options.
Every worker and every company got a chance to experience the pros and cons of remote work during the pandemic.
For most office workers, the pros outweigh the cons, e.g., no commute time and reduced fuel costs, so Work from Home (WFH) is now the baseline in the white-collar world. Some big companies are taking advantage of the trend; reducing real estate footprints by 40%, moving to three-days a week in the office, attracting employees globally by offering remote work guarantees, and rethinking the value of water cooler discussions to innovation, productivity, and employee satisfaction.
Simon Sinek says, “Remote work is here to stay” so the question is: “How can companies use remote work as a competitive advantage?”
In my opinion, it really comes down to adaptability. And which companies are willing to invest in the technology that supports adaption.
The Distribution Effect
Face to face, everyday
Trust built during "in-betweens"
Centralized decision making
"Put heads together to solve problems — literally
Digital, but fragmented — swivel chair integration
"Where are you today?"
"Can't I just do this online?"
Trust built with data and information transparency
Distributed workforce in a Distributed Workspace: people, data, analytics, workdays, workflows
"Put our heads together interactive
WFH during the pandemic scattered employees and isolated customers as face-to-face interactions were almost impossible. Many lessors prospered during this time as the uncertainty of the pandemic moved customers away from capital purchases to short-term and cash flow-based commitments. Others maintained relationships and closed deals with familiar digital tools like virtual meeting apps, digital document signing, and new offerings like remote notary public services.
Workflow processes pre-pandemic were designed around in-person cultures, centralized decision making, and some digital technologies. Companies developed communication and go-to-market systems that engaged customers from a centralized workplace and had a workforce serviced by a centralized, hybrid IT infrastructure. Data could be generated and exchanged, but it was not the focus of workflow design since paper documents and face-to-face exchanges were the main parts of the workflow. The Distribution Effect - the scattering of the workforce servicing an isolated customer base – forced the pre-pandemic model to change and a new distributed workflow based on the aggregation and use of data was needed.
In our current post-pandemic environment, the workplace is distributed because of the distribution of the workforce. Face-to-face and manual approaches are replaced with digital solutions throughout the stages of a deal: applications, negotiations, underwriting, documentation, approvals, and funding can all be made from outside of the office, remotely and using digital technologies. The workforce is a connected network and data from every interaction can be captured to document decisions which helps grow the knowledge-base of the organization. The workflow is no longer a centralized process and is distributed in a way that interactions become asynchronous - completed when and where convenient.
Innovating the way work gets done
When technology and social norms change as fast as they have during the pandemic, innovators rise to the top. Peter Drucker, a master of business strategy and entrepreneurship, provided a fundamental definition of innovation:
“Innovation is an effect in economy and society, a change in the behavior of customers, of teachers, of farmers, of doctors, of people in general.”
“An innovation, to be effective, has to be simple and it has to be focused. It should do only one thing, otherwise it confuses. If it is not simple, it won't work.”
A workflow, by definition, is a defined series of tasks performed by a workforce. Almost unknowingly, many finance companies innovated the way they worked and adopted distributed workflows. Some might argue that the changes were simple, but, as Drucker says, they were necessary and helped drive innovation. Change is rarely simple when it comes to culture and technology. But companies that want to survive and thrive using remote work and distributed workflows must change the way they do business.
Data to the rescue
A distributed workflow meets customer and employee expectations simultaneously by providing access to and use of the enterprise’s data they need when they need it.
Distributed workflows are built on data - the generation, analysis, exchange, and storage of data. Ironically, distributed workflows require data and all documentation be aggregated to enable access anywhere and anytime for the many ‘touches’ from both workers and customers. Data can help to create:
- A data-centric culture: Every workflow step, decision, and communication are digital, documented, and recorded with the focus of the organization being the prioritization and the use of data to make business decisions.
- Data Accessibility: Data that is housed in a single location and can provide multiple distributed teams access of that data for analysis, business intelligence, decisions, and process execution.
- Customer Engagement: With data, customers can receive faster decisions and have on-demand access to all of the information pertaining to their business with the organization. They can receive a digital experience that delivers their financing transparently and without delays.
One of the innovations that data-centric companies have uncovered is the use of historical data with machine learning to better understand and even predict outcomes within their workflow. Prediction automation is one of the most fertile areas for a distributed workflow and can simultaneously increase the speed with which one type of task is executed while focusing human resources on other, more complex deals. Using data in this way increases both enterprise productivity and customer satisfaction.
Questions on the durability of remote work are passe. Now the focus for many is how to survive this socio-technologic evolution. But innovators see opportunity in change, particularly when most of the change is in people’s behavior and how they use technology. These leaders see how distributed workflows operate in the sweet spot where productivity, differentiation, and innovation combine to create sustained competitive advantage. They are deploying their digital communications, analysis, and AI to improve business performance while delivering the experiences that both customers and employees now require in the new norm of remote work.