I have been working from home since 2010. Yes, a decade gone by building companies, products, and communities from my living room. The beginning of the decade saw the ‘Future of Work’ as a fresh concept. It would mean changes in business and work-design. Telecommuting was at the core of it as it required the workforce to implore methods that would shatter silos. This, however, was just the tip of an iceberg.

The reporting structure and productivity measures were set for a sea-change. My research on evolving work-patterns and design showed interesting patterns. Employers were no longer hiring just employees, but those who could take ownership of a project, run it as their own, and eventually own the entire part of it. Businesses were gearing up for volatile times. The talent group had three tiers—the creators, the average employee, and the freelancers. However, a shift was on cards given shorter business cycles and newer challenges were setting in.

Moving towards telecommuting

According to an Adobe study on the future of work, 70% of office workers report loving their jobs, noting that ‘cutting-edge’ technology contributes most to their overall satisfaction. Technology is the driving force behind telecommuting. Imagine if your entire workforce switches into the telecommuting model, what will give you an edge over your competition? Sensational branding? Not likely. In most cases, the differentiators will be compensation and learning. Companies that learn to reward talent properly and embrace open, social learning will see both emerge as competitive forces.

Running a business remotely calls for a different approach, and remaining result-oriented and communication are key. As companies move towards telecommuting, here are my suggestions for managing businesses in such an unpredictable era:

1. Workforce management: As you suddenly get your workforce quarantined, you need to prepare for the tectonic shift in culture. Many employees may happily embrace telecommuting, however not everyone would have the bandwidth. Checking points on implementation will include ensuring they have a good Internet connection, a hassle-free corner to work, and a list of tasks they need to complete every day. Not everyone will slack-off, however the chances are high. Identify what needs to be delivered and by whom, and communicate clearly.

2. Learning management: Manage team learning through focus on what to build or serve in the next two weeks. Focus on learning will keep the fear factors in control. Online learning options have already flooded the market. Promote peer-based learning to keep the interactions alive.

3. Building collaboration: Collaborations will come to rule the roost now. Reach far-and-wide to share strength and seek who is looking for what. This is the best time to build allies in the areas you will not be physically present. Local connections would support the virtual network with live growth-sharing opportunities.

4. Managing revenue: If the sudden quarantine is affecting deliveries of services or products to your customers, identify how best can you compensate. If there is a greater service that can be delivered remotely, but wasn’t mandated earlier, bring it to the table. Offer values to the customer and clients knowing that even they are stuck hence, proactively reach out to explore which problem can you solve for them. This can open doors for new business accounts in future.

5. Managing expenses: If you are a deep-pocket business owner, you will remain insulated for a longer span of time. Whereas smaller ones are sure to bear the brunt sooner. Even though you are not using that office space, you will still have to pay the rent. Your travel expenses might drop, but that may hardly create any respite. Salaries and vendor payments can’t be frozen. Transparent communication with your employees and vendors will create greater trust. Co-designing a structure with them will emerge into the time-tested model.

Managing productivity

Staying productive in the situation controlled by fear calls for discipline. Not everyone will have the environment at home offering them the same level of focus that an office can. Let’s figure out which is your most productive time zone in the home environment.

1. Block time slots: Identifying time slots and areas that you can block-out the rest of the world, is the first winning step. Make sure you cover for situations you would be stretched because of two different activities at the same point of time. Such as—the time and duration for the conference call with your team coincides with your kids attending online classes and finishing off their assignment submission online.

2. Keep gadgets for connectivity handy: A strong Internet connection is a must, followed by gadgets that can run for a longer period of time, avoiding every interruption caused by power failure.

3. Communication zone: Identifying a zone in your home where you can take phone calls will help a lot, given that you are used to meeting rooms and sound-proof spaces. This will also cut down on the time you spend on talking to people as you can easily keep a check on staying in that zone.

4. Crack monotony: This is bound to set in. You are used to travelling for many hours a day. A sudden lockdown can easily fatigue your brain sooner than you will realise. Stay prepared for it. Identify the early signs of fatigue and change the pattern to keep your brain stimulated. It could be switching between activities. Manage your focus and switch before it drops. Such as—if you are required to work on documents for a long period of time, identify the due date and create time slots to finish it. Switch between activities that you love doing intermittently so that your mind remains energised

5. Identify the emotional and intellectual stimulators: You know best what makes you happy. Within the four walls, figure out how many things can keep you happy. An array of such activities will keep you motivated. You may not realise how fast the time passes.

6. Staycation: This idea was popularised during the 2008 downturn. It essentially taught us new ways of enjoying a vacation without travelling out of town. Revisit the list and check how many more ways you can discover.

7. Join communities: So far you spent the entire day at work giving you barely any time to join those communities that you had in mind. This is the time to explore. It need not be just an Interest-based community, it could also be a work-related product or practice-based community. Now is the best time to build your network.

Telecommuting is the new normal and is likely to stay, and have an impact on the work design. Businesses have always been managed in testing times. Disruptive methods have been implemented and transactions have become better. Irrespective of the challenges of tomorrow, if we continue to build for the volatile world, we are truly creating the business of tomorrow.

How do great companies stay ahead of the curve? Rather than hire workers who punch time clocks to collect paychecks, create an environment in which top talent is compelled to create. Build communities around your products with users, vendors, customers, and all stakeholders. Embrace organisational learning—create an open, social process. And finally, expect to work more and to be empowered and motivated by passion, more than a paycheck.

Views are personal.

The author is the founder of Nabomita.com, an evangelist platform for building communities and amplifying meaningful messages.

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