The Long Journey
30 years of possibilities and resistance
30 years ago, the large UK Multi-site food company I was working for asked me to introduce Video conferencing as part of a company-wide communication initiative that included the introduction of E-mail. Yes, a lifetime ago for many of you. Knowing little about Video conferencing, I looked it up in the Yellow Pages (This was like a printed version of the internet on yellow paper, but without all the stuff that gets in the way of the Ads). I called up Picture-tel, and we were away. The hardware was good, the software was usable, even the whiteboard was simple and easy to use. Enthusiasm was high. But it never really took off, not like e-mail. The main reason was user-resistance. Sure, the cost was high – At that time it involved installing expensive dedicated phone lines and specialist equipment. But it was cheaper than sending multiple managers up and down motorways to stay in hotels, eat nice food and share the occasional bottle of wine with their chums whilst striving to reach the magic 20,000 business miles per year that halved their company car tax bills. Also cost meant it was never Ad-hoc, so cross-functional multi-site teams would use the video at times when they could simultaneously book the meeting rooms it was installed in. It didn’t have real support from the Board, or as they described themselves “Ordinary guys who drive Jags”. In those days, they really were all guys. Oh, and I didn’t have a Jag or car of any sort at the time.
My catalyst for action
So, many years later, presented with a project that involved introducing concepts that were new and complex to a faraway place on a limited budget with the prospect of 2 nights sleeping on a plane for each visit, I looked to the internet (This is like an online version of Yellow Pages, but not much use for finding phone numbers). There were many tales of remote working, but most were tales of woe – people passing out when forgetting to breathe, technology issues, failures to communicate. Taking this on board, I had to create a new process. This involved Skype, Remote Desktop, seating plans gleaned from TV panel layouts (They always sit in a semi-circle), and validated homework. Remote sessions were kept short and used to keep the learning curve on an upward trajectory between physical visits. It worked well and became an ingredient for far-flung projects.
A long slow journey
By 2020 the tools we had for remote working had improved compared to 30 years ago. Nearly everybody has a reasonable internet connection, Cloud computing has made collaborating across company systems much easier. Everyone can set up and join video calls without cost or special equipment. There is no need for seating plans. We can all join calls on Google meet, Microsoft teams, Zoom, and so on. There are specialized apps for formal training, such as Saba where slides and documents can be sequenced and used with a whole series of classroom tools. There is no longer a tax bonus for driving long distances in company cars. But still, we were not using these tools to fully transform the way we work and change our home/work-life balance. We were still making the long slow journey to the office each day and spending too much time and energy traveling. Change was gradual.
The reasons for this were the same human reasons as they were in 1990 – fear and mistrust of change and losing control. From the point of view of Employers and Employees alike. The resistance to this change is a whole other subject and a huge global failure of traditional change management over a period of at least a quarter of a century.
COVID-19 as our catalyst for action
I think you know where I’m going with this. The global pandemic caused by Covid-19 has impacted us all in many ways. It has been a catalyst for change. In some cases, the change was already happening, such as the decline in physical retail. Across the service sector, many organizations, such as QAD, had started to attract a much wider pool of talent by eliminating geographical mobility as a constraint on their recruitment processes.
When the lockdowns came, QAD was able to mobilize existing experience and expertise to help the new home-workers to adapt. A program was put in place to train every employee. Naturally, this was delivered remotely. Remote working principles were shared with customers to ensure that remote delivery was not to become a project risk.
A change in mindset
For other sectors, the change came overnight, country by country in March and April 2020. Everyone had to work from home. Companies and sectors where it was previously “not possible” adapted very quickly.
At the extreme end, recruitment is a very people orientated business. First impressions, body language, and even handshakes play such a big part. So how could you work from home? The impossible became imperative and all over the world, VPN were lighting up. Interviews were conducted by video. Because the candidates were not in the room, they had longer to make the first impression. Could this have improved the selection process?
In Manufacturing, head offices are often not attached to a plant, and most large operations are multi-plant and global in scope. Many regular meetings were already being held virtually. The big change was for everyone to work from home. A temporary normal was established, part of which is likely to be here to stay.
For us in QAD, and for our customers, all this meant that projects also needed to be delivered remotely. In next week’s article, we will discuss some of the techniques that can be used to deliver remotely.