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(The following is taken from the first half of the Bold Business webinar “Beyond Working From Home: Strong Workforce Strategies for a Disrupted World“, which aired on April 2, 2020.)

We live in a disrupted world, and businesses have needed to pivot dramatically to adapt. Previously, I discussed the “mesh” that would enable enterprises to safeguard against threats to business continuity of any level. This time, I will focus on the specific workforce strategies that will insulate companies from disruption. I’ve distilled it down to four smart moves.

  • The first problem that you need to solve is that you need to have a plan for the “mesh”. If you haven’t done the work ahead of time, you’re going to be way behind the curve.
  • Secondly, you need to build technology and processes for the new work environment. It’s clear with this pandemic that we’re going to need processes that are more sturdy.
  • After that, you need to really diversify your workforces and your partners, and not get too tight in one location.
  • Finally, ideally, you need to have some plans in place for “flexing up”.

Let’s dive into the first of these workforce strategies.

Plan and Prepare

Prior to this whole pandemic lockdown, I was talking to a wide range of CEOs to take census on how their organizations are structured and learn how their businesses are set up to face disruption. Universally, they all knew their companies – i.e., what they were capable of, where they might have had deficiencies, etc. This kind of knowledge is essential.

At the end of the day, you need to perform an audit and assess your talents.

After that audit, it’s imperative that you develop a virtual plan for all your locations. If this global lockdown has taught us anything (and it’s taught us a great many things), it’s that an enterprise’s ability to shutter the office and go virtual without adversely affecting continuity can mean the difference between a business’ life or death.

The final component of this first of four workforce strategies is to engage with partners who can take up the slack. No contingency plan will work if your partners themselves are compromised.

New Environment – New Technology and Processes

Every enterprise that has had to shift to a work-from-home posture recently has found themselves in a new environment: a virtual one. This means that everything, from production pipelines to management and communication, has gone completely digital. Has every enterprise been ready for that shift? Probably not. But to make the transition, it’s important to recognize that there are two types of businesses:

  • Knowledge-Based Companies
  • Product- and Location-Based Companies

Knowledge-based companies could be architects, software development firms, lawyers, accountants – any kind of organization that has a high degree of knowledge bases, and doesn’t have a physical product.

Product-based companies are different in that they have a product that they are selling, and they need to get those products into the hands of consumers. Similarly, location-based companies are tied to something physical as well, though instead of a product, it’s where their product (or service) is sold.

Both types of businesses are asking the same questions in this new environment. There’s just an explosion of need for “How can I set up virtual work in a smarter way?” and “How can establish my company to be open all the time when there is a disruption?”

There are all kinds of technology implications and security implications, and it’s a very different road map for companies in the knowledge-based arena. For knowledge-based companies, that can include training programs for a more diversified talent pool (note: diversified in terms of location). It can also mean processes the help document work for virtualized environments.

Product- and location-based companies, like, for instance, a grocery store, face different challenges. And with COVID-19 and the newfound fear of spreading germs and viruses, those challenges center around the perils of human contact. Therefore, it’s no stretch to assume that automation and robotics will play a role in any adopting of new technology and processes.

So many people that are doing these production- and location-based jobs would probably want to have a robot do it instead, with the robots taking the risks in terms of germs and exposure. All those Amazon workers who were very resistant to automation before are going to want to revisit that notion when we get on the other side of the pandemic!

Diversification, Diversification, Diversification

The days of a business centralized around one geographic location are likely behind us, especially since it’s become clear that large swaths of geography can be suddenly put on lockdown.

As such, it’s become vital that enterprises employ a more diversified workforce – diversified in terms of where they are located in the world, diversified in terms of the technology they employ to maintain business processes, and diversified in terms of partners you can call upon to help.

I can’t stress this enough: you really need to come up with a plan to diversify yourself. You need to start moving toward a more diverse geography, limit your risks when it comes to technology, and start adopting technologies that will help your business process. And you need to make sure the partners you rely upon are not all crammed into a city that could suddenly be quarantined (which apparently could be any city in today’s world!).

Partners Who Can Flex

I’m a big fan of “Super Mario”, and “Toad” – which is the name of the mushroom – who gives Super Mario extra powers. We all need the equivalent of that mushroom, Toad, in our partners. In other words, we all need partners who can help and even take over. A lot of the people in the telcomm industry already knew this, as they have partners who can step in and provide services when disruption happens. But this practice must now spill over into other industries.

After all, if you are relying on a call center in India as your backup, or a virtual tech support team out of the Philippines to take over when your stateside tech team goes down, what are you going to do if both India and the Philippines shut everything down for 30 days? That kind of scenario might have seem far-fetched a month ago, but it’s a reality now – so what would you do?

At the end of the day, you need partners who can flex up.

These four workforce strategies will help any business stay on track, or get back on track.

Ultimately, the winners in all of this will be the ones who start adapting now. It’s time to take advantage of the new world!

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