As we all keep going and the pandemic drags on, there’s a temptation to just “hang in there” until normal comes back around. But as many people are realizing, normal isn’t coming back. The events of the pandemic have forever changed the ways that we live and work. And while that isn’t wholly good or bad news, it does mean that you need to make accommodations for life as it is right now, not how you expect it will be in six months or a year.
The biggest area where I see people getting hung up is with their process. So many of our tools and practices were built around a mass of people engaging inside office buildings. With all the stresses we have been under, the last thing on your mind is a protracted system replacement process. And further, no one wants to spend money on hardware or programs that may only be temporarily useful. However, the unfortunate reality of this situation is that your team is likely running into hidden problems that slow them down. And those problems need to be addressed now rather than being put on the backburner in an indefinite wait for a return to normalcy.
We’ve had six-or-so months in a new environment, so what isn’t working? If you’re still working remotely, as many of us are, what current tech solutions do you have that could be removed or replaced? If much of your staff has returned to the workplace, how are they functioning differently? Look deeply; this could be a good time to dump some legacy systems or consolidate into a simpler, cloud-based option. Certainly your team is using new tools to adjust to the current climate, but there’s a real possibility that the new tools are overly burdensome or redundant. And if that’s the case, then you want to upgrade sooner rather than later.
Ask your team what tech really works for them, and what tech they’re using because you’ve asked them to. Six months ago, we all had to make snap, immediate changes to adjust to entirely new working environments. And even if certain programs or tools made it possible to get here, that doesn’t mean there isn’t something else that can save your team time, money, and a lot of headaches. I recently talked to one veteran sales manager who returned to basic “call” sheets as the CRM system they had just couldn’t adapt to distributed work life. Sure, he said it seemed backwards, but also that it was simple and “just worked for us.”
If you’re not sure how to broach the topic with your team, try a simple hypothetical: If everything stays exactly the same, what tech do they want to leave behind, and what do they want to try? Just because something has worked “okay” does not mean that you have to be stuck with it forever. New workplace solutions were already becoming increasingly approachable, but thanks to the pandemic, developers have streamlined the process like never before.
In the Internet Age, it doesn’t take a Fortune 500 company or a mogul to get their hands on new tech solutions. Many new products are relatively inexpensive and highly accessible to smaller ventures, so there’s nothing stopping you from making changes.
And when it’s time to look for new solutions, you’re not going to have a shortage of options in 2020. This magazine regularly runs features and prints ads about new software, and plenty of experts publish columns on tech. If you want to go to the extra mile, trade associations can be a great help in this arena, as can websites like TechCrunch. If all else fails, talk to other people in your industry, and more importantly, outside it. They’ll have their own opinions about what has and hasn’t worked for them, and that is as good a place to start as any.
Of course, you may not feel like you have the time to explore these new avenues, especially if you’re not the most comfortable with talking about new technologies. But good news: There’s likely someone already on your staff with interest and ability. Every team has at least one person who speaks this language a bit better than the rest, and if this is miles outside of your wheelhouse, then ask that person to take a look at what improvements you could be making.
This route can do a lot for your team’s morale, too. Most of us have found ourselves thrust into new situations without much say in the matter. But by encouraging your team to tell you what changes they want to see, you’re improving efficiency while also letting your team have some control over their work lives. And with so many of us feeling a loss of control right now, that feeling can go a long way in keeping a team happy and productive.
Doug Phares is the former CEO of the Sandusky News Group. He currently serves as managing director of Silverwind Enterprises, which owns and provides management services to small businesses. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.