The Covid-19 pandemic has radically altered the picture of “teamwork.” Outsourcing, like many professions, depends on creating a work environment where teams are encouraged and enabled. Studies have shown that a well-organized customer/provider team is essential to achieving expected results. This is what I have called a “high performing team.
So, in order to understand the impact on the team, let’s look at what creates an effective team:
Open and frequent communication
An effective team needs to have opportunities to engage in dialog as needed and as often as possible. This includes what might be called “water fountain chatter”, lunch group meetings, and casual hallway conversations. A team is created and solidified by sharing common experiences and stories – quite often war stories about how, as a team, they accomplished something in the middle of the night.
Opportunity for interaction – formal and informal
Through the life cycle of an outsourcing arrangement, there is a scheduled and unscheduled need for interaction. This may be to perform due diligence or communicate changes in the contract arrangements – scope, schedule, fee or ongoing governance of the activities. Experience has shown that these interactions are more successful when conducted in person.
Practiced group process
Many outsourcing agreements require the customer and provider to work together to solve problems. In IT, this is practiced through an “Agile” technique. These group processes are done in real-time and require direct interactions between participants.
With the recent “work from home” global edict, businesses have had to figure out how to continue working in a team. Video-based applications are used extensively to try and maintain a semblance of teaming. However, the new normal is going to present specific challenges.
First, as we begin to see workplaces opening up, caution will dictate necessary changes. Workers will have to maintain social distancing, in most cases. In order to keep the separation, workers may have to adjust to a new schedule. One company recently had to schedule two shifts in order to accommodate workers to be physically separated to get their work done. Some workplaces will require the wearing of masks. Work surfaces will have to be kept ultra-clean, including work papers and computing equipment. This will be the new normal work environment. So, how do we have to adjust our work habits in order to maintain the team environment?
More formality in the workplace
First and foremost, there will have to be a lot more detailed documentation that can be exchanged between team members. Obviously, this is a good discipline to have even in normal times, but in the past, we have depended more on close up oral communication. To facilitate this change, more technology investments will have to be made. Use of cloud-based applications, collaborative software; secure audio/video channels will be a necessity.
Since all participants may not be nearby, or at the same facility at the same time, all interactions will have to be formally scheduled so that the participants can block off the time.
Clarity of vision and direction
Since there will be a higher demand on the team to be working separately, each member will have to have a clear understanding of the vision and be given direction. In the normal work environment, there is a greater opportunity to approach someone to seek clarification on an informal basis. That won’t be easy in the new normal. Clarity will assure that work done is closely aligned to goals without depending on informal discussions.
Higher focus on communication
In order to maintain a team spirit, and facilitate ease of communication, there will be a need to create informal events and opportunities to interact. For example, during the shut-in, many workers/companies scheduled video cocktail/tea sessions. These served the purpose of allowing informal communications and shared experiences. In the past, companies blocked off “chat” features, but now those will have to be reevaluated to facilitate informal communications.
Some businesses will need to engage a communication “facilitator” to assure the flow of natural dialog between the team members. All meetings will have to be organized with an agenda, facilitator, time manager, and note-taker in order to assure communication that yields the desired outcome.
Investment in technology
In addition to technology to facilitate a higher level of communication and deployment of productivity tools, the focus will have to be on reducing the overall workload of employees.
Use of artificial intelligence and resource process automation of repetitive steps will lessen the work requirements for each worker and reduce the need for interaction.
Post pandemic, the new work environment will be different and it will require a new set of strategies and actions to assure continued productivity and delivery of service. Businesses will be more demanding from their network of suppliers – internal and external – in order to recover from the current downturn and adjust their own strategy and actions. There will be greater pressure on the outsourced environment to rise up to this challenge and be as responsive and productive as they have been before the pandemic.