The unprecedented lockdown around the globe brought about very clear challenges, causing disruption to everyday life, routine, and services. At SDL, we had to adapt quickly to maintain operational continuity across 39 countries and keep all our employees well and safe.
To ensure we continued delivering a high level of service to our customers, we instigated multiple new facets to our protocols, operations, and culture. During the implementation of remote working, we have learned several lessons that helped us not only overcome potential pitfalls of the lockdown but emerge from it with lasting benefits.
Lessons from the lockdown
As soon as the scale of the COVID-19 outbreak became clear, we had to make the transition to a remote working environment rapidly. It was a prodigious effort that saw almost our full global workforce of 4500 staff move from the office to home working in just over a week.
The amount of moving parts involved in such a change creates a plethora of potential hazards, and there is inevitably nervousness for everyone in the first couple of weeks. It is important to have patience and maintain a sense of calm during the transition. With the right planning and processes in place, and trust between colleagues, partners, and customers, adapting seamlessly to working at home is achievable.
It is essential to support your staff with a great work set-up and IT support at home, whether it is software, a laptop, a new headset, or something as simple as a desk chair. We virtualized our cloud storage and added secure distribution platforms to enable global orchestration of work. Our Helix platform, which automates many manual tasks and can assess customer requirements throughout the whole business, simplified remote working and the distribution of tasks across different teams and geographies, which preserved continuity and efficient delivery to our clients.
Companies should encourage all channels of communication and make sure they have quality call facilities available to them. Setting up regular conference calls, audio and visual, are invaluable during this process both for internal discussions and customer care. Replicating an environment where the quality of a virtual call is as strong as it would be if you were sat in a meeting room. No one enjoys shouting at a computer or struggling to hear a colleague who sounds like they are in a wind tunnel.
Taking steps to ensure the mental wellbeing of staff is also crucial. At SDL, we initiated a daily informal drop-in feature where our staff can have a virtual coffee with the other members of their team or the management team. It keeps that connection between colleagues and maintains a cohesive culture within the company.
Another important element is to be flexible with your working hours. Your contract may be the typical 9 am-5 pm, but a willingness for flexibility is required when working from home. Many people will have children in need of homeschooling or have parents that need care at different times. That may mean some have to take an hour or two out of the normal day and then work later that evening. With teams in multiple locations and different circumstances at home, a flexible approach helps to maintain productivity.
Through this period, there must be a reciprocal level of trust with your colleagues, your partners, and your customers. It is those strengths of people relationships that will help to navigate an extended period of remote working.
As some of our offices around the globe begin to emerge from the lockdown, we have seen great benefits from the investment in our technology platforms and the cultural, operational changes that provided the backbone for an efficient, productive, and comfortable working environment. This combination meant our networks were more resilient and robust than ever. We were not anchored to our physical geographies and could maintain high levels of service to our customers.
Our customer relationships have strengthened as we navigated the lockdown with regular communication through weekly updates, both in the form of virtual meetings and reports, which increased transparency of our work and gave comfort that we were maintaining continuity of operations.
We have built camaraderie amongst our teams, forming close bonds and collective pride at what we accomplished during the lockdown that will have a lasting impact going forwards.
It is a testing time for everyone, but through our experience of managing a global workforce when remote working for an extended period, we have seen the value of planning and care. By structuring your response around these principles, companies that are now being impacted by the lockdown can overcome the pitfalls of remote working and maintain their operations. Possibly, they could even strengthen colleague and customer relationships in the process.
Looking ahead, as more countries emerge out of the lockdown, it will be essential to find the right balance between the will to get back to work and the wellbeing of your teams. For companies that have embraced the challenge of working from home, the pressure to return to the office has eased. It can be handled in a phased approach, without sacrificing the integrity of your operations.