Working From Home: A Virtual Reality

Like all business-people, I’ve been deliberating a lot lately about what the coming years look like economically and what the impact of the pandemic will be on the long-term resilience of existing business models as well as what sort of social change we’re likely to see. 

 

Like many technology organizations, LogiSense is thriving in a virtual construct. We’re quite fortunate in that regard. We went virtual on March 13th just as the gravity of the situation started to hit North America and governmental restrictions on businesses and individuals were being put in place to help diminish the spread of the virus.  I recall having asked our IT leaders at the start of that week if the VPN and other systems were ready for everyone to start using them concurrently during business hours and whether or not our infrastructure was ready for full virtualization. Luckily, we were ready and made the switch with an absolute minimum of fuss – or so it appeared to me - thanks to the thoughtfulness and capability of our amazing team. 

 

Services, Entertainment, Manufacturing, Retail, Travel and a multitude of other industries face more severe challenges as to how to adapt to a present-or-post-pandemic mode of operation. For us in the software business, however – moving everyone to virtual work has been surprisingly successful on a number of fronts, and I believe it will change the way that people work forever in this industry. 

 

When we originally shifted to a 100% virtual structure – with only a few days to plan things out – I was deeply concerned about productivity from home. We’re all humans and are all affected by human things at times: need of a quiet place to work, perhaps you have kids bouncing off the walls while you are on a call with your colleagues, perhaps you need those in-person social interactions or are missing the ‘hallway updates’ and the communication that inherently comes from being together in the same place. 

 

Our capacity to stay engaged without having a physical location in which to collaborate and our capacity to develop relationships and stay properly connected virtually had never truly been tested, and I’d wager – still hasn’t fully. All of this said, within the first few weeks, we had a handle on our ability to measure, monitor, communicate and be confident we could ‘carry on as usual’ without being together in the same facility. Our meeting frequency has increased, and we have deployed some additional tools over the past couple of months to help collaborate virtually, but all-in-all; the daily operations seem to have become routine again and the business is moving forward: despite our not having been in the same room in nearly three months. When we surveyed our employees to ask them how they were adapting to this new normal, the vast majority of respondents said it was subjectively the same, or a better quality of work and life in the new virtual world we now inhabit. 

 

Though nothing is perfect, a few key observations from our shift so far have been: 

  • Make sure you have tools that can replace the water cooler. There’s a grim comedy in the theater of the conference call: The 10 minutes wasted getting everyone connected and functional. The poor bandwidth and robot voices. The formality of it all. Big formal conference calls are major time wasters, but sometimes necessary.
  • We implemented a couple of tools to help facilitate more ad hoc virtual collaboration and started using those to replace the daily interactions you would get by casually getting an update from a colleague in a hallway. It’s not a perfect replacement for the in-person information sharing that happens when everyone’s in the same building, but it’s close. 
  • People are happier – so far, they report - and have better balance. I know there may be an older school of managerial
    thought out there that prescriptively measures productivity with activity monitors and explicit measurement of ‘the # of bums in chairs · # of hours’, but I think this shift is an opportunity for us to appeal more to human nature in how we look at the workplace.
  • Some research shows that an office worker is productive for about 2 hours and 23 minutes a day (https://www.vouchercloud.com/resources/office-worker-productivity). The rest of the time is spent socializing, eating and surfing the web, in unproductive meetings, etc. Hopefully my and your organizations are slightly higher than average, but I think it’s naive to believe that most people are truly grinding productive work for a full 8 hours a day. Include in that 8 hours a couple of additional hours to press your work clothes, commute, and take care of the other things that life requires and about 10-11 hours a day become dedicated to what is effectively – hopefully – 3 to 4 absolutely productive working hours.
  • What happens then to the ‘other’ 7-8 hours. Why then do we ask so much more, and what happens to that missing time? I have an idea, and I think it may be spent, resentfully, occupying the hours unproductively with any available filler (surfing the web, socializing, texting friends).

I’m not describing an organization’s star athletes or executives who are self-motivated to perform above the pack, but I’m describing the majority of employees who are there to get the job they were hired for done, professionally and properly.

 

Would a human being be willing to give more to an organization than 2 hours and 23 minutes a day if they were NOT asked to waste 2-3 hours on a commute and preparation for a formal environment every day? If they weren’t asked to pretend to be engaged for 8-10 straight hours in an uncomfortable setting? I believe deeply that they would. Although this proposition comes with risk and a need for trust, a shift in balance and a focus on the human nature of your team will reap dividends in the long run, and it’s a transition LogiSense IS going to make as we transition from our current situation over the coming months, but hopefully not years.

  • People still need to be together; we are social animals. For all the virtues I extol and my suppositions about human nature, true productivity and the ‘filler time’ that exists in almost everyone’s relationship with their productive day; I still believe people need to be together sometimes to develop relationships, socialize and get to know each other.
  • In a post-pandemic world, I think the right balance towards massively increased virtualization and a focus on happy, motivated humans lies in the ability to still be together and develop those relationships. I’ve drawn no conclusions but believe a weekly or monthly get together for employees within travelling distance is something that should be preserved. Regular meetups and the opportunity to use a facility for white-boarding, sharing a lunch & learn, hosting team meetings and gatherings, entertaining clients is still imperative, but it becomes more of an ‘event space & hotel’ concept than a regular working cube farm.
  • When LogiSense surveyed its people, we found that 23% found communication with coworkers to be more challenging and 46% of the team felt socially isolated since the pandemic restrictions began.  Striking the right balance in the ‘new normal’ is going to be the key to the effective marriage of remote communication and operations meeting happy, balanced employees who are energized and engaged giving 5-6 absolute productive hours a day to the company – what a utopia! Though there is a lot of supposition here, in my opinion this would be huge success for most any organization if you believe the baseline metric of 2-3 productive hours a day in an ‘average’ office environment.
  • Is this the right trade off for people and business? Is this the new normal? Is this more or less productive than some more dated philosophies? Will people care more about the business if the business cares more about them?
  • A scramble for value is kicking off with every business as we confront the changes and expected economic sluggishness that will likely ensue for some time. With plenty of uncertainty and an unprecedented situation at hand, almost 40 million unemployed in the United States alone, surely only the fittest and most adaptable will endure.
  • Long-term confidence and an outlook for macro-economic growth are not reassuring at the moment and economists are not expecting a 'V-shaped recovery'; suggesting we will be dealing with a slow recovery from the impacts of an unprecedented global ‘shut down’.
  • There is a heightening sensitivity to value-for-money and a reassessment of where and how businesses choose to spend money, particularly as high unemployment levels and unclear timelines for continued exceptional government assistance loom. This reassessment of what’s important will impact everyone as we emerge from this transition. A major part of this transition is a shift from a throw-away mentality to hard scrutiny on what is actually being consumed within a business. What is essential?
  • When times are lean, people will rightfully cut out anything that isn’t strictly necessary or isn’t being used. This phenomenon doesn’t apply only to businesses either, individuals react to uncertainty and reduced activity levels in the same way.
  • Something that has been a great benefit to us and our customers is a capacity to charge on a consumption basis with recurring baseline pricing structures or subscriptions. This provides for a level of certainty in the business, while ensuring customers who do have a usage or consumption component are charged proportionally as their business, usage or revenue streams fluctuate up and down. I know as a part of this pandemic, our preparedness included taking a look at our vendors, relationships and obligations and we wanted to prudently ensure we were using all of the services we had procured or were rightly charged for services should we see impact on any areas of the business in the coming years.
  • Our easiest discussions were around those vendors who had consumption or usage based agreements with us, so we were sure that if/when there was a change in buying activity or a prolonged slump in market activity our expenses wouldn’t be disproportionate with our demands on those relevant vendors.
  • I deeply believe this mentality will permeate commerce in the ‘new normal’ and those organizations who are capable of adapting to a value-for-usage or consumption-based model will benefit greatly as ever increasing transparency,  technical capability  and competition add even more pressure to an economy in recovery/transition post global shut-down.

LogiSense has been adapting to the changing environment well, and we’re in a privileged position being a software-only company to do so. Some of the key learning and observations as we transition through this time as a society are that:

  • People need the infrastructure to effectively communicate, whether it’s in person or virtually. We are social animals and we must collaborate to create a ‘sum that is greater than the parts’.
  • People like the freedom of being remote, and supposing you believe that true, absolute productivity from an average employee lies in the ~3 hours a day mark and the rest is lunch, breaks, web surfing and other activities to ‘fill the mandatory time’. We must understand this and we must understand if people can be as or more productive if we start taking a harder look at the human factor and what the post-pandemic economy and our human-needs are. The more receptive and balanced employers will gain the best productivity and most dedicated individuals. Be a team people want to play for.
  • Even if virtual, we must provide the capacity for relationship and inter-human communication or something vital will be lost.
  • People and companies are in a scramble for value. At a time when we can ‘shut down’ almost everything we ‘used to do’ and things – so far- seem to soldier on, we need to re-evaluate what’s vital, what’s real and what do businesses really need from their people to accomplish their mission. Only those companies who truly deliver value, interact fairly with their customers and are easy to work with will survive in the new world.

Despite the terrible nature of the pandemic, it is going to impact our society and our economy both negatively and positively. Those organizations who can hear the call and adapt will flourish as they emerge from this transformation of economic and social disruption and our changing perceptions of fairness, humanity, commerce and work.

 

Exciting times are ahead, this much is certain.

 

About the author
Adam Howatson

Adam Howatson

Adam comes to LogiSense from OpenText Corporation, where he amassed an impressive 17-year track record of delivering successful results in myriad roles across the organization. Heading up Product and Engineering organizations, Adam was at the helm of a multi-market portfolio in excess of 1 billion USD in revenue composed of enterprise-grade content management, customer experience and business process management solutions for Global 10,000 customers. Most recently, Adam held the position of Chief Marketing Officer at OpenText, including leadership of the company’s Global Partnerships & Alliances organization. During his tenure, Adam was pivotal in OpenText's growth and scale from approximately 150 million USD in revenue to near 2.8 billion USD with employee base growth from approximately 500 to 12,000 people world-wide.