October 6, 2022

CEO of ActivTrakis an experienced technical executive and entrepreneur focused on delivering enterprise-class solutions to mid-market enterprises.

It is a challenging time to be a leader.

My social feeds are filled with articles about the growing obstacles that are crippling our economy—the impact of remote and hybrid work on hiring and retention, the cost of idle commercial office space, the bloat of SaaS technologies draining budgets.

On the heels of a once-in-a-generation pandemic, today’s reality they look very different compared to past recessions, requiring different guidelines to guide us forward. As I talk to other companies, there are four key areas of concern that keep coming up—and I thought I’d share a few thoughts on recommendations that can help address them.

Manpower planning

Operational adjustments to today’s work environment can impact employees’ ability to stay productive, stay focused, and feel engaged. According to Gallup data, only 36% of US employees are engaged in their work, leaving significant room for improvement. This involves thinking about how to meet resource demands amid tighter conditions for consumption and employment.

Before taking drastic measures like downsizing, it’s worth asking yourself: Is anyone or any team currently under- or over-utilized? Can certain employees take on more work or can the work be redistributed? How does team productivity differ in remote, hybrid and office work environments? Do we have the right training and policies in place to ensure sustainable balance and well-being? Answering these questions can help prioritize key business initiatives that are less disruptive to the workforce, more engaged, and more conducive to better business results.

Employee engagement and burnout

According to the 2021 report published from Asana (via CIO Dive), “72% of workers [feel] pressure to multitask throughout the day as multiple platforms demand attention.” How does this affect their focus, fatigue and morale? Even before the pandemic, 91% of professionals in the US he said that unmanageable stress or frustration affects the quality of their work, and approximately 70% said their employer is not doing enough to reduce burnout. The shift to remote and hybrid work has only made this worse. As we think about workforce planning and headcount, we also need to think about how we retain and nurture the employees we already have.

As leaders, it is up to us to ask ourselves: Where do employees spend their time? Is it too much, not enough or just right? How does it vary by time of day, day of the week or different locations? Are they constantly bombarded with interruptions and distractions? How does it compare between teams and individuals? Armed with this data, organizations can take steps to ensure healthier work habits that directly impact employee engagement and retention. This might include reducing unproductive meetings, eliminating continuous management “check-ins” or setting core business hours for collaboration.

Process optimization

For decades, organizational design experts have focused on a human-centered approach to improving how people work together and how companies respond to change. However, business leaders face many challenges in doing so, as NOBL Academy describes:

“Bureaucracy stands in the way of us moving the business forward. We have become less customer-centric and cannot see how our actions affect the bigger picture. We are tasked with responding to a faster world by working longer and harder, not smarter.”

That “smarter” part is the key. How do top performers execute processes? How much of that work is deep work versus multitasking versus collaboration? Are there opportunities to learn from them and train others? What are the right metrics to choose to capture a baseline of productive work? How can we more effectively engage and empower employees to see and improve their work habits? Establishing metrics for uptime, productive hours, and focused work time can be a powerful way to gain insight into a team’s efficiency and effectiveness—which brings me to the fourth and final consideration: technology use and investment.

Use of resources and investments

“Resources” in this category include technology as well as real estate. According to research from Ladders, “25% of all professional jobs in North America will be remote” by 2023. That’s a lot of empty conference rooms and potential SaaS licenses that aren’t accounted for. Mark Wayland, chief revenue officer at Box, said as much dull: “Our tech group is like an overcrowded club – I can’t release any more apps until someone leaves. … If you can’t answer ‘what can I retire?’ question, I’m not listening.”

He is not alone. While it’s true that telecommuting has put a strain on IT, more and more CIOs are asking: What technologies are my biggest spenders? How and who uses them? What opportunities are there to optimize licenses or increase training? Similar considerations apply to office space. Like going back to the office ramps up, as well as inflation-driven rental and labor costs. Hybrid and remote teams make these investments even harder to justify. Do you know how often employees come to the office? Do you have more space than you really need? Is that space optimally configured to facilitate focus and collaborative activities that deliver productivity and results?

Having the right insights can help turn economic uncertainty into action in tough times. Fortunately, many of the answers we need are right in front of us; we just have to look closer and harder to find them. The four areas above are a great place to start.

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