Covid-19 has kickstarted a revolution. Employees now work from home, indeed, work from anywhere (WFA). Work patterns have changed forever, with most employees relishing the freedom, and the time saved on a daily commute. I know of people who have gained an additional 15 hours a week for recreation. Little wonder that many staff don’t want to go back to business as usual.
This raises major challenges for managers, who worry that the WFA shift will make executing strategy a nightmare and impact corporate performance. Fortunately, that doesn’t have to be the case. You can take some simple actions to keep things on track.
Christine is CEO of a law firm that had 100 per cent of staff working in the office prior to Covid-19. Now it’s mixed. “During 2020 and 2021 we had to think more short term to survive,” she says. It prompted a radical execution rethink.
The first shift she made was in strategy “ownership.” Previously a small team of half a dozen senior partners would do all the strategic thinking and design. Christine has realized that in the WFA world this won’t do. Covid-19 forced her to appreciate that the firm needs more tentacles in the marketplace if it is to keep ahead of strategic shifts.
“In the past two years I’ve learned that I must have the input from the non-executive people if we are to stay ahead of change and be successful,” she says. “The pandemic moved us to face an overdue reality.”
Second, WFA has made Christine notice that the firm needs more “rigor” in its processes to achieve alignment between staff and company. This includes:
- Tracking milestones – reviewing and setting milestone dates to track implementation
- In-person meetings – mapping when in-person meetings must be held to keep executing strategy on track
- Interaction points – determining the points when the senior leadership team needs to interact with staff to keep them bound to the organization. (This needs to happen more regularly than pre-Covid.)
Christine has found that work expectations have shifted in the WFA world and that it’s important to allow flexibility to individuals in this regard. For example, WFA is great for senior employees and those with young families but not so great for new recruits anxious to learn new skills and eager to meet fellow staff for social reasons.
Third, and important to executing strategy, Christine has stressed that WFA is a bonus for employees not a “right.” This gives the practice the ability to require in-person attendance – whether that be for office work or dealing with clients. She says, “employees must clearly understand their engagement with our strategy, to comprehend why an alteration in the agreed two days in the office and three WFA to the reverse may be required.”
Manufacturing industries pose a special challenge when it comes to executing strategy in the WFA world. Paul is CEO of a company which manufactures “medicines for animals” including farm animals and domestic pets. Unlike Christine, he can’t entertain the idea of transitioning completely to remote working because manufacturing staff need to be in the factory every day. While his office workers have adopted WFA, it raises the issue of perceived equity.
Paul has put clear mechanisms in place to keep his organization from splitting into those who must attend work and those who have the luxury of WFA. He points out that WFA mustn’t be seen to impact unfairly on employees required to be onsite due to the nature of their work, including operators, supervisors, warehouse and laboratory staff. “We want to strike the right balance to get the best out of all staff,” he says. His “right balance” comes as a series of seven steps.
- Meeting diary – Paul has integrated regular online team meetings with in-person meetings where additional collaboration is required. This includes planning meetings and cross-functional project teams. The timing of any in-person meetings is critical to ensure an overlap of days when people are on site. To achieve this the company has instigated a “WFA/in-office” diary across the company.
- In-person staff meetings – Paul has established monthly staff meetings for those who WFA to come and present to onsite staff.
- In-person leadership meetings – The senior leadership team meets weekly online to assist in the communication between departments and monthly via an in-person meeting.
- Quarterly reviews – Paul has set up quarterly strategy and KPI reviews, conducted in-person.
- Engagement surveys – To monitor how all this is working, the company conducts a regular (six monthly) engagement survey for all staff.
- Broad consultation – As with Christine, the WFA revolution has made Paul aware that the path to better execution lies with broader engagement with the business’s strategy. “We’re now involving members of the business outside the executive team of six in the strategy process to not only open up ideas for future business but also to assist with more effective execution.”
- Recruitment – Paul stressed one final ingredient to future strategy execution success – recruitment. He says: “We’re intent on choosing people who will fit into our new culture and who share the same company values. We also want people capable of coping with change as it happens.”
Your Strategy Execution Challenge
There are many benefits for employees in working from anywhere. These include cost savings in terms of travel expenses, the freedom to choose work hours, and the ability to better adjust work/life balance. For employers, the gains can include higher job satisfaction and improved productivity, savings on operational expenses, and the ability to hire from a wider range of potential candidates. I have a client, for example, in the cyber security business in Mexico which has hired a new key staff member located 1,000 kilometers from head office. There’s no expectation that this new hire will relocate which would once have been the case.
While the new normal promises much, it does pose real challenges for a CEO and the executive team in getting the corporate message across and in rolling out programs – in short, in strategy execution. You may find my checklist helpful in that regard. (See the exhibit, “Your Strategy Execution Checklist.”)
Exbibit. Your Strategy Execution Checklist
Your ability to tackle the strategy execution challenges posed by WFA will be assisted by your answers to questions like these:
- Are your staff involved in strategy design, so they have a sense of strategy ownership?
- Do your execution processes have the right balance between rigor and flexibility for the WFA era?
- Does your leadership team interact with employees regularly to bond them to your business?
- Do your employees understand that WFA is a bonus not a right, so you can maintain corporate flexibility?
- Do WFA opportunities fall equitably on employees, so they don’t act as a de-motivator for some?
- Do you have the right balance between in-person and online meetings at all levels of your organization?
- Have you changed your recruitment criteria to source staff fit for the WFA era?
Author – Graham Kenny
Regular author in the Harvard Business Review
Graham Kenny, CEO of Strategic Factors, is a recognized expert in strategy and performance measurement who helps managers, executives, and boards create successful organizations in the private, public, and not-for-profit sectors. He has been a professor of management in universities in the U.S., and Canada. You can connect to or follow him on LinkedIn.