Late January this year, our executive team held the first of many conference calls to discuss what was then thought to be an ‘aggravated flu’. We lined up our business continuity plans and our communication strategy. We felt confident that not only were we prepared for whatever would come, but COVID-19 would be solved in a matter of weeks.
We were very wrong. We were not equipped for this. Weeks passed as the magnitude of this health crisis unfolded before us. We went from basic sanitary recommendations to shelter-in-place orders. All our strategies and plans were thrown out of the window. We had no best practices in place and a whole new paradigm to reckon with. From macro concerns to micro metrics, we had to redesign everything. Access to capital, client partnerships, company culture, overhead costs, and supporting our employees during this transition became ‘our new normal’.
No level of preparedness could have helped mitigate this crisis. Coming to this realisation shifted our action plans from preparation to agile reaction. But in every adversity, there is an opportunity to adapt and evolve. This is what we have learned along the way.
People First. Always.
Like most organisations, we were not able to fully comprehend and decipher how to endure this crisis. Every new day came with additional uncertainties. In a period of tremendous ambiguity, we reviewed, revamped, and redesigned our financials, roadmaps, and strategies trying to mitigate the immediate fallout. And till today, we are still unsure if we had adopted the right methods and tools to navigate the storm. The only certainty we have had from the beginning is our commitment to serve and protect our employees.
We employ a diverse workforce from all walks of life. We worry for their health, mental well-being, family, and jobs more than ever before. Naturally, designing solutions to keep our business afloat keeps us awake at night. But until we get to the other side of the pandemic, we need to carry on bringing meaning, support, connection, and purpose to our employees.
What we learnt early during this transition is that prolonged mandates to work remotely does not have to turn into ‘people distance’. Wherever it was possible, we repurposed our internal roadmaps to bring new meanings to work through remote coaching, conscious leadership, new health benefits, and more adequate tools.
More importantly, we did not figure this out on our own. These initiatives emerged from open conversations with our employees. We communicated extensively about our challenges and concerns. We included all of them in brainstorming solutions. We asked for help and they came forward with much more: compassion, creativity, servant leadership, care, courage, and innovation.
Change Mindset, Our Vessel Through the Storm
Since the start of this unprecedented worldwide crisis, the information that was true yesterday may no longer be relevant today. We are constantly flooded with unpredictable news, change in regulations, and erratic events. It makes it extremely difficult to predict and anticipate what’s coming next. Governments, companies, and individuals have had to continuously adapt exclusively to the immediate situation.
To be able to navigate through our current VUCA world, we have been leveraging on one preponderant dimension of PALO IT’s culture: Our change mindset.
Change has always been deeply rooted in our DNA. As an agile technology company specialised in digital transformation, we’ve always focused on adapting to change, but more importantly on embracing it. This key asset of agility has taught us so much throughout this crisis. It not only boosts collaboration in a distributed set-up, but it also supplies you with the right behaviours in moments of unpredictability and triggers the right response when there is fear of uncertainty.
Agile is not a keyword anymore; it is no longer the private turf of forward-thinking companies through their transformation journey. It has become a way of living, a way of parenting, and even a way of designing our own lives.
Empowerment and Trust
Leading through a crisis does not rest on one person’s shoulders, be it a board member, a CEO, or a Managing Director. It is a collective responsibility that belongs to all employees.
For this, you need to ask yourself a simple question: Do you have the right people? When times are good, you don’t necessarily notice them much. But what happens when the wind turns? You immediately start seeing the true nature of people and determine if you have the right team.
Nonetheless, having the right team is not enough. The authenticity of your messages, the transparency you give on challenges, and the honesty and vulnerability that you display will increase the commitment, support, and sense of belonging of all your people.
Over the last three months, we have seen our Palowans stepping up and bringing tons of ideas to help the company with remote collaboration, business continuity, and project delivery. It was so heart-warming to witness a collective consciousness arising from every corner of the organisation.
The two main success factors that unleashed a unified responsibility were the empowerment we put in our people to help share the load and the full trust we placed in them to perform their duty in a remote and uncertain environment.
A great way to assess the efficiency of empowerment and trust is to actually listen to the voice of your customers. What is the productivity and delivery quality of your remote teams? In our case, these key metrics have been maintained and even improving in some instances, incidentally showing and reassuring our clients that this Agile model is sustainable.
Back to the Future of Work
Our world is on the mend right now. Work is no longer a place; it has become a digitally-based activity which can be performed from any location. But this did not happen overnight - this COVID-19 episode is the catalyst of what millennials and Gen Zs have been preaching for quite some time now: Mobile ways of working.
Most companies around the world were forced to allow their employees to work from home. While this has been a major constraint for all, it has proved one thing: The future of work has actually been happening for a while. Companies that leveraged virtual tools and adopted new working behavioral norms are likely to be more resilient to navigate upcoming challenges.
This paradigm shift will push companies to rethink their organisation models, to focus on entrusting more employees with responsibilities and empowerment. Corporate culture will play a central role as remote collaboration will become the new norm. Leaders will have to embrace new ways of managing expectations and develop a stronger sense of belonging. They will naturally be less hands-on with operations and more focused on values, trust, motivation, and interest in their people.
Finally, the future of work post COVID-19 will be much more than a simple shift to digital channels. Organisations will have to rethink their work/life balance policies, hiring strategies, management and leadership practices, and how to best handle employees expectations by redesigning the whole working journey.
It has been nearly half a year since the first reported case of COVID-19 in Singapore. And yet, we are still not out of the woods. While we have managed to steer the ship towards calmer waters, we don’t feel safe. We doubt that ‘safe’ will ever be a destination again.
As we carry on our work to protect our employees’ jobs, our clients’ projects, and provide care for our community, the only assurance we have is that leading with our values and tech for good vision in mind has never felt more critical. The organisation will not look the same as it did before, but we are without a doubt, the same community of innovators, employees, and partners dedicated to building a new work paradigm and a more human way of thinking of our ecosystem.