Betting on work-from-home for long term? 5 areas startups, MSMEs must focus on to make it effective – The Financial Express

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Technology for MSMEs: While the urgency of the situation demands a lot of actions that are reactive in nature, it is critical to be prepared concurrently to enable the remote workforce to be effective in the long term.

  • By Kalyani Sekar

Technology for MSMEs: We are often busy managing changes and transforming the way we work. But in times like this, with the current pandemic pushing us to the brink, we need to be agile to pause and reposition. Amid all the disruption, we should act on immediate short term priorities without losing track of sustainable long term solutions. The required pace of change becomes all the more important for small businesses and startups as the mind share, money and other resources at their disposal are limited while the time to transform is shorter. So, for everyone, it is inevitable to adapt to the new normal quickly. 

When we talk about the new normal ways of working, the discussion gravitates towards employees working remotely, which throws up both challenges and opportunities in equal measures. While the urgency of the situation demands a lot of actions that are reactive in nature, it is critical to be prepared concurrently to enable the remote workforce to be effective in the long term. 

To prepare for the long haul, one needs to have a clear understanding of the larger picture backed by a trust-based partnership between the organization and its employees, customers, shareholders and society. It should also be based on a balanced approach between ensuring employee well-being and delivering on business priorities. 

So what should be the key drivers of sustaining the remote workforce for the long haul? We need to refine our long term plans, relook at our processes and reimagine the way we engage with people.  These are the areas that, I feel, will become decisive in this regard:

Customer experience: The immediate focus for most businesses may be employee safety and customer care, to sustain service levels and maintain quality of service. But in the long run, the need is to reequip the systems of engagement across the customer lifecycle as there could be a marked change in the customer buying patterns and behaviour, for example, a shift in demand with increased adaption to Digital Channels. Touchless retail, AR/VR-enabled troubleshooting in sales and service areas etc.  are all shapes of things that could be mainstream.  This opens the need to keep the employees working remotely equipped with a real-time view of right data points/insights, and the ability to access a centralized knowledge management systems or seek support virtually from SMEs.

Also read: Govt’s MSME credit scheme continues to roll with 800% jump in amount disbursed to small businesses

Operational Cash and Cost management: A workforce connecting remotely for an extended period prompts everyone to explore potential opportunities to realign spending in line with the changing circumstances.  Based on the company size, the business it operates and its financial strength, there is a need to manage cash better by focusing on essential expenses and relooking at investments. More importantly, there would be a need to rebalance costs in line with the remote working model one adopts. From areas where there is a relative cost reduction like facility, transportation etc.  to costs which may increase like computing equipment and network gear etc. there would be reworking required.  

A strong culture, collaboration and engagement:  Working remotely also would mean an increased emphasis on collaboration and engagement. This is where an organizational culture built on trust, learning and empowerment helps companies surge ahead with innovative ways to collaborate and engage. This starts with leaders being more visible and consistent in their guidance, interactions and communications. There is also plenty of opportunities for new avenues of learning, and rewarding upskilling with timely recognitions.  Facilitating more fun at work eases stress, even if done virtually. 

Continuous focus on Information Security and Technology Solutions: A key differentiator for companies to manage remote working as a model, in the long run, is the ability to scale technology to enable close to 100% availability of systems ensuring remote connectivity while implementing best practices for information security.  Risk management practices help to build privacy and security by design.  

Contribution to Society: There will be no substitute for effective co-existence. Collaborating with peer groups, co-creating solutions and contributing to society will be paramount in the post-pandemic remote working world. 

To conclude, some sectors and segments of the industry are affected more than others due to the nature of their business and the operating model followed, but overall, the way the industry, in general, responded to the crisis has been encouraging. Successful companies go beyond reacting to a situation, and proactively plan and equip themselves to manage the long term implications.  They are open to reengineering their processes and reimagining engagement models.  When the disruption is unprecedented and outcomes unpredictable, it is your long term vision and openness to change that show the way. 

Kalyani Sekar is the Vice President of Verizon India. Views expressed are the author’s own.

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