Post-Covid: Back to the past or the near future?

How to bring people from operations into the strategy of our companies

Now that we have become accustomed to a "new normal", the mere fact that we stop wearing masks in the workplace could consign us to a pre-pandemic reality of normality of our daily journey, and measures like mandatory office presence could be dangerous for our companies if we see them as a return to the past.

In the last two years, backoffice people have realized that it is possible to continue to perform their tasks, delivering results even in remote or hybrid models. In many teams the levels of communication, collaboration, and availability have increased significantly when they have switched to working off-site. As a result, more and more people prefer to work asynchronously for a substantial part of their day, dedicating just a few hours a day to working synchronously with their internal colleagues and external business partners (such as customers, suppliers, and others). It is this mix of self-discipline, flexibility, and agility that allows them to set up dynamic and proficient agendas, with specific moments for collaborative work and others for concentration and focus.

On the other hand, the operations people - who during these two years have continued to work in their normal spaces (in the factory, in the store, in the hospital, in the warehouse, and on the street) - have realized that communication with (and between) the first lines can (and should) be strengthened. Today, we are all - support and operations - increasingly connected, more digital, generating more data in real time, and with access to information analyzed on the fly. It is this greater attention to internal dynamics that fosters better levels of participation and, consequently, more involvement, more motivation, and more feedback from (and to) the front lines, in their production, service, sales, and distribution activities.

While at first glance it may seem obvious to look at operations as consumers of information (typically: work instructions, work orders, internal policies, schedules and shifts, etc.), it is probably the reverse flow that will allow us to get more data that actually aims at improving operations. No one better than the people on the front line, who actually live the "real operation", will be able to provide insights into the activities and processes that are going less well and therefore should be quickly changed or adjusted. 

It is therefore extremely important to open and strengthen simple, decentralized and unbureaucratic internal channels that promote the collective intelligence of organizations (such as think tanks) and knowledge management (such as online learning centers). This will increase the company's levels of creativity, optimization, automation and innovation, leveraging the strategy to new levels of competitive differentiation.

If to this culture of openness, sharing and responsibility we can associate the dynamics of incentives, such as gamification (increasingly used in the workplace), and public recognition (such as awards or medals), the participation of employees will be even broader and more fruitful.

Ideally, all this should be made available through online platforms accessible to everyone (without exception, obviously including operations people), all the time, anywhere (also through the employees' own devices, such as personal smartphones), with the total security that modern systems and the correct governance policies guarantee us.

In conclusion, the involvement of frontline workers in the day-to-day of our organizations should not only not recede, but should even continue to be strengthened. Their in-depth knowledge of operations is crucial if we are to raise the efficiency and quality of services provided. There is tremendous potential for improvement ahead of us, so let's make sure that we, as managers, take advantage of it by cultivating the right environment and providing the right tools to do so.

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