By Alex Code
I started to write this article as “how cloud software can improve organizational resilience” but decided that was too soft. We don’t need to beat around the bush any more, cloud software does improve organizational resilience. Need proof? Look at all the companies scrambling to figure out how to enable their workforce to work from home during the coronavirus pandemic. Need additional proof? Consider all the companies that have spent years paying for airfare so that people can have a few meetings face-to-face. Yes, when you’re negotiating your next nuclear arms treaty, you should fly to meet in-person. If you’re a welder tasked to repair a vulnerable pipeline, I don’t see any way around you traveling. However, if you’re discussing the next quarter’s budget or designing software interfaces for the next release, stay at home. Whether your angle is environment, health or the bottom line, travel takes a toll.
The fact is that most knowledge workers (employees who mostly work with a combination of paper, computers and people) generally don’t have to be in any particular place to get their work done. That is, they don’t have to be in one location if they have the right tools.
You don’t want your company to be so brittle that the smallest amount of workplace disruption breaks your business. Resilience means different things to different organizations and we won’t be able to address everything in one article. Instead we’ve focused on a few characteristics that can make most types of organizations more resilient.
Ability to work when and where you need to
Empowered ‘doers’ in your organization
Clear and repeatable processes
Through the rest of this article, we’ll break down each of these characteristics and discuss how cloud software helps companies put them in place.
Work from where you need to work
Often, when people think about remote working, they think about pajamas and conference calls. Recently, the headline grabbers have been Zoom and other digital communication tools like Slack, Microsoft Teams and Google Meet. Those are great for chit chat and pulling the whole team together for conversation but most of us don’t get paid to sit around and talk. Getting the REAL work done depends on more comprehensive tools catered to the core purpose of your business. For example, our team manages software development projects. That means much of our time is spent in project management software like Asana which helps keep everyone on our team on the same page. It allows us to track all the tasks involved in our projects, who is doing them, and when they’re due.
Specialized businesses often need specialized software to track the important parts of their business and the people having an impact on them. For an electric utilities company, that might mean tracking households and businesses, power stations, pole locations and work orders needed to fix problems. Once upon a time, all this information was stored in file cabinets and on paper maps at the office. Unfortunately, that doesn’t help people in the field trying to figure out where the access road to the powerline is.
Cloud based software doesn’t require anyone to be anywhere in particular to gain access to this kind of information. With the right software, the field person can pull up a map of access roads on their tablet while a person at the office (or at home) updates the maps with reports that residents have phoned in.
If you are part of a more common business model, such as retail, you can likely find off-the-shelf products that allow you to still perform sales from home. Solutions like Shopify have made it amazingly easy to set-up online retail and power several hundred thousand ecommerce stores. For less common or more complex businesses, there are specialty or custom solutions to help take your business to the cloud. The important part of this is getting information and tools in the hands of your team.
Empower ‘doers’ in your organization
Not every job and not every employee has to be oriented toward revolutionizing your business, but shouldn’t you give them the opportunity to improve it? Your staff is a team of independent-thinking problem-solving machines. Every time we start a consulting project, I’m always impressed by the ideas and suggestions our clients have for making their business better. As we ask probing questions that dig into the businesses processes and needs, people’s eyes light up as they tell us about opportunities for easier or better ways to do what they do. Staff shouldn’t just be there for doing tasks, they should be there to make your business better and if you aren’t harnessing that potential, then you’re missing out.
In a recent article about using data to improve business strategy from Harvard Business Review, the authors state “when integrated properly, data can accelerate many — even most — business strategies by improving the processes and empowering the people needed to execute them.” This means there are two components to improving your business: information and opportunity. To accelerate your business, you need to provide fuel to your employees. That means giving them access to the information that drives your business and their jobs. This allows them to better understand how their jobs fit into the greater organization and how the things they do impact both their personal metrics and those of the organization. Giving them opportunity means giving your team the leeway to change their own behavior and work processes and providing them with opportunities to suggest changes to managers.
Clear and repeatable processes
In order for your team to make impactful changes and recommendations, you really need to be doing things at least semi-consistently to begin with. In the last decade, a lot of attention has been put on applying an experimental or scientific approach toward running a business. Books on this topic like “Testing Business Ideas” by Bland and Osterwalder and “The Lean Startup” by Eric Reis are some of my favorites. One of the common central premises is that you can’t figure out if something works until you test it, and to test it you need to limit variables and create a process
Clear processes benefit companies on multiple levels. First they signal to your team what they’re supposed to do, and a team with clear processes requires less management. They also signal to your customers that you know what you’re doing, which in turn builds trust. Processes also provide quality assurance because a standard process is more likely to deliver more consistent results. Last but not least, they provide a firm base from which to make changes. I had a professor that used to say, “You have to have a plan to deviate.” In essence, you can’t do anything different or better if you don’t know what you’re doing and how you’re doing it to begin with. Start with a process, then refine it.
When we’re working with clients that want to improve the way they do something the first thing we ask them is, “What are you trying to do?” The second thing is, “How are you doing that now?” Even organizations that don’t have formal processes tend to have some sort of process. We break down how they do things now, determine which parts of that process are essential, and then determine where software can help make it better and more predictable. Often, the benefits of integrating software into the process are as much about having a system to help guide the process and measure outcomes as it is about trendier terms like automation and machine learning.
The fact is, people are smart and sometimes the best tool is one that helps them stay on track and do things in a way that helps their work be more easily integrated into the rest of the business. Cloud software helps team members provide consistent input that their colleagues can easily find and use in other parts of the organization.
Information is an asset
The common thread tying the following three sections together is that, for a knowledge workforce, information is the currency that drives your organization's economy. Your company needs to know three things.
Goals: What are we doing?
Processes: How are we doing it?
Results: Are we doing it and are we doing it well?
In any modern company this kind of essential information should be able to flow easily and freely between your staff. That means having a system that allows people to access the information that answers those questions quickly and easily.
The boundaries of where people work, when people work and how people work have become much more fluid. The way companies do business is following the same trend. They need to be more adaptable, less tied to brick and mortar and faster acting. To do this we need to implement systems that make it easier for our team members and customers to find the information they need and provide the input that drives success.
Want to learn more?
If you’ve got questions about how cloud software could help your business be more resilient, shoot us an email at email@example.com or give us a call at (833)254-6345.