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Collaboration in the Time of Coronavirus Outbreak

The Coronavirus outbreak (COVID-19) has wreaked havoc on the entire economy and no industry seems to be immune to it. But one thing is clear. With travel, events and face-to-face meetings becoming a casualty of Coronavirus, enterprise collaboration and communication tools are on a roll. This automatically increases the responsibility of the CIO and tech leaders that offering support to customers and employees in order to ensure continuity of operations in a secure and effective manner.

A study done by Stanford Professor Nicholas Bloom concluded that scientific collaborations that came out of virtual meetings were more novel and productive than corporate face to face meetings that cost companies a fortune. According to Doodle’s 2019 State of Meetings report, the cost of poorly organized meetings in 2019 reach $399 billion in the U.S. and $58 billion in the U.K. This is almost half a trillion dollars for these two countries alone – a tremendous drag on the effectiveness of businesses.

Engaging people through Digital Channels

Workplace collaboration, video conferencing and livestreaming solutions are now leveraged in various customer engagements. Organizations are also enabling customers to use self-service via online, mobile, social, kiosk and interactive voice response (IVR) channels, believe analysts.

As many industry conferences have been cancelled, organizations are resorting to virtual ones. Last week, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey said it held its first virtual Twitter all-hands using Google Hangouts Meet and Slack. The company’s vice president of people, Jennifer Christie, said in a recent blogpost that all its employees, including hourly workers, would receive reimbursement toward their home office set up expenses, in an effort to encourage remote working.

Around the same time, Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai said the company has made access to its advanced Hangouts Meet video-conferencing capabilities free through July 1 to all its G Suite customers globally. This year, Google has rebranded Google Cloud Next as Cloud Next ’20: Digital Connect. It’s the company’s largest annual conference, with over 30,000 attendees, so Google decided to bring it online rather than cancel it outright. “Innovation is in Google’s DNA and we are leveraging this strength to bring you an immersive and inspiring event this year without the risk of travel,” the company wrote after announcing the decision.

Some companies are holding virtual conferences using AR and VR. For example, HTC is holding its V2EC2020 conference virtually. “Like a real-world conference, HTC will have a line-up of speakers, team-building experiences, and amazing networking opportunities with zero carbon, zero travel, and zero risk of Coronavirus,” the company said in a statement.

Read more: Coronavirus Continues to Disrupt Global Tech Events

 

Sourcing high quality Digital Collaboration Tools

Sandy Shen, senior research director at Gartner says, “When traditional channels and operations are impacted by the outbreak, the value of digital channels, products and operations becomes immediately obvious. This is a wake-up call to organizations that focus on daily operational needs at the expense of investing in digital business and long-term resilience.”

In organizations where remote working capabilities have not yet been established, CIOs need to work out interim solutions in the short term, including identifying use case requirements such as instant messaging for general communication, file sharing, and access to enterprise applications such as ERP/CRM, while reviewing all security arrangements to ensure secure access to applications and data.

Read more: Will Coronavirus Revive the ‘Work from Home’ Trend?

Organizations also need to deal with staffing shortages to maintain basic operations. CIOs can work with business leaders to conduct workforce planning to assess risks and address staffing gaps, such as identifying mission-critical service areas. “CIOs can see how digital technologies such as AI can be used to automate tasks, for example, candidate screening and customer service,” she says.

Bhavin Turakhia, Founder and CEO at Flock and Co-founder and CEO at ZETA says, “We are considering virtual interviewing, onboarding and hiring with digitization of some of our processes including signing of employment contract, educational and awareness sessions on health and fitness through online mediums to ensure their health is not compromised even as they work remotely,” he says.

 

Communicate with your team

“Great leaders communicate their plans early and often. They convey honesty and integrity. They provide clarity and reassurance, both of which are essential in the modern collaborative workplace,” Hunter Muller, President and CEO of HMG Strategy wrote in a recent article on HMG Strategy’s Digital Resource Center.

In contrast, confusing data from unverified sources or the sheer lack of data can lead to ill-informed decisions being made, escalating employee anxiety and making organizations underprepared for returning to normal operations, believe experts.

In such a scenario, Shen says, “Organizations can offer curated content, drawn from internal and external sources, to provide actionable guidance to employees. These sources include local governments, healthcare authorities and international organizations, such as the World Health Organization (WHO). HR and corporate communications leaders may be involved to vet the content and interpret the company’s policies,”

She suggests, organizations should set up a site, app or hotline to share this information on a regular basis. “Employees can also use these platforms to notify the company about their health conditions and seek emergency support and care services,” she says.

Effective leadership is the key

Regardless of using collaborative tools and practices, the COVID-19 outbreak underscores the need for business leaders to be resilient and prepared—qualities that will be in demand long after normalcy has been restored.

“As technology executives and leaders, we should reflect on the lessons we can learn from the outbreak,” says Muller, adding that “From my perspective, the lessons are both tactical and strategic.”

He believes that during these types of crises that our mettle as leaders will be tested far beyond the typical day-to-day challenges of managing teams and organizations. “Leading courageously through a crisis also includes clear and strong communications,” says Muller.

The collaborative skills and courageous leadership capabilities were the focal point of another recent Hunter Muller article, reflecting on an interview with Andrew Campbell, CIO at Terex Corporation. This includes the need to clearly communicate the organization’s commitment to team member safety when a health hazard arises.

As Muller says, “Executives who shine during a crisis can work through collaboration across organizational boundaries with external stakeholders such as business partners and customers would get the best and most effective results.”

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Sohini Bagchi
Sohini Bagchi is Editor at Trivone Digital, a published author and a storyteller. She can be reached at sohini.bagchi@trivone.com