Process management and the new normal

Why process improvement could make a significant difference for businesses in the post-pandemic world

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As with any far-reaching event, the Covid-19 pandemic has changed the world, and had a significant impact on nearly every facet of our society. Terms like ‘self-isolation’ and ‘social distancing’ have entered our everyday language, and something as mundane as hand washing has taken on new significance. As in every sphere, businesses around the globe have felt the effects of the upheaval that this unprecedented situation has brought.

One of the significant changes for many businesses has been the shift to distributed workforces. Where possible, organizations have sent their teams home to continue to work remotely, utilizing digital tools to remain connected and as effective as possible, while protecting one another from the risk of contagion.

It has seen a boom in the use of networking and collaboration tools, and a spike in internet traffic, but it also introduces a new challenge. While the world remains in flux, there is no doubt that this will pass over time. Once it does, businesses will have to consider how they transition back into operating in a ‘new normal.’ While some things will change irreversibly, others will need to be restored or reinvented.

Finding these rhythms and navigating the world that is to come will be immeasurably easier with good process management.

Distributed workforces – process as a framework

For some businesses, the ability to relinquish a physical workplace and continue to operate with a digitally connected workforce will be a revolutionary change. Some may decide to continue this model or incorporate facets of this new flexibility into their organization. For work-from-home companies, good processes can provide the structure that four walls used to.

An effective process library provides a framework of tasks and activities that can help anchor a remote workforce in their key responsibilities and roles. By clearly laying out the essential activities and their connections to the wider workflows, process tools give people working outside the traditional office a perspective on where they fit in and what is expected of them. Good processes remove any ambiguity and create momentum by highlighting the flow of actions from one team, individual or business unit to the next.

A good process platform also integrates automation tools, documents and user notifications. By providing seamless tools to reduce manual handling and the forms, policies and supporting documentation to underscore process practices, workers have clear, efficient pathways to be effective, wherever they work from.

By utilizing personalized tools that notify users of process execution steps and changes to their workflows, the possibility of delays in handovers or process breakdowns are dramatically reduced. Good process tools can ensure that processes are effectively executed regardless of whether the key activities take place two desks or two continents apart.

Finally, processes can provide remote workforces with clear, direct access to the information they need. By employing a single source of truth, organizations can ensure that processes are being followed firsthand, rather than being passed on by word of mouth or through ingrained habits.

As new procedures and protocols are developed for the new environment, they can be passed directly to the teams that need them, ensuring a purity of process practice that is often watered down in a centralized site.

Returning to the office – process as a pathway

Many companies, for one reason or another, cannot sustain a remote, long-term workforce. As the world settles back into more normal routines, companies will need to reestablish central focus points for their teams. In those settings, good process management provides a runway to bring teams back in to land safely and smoothly.

As people return to desks and offices after a prolonged absence, clear processes provide a level of familiarity and certainty that might be lacking in many other areas. It will be likely that many of your staff are feeling a little dislocated, and there is comfort in the routines of work that can be understood and followed easily. Sound practices and expectations provide touchpoints that will help employees reorient themselves in the organizational context.

Processes also help restore lost knowledge. Where work has had to cease for a length of time, process instincts can become rusty and procedures can blur around the edges. Having good records and well-documented processes ensures that everything from access protocols on critical systems to paper trails and sales pipelines are retained and accessible by the people that need them. Rather than relying on memory and hoping for the best, good process management ensures that vital operational information is preserved and available.

That is not to say that the new world we will find in the coming months will be unchanged. This is where an effective process culture comes to the fore. An attitude of continuous improvement looks at the emerging context critically and asks what can be done to be effective now, and what needs to change to bring it about.

A process management approach that invites innovation and feedback will see companies thrive as they re-establish their business with a fresh perspective that incorporates the best of the old while making the most of the new.

There is no doubt that the coming months and even years will reveal a very different world from the one we knew just six months ago. While no one can predict exactly what that environment will look like for businesses, we can be sure that the experiences of this period will shape the way we work, and that process management will be key in both restoring productivity and providing a way forward for companies in the new normal.

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