Working from home: know your business processes well

Deze tekst is alleen in het Engels.

Woman sitting at computer deskDue to the COVID-19 pandemic, many professionals have been forced to work from home. While this has now been going on for several months, more people are reflecting and writing about this phenomenon. In the beginning, there was much talk about the right tools for replacing physical meetings, but should we not go beyond — looking for tools and analysing the work that has to be done?

Many organizations are now asking their employees about their feelings about and experiences with working from home — who prefers working from home and who wants to return to the office sooner rather than later. Some people love the solitude of the home, where they can get things done, while others miss the social interaction that helps them get things done.

Vincent van Heumen (director at Capgemini Invent) states that employees have been creative in devising workarounds for working at home. However, if this situation lasts for a longer period of time, should we not take a more fundamental approach?

Researchers describe a future in which offices will only be used for meetings. The work itself will be done remotely. Social distancing will drastically reduce the number of people housed in an office building, and organizations are now contemplating what activities will be done from home and what activities will be done in the office.

“Many people come to the office to connect, collaborate, and be stimulated. But when quizzed, staff often admit their deeper, more focused thinking happens in places quieter and more secluded than the office.” (The Urban Developer)

Some people take this even further and claim that working from home is the best thing to have happened for introverts in recent history. Introverts love the lack of distraction so they can concentrate on the tasks to be performed. Extroverts, however, need to adapt and find new ways of working and communicating.

Most people are not just one personality type, but a combination of introvert and extrovert. So, is it simply a mixed bag of blessings? I think we can learn more about how these differences work out in processes in the office.

Task orientation vs group orientation

Personality models such as the process communication model, describe the personality types you find in an organization. I do not want to discuss the models here, but one of the things a model does is associate introversion with task orientation and extraversion with group orientation. The main purpose of a task-oriented person is to perform a specific job. For example, writing this blog post. The main purpose of the group-oriented person is to make opportunities for social contacts or interaction. For example, having a stand-up meeting during a software development project.

In pre-corona times, both kinds of activities took place in the same venue: the office. When they cannot be carried out in the same location, we should be more aware of where each task can be performed. Every business process consists of both types of tasks. In order to allocate the tasks to the right space, i.e. at home or in the office, we should know how the business process is constituted.

To be frank, I know many organizations that do not define or “know” how they perform their business processes. Moreover, this ignorance is even larger when knowledge workers are involved. There seems some kind of magic going on that nobody (wants to) understand. When resources are low – workspace is limited and should be deployed efficiently — we should really know what is happening on the working floor. Magic will not help here.

Business process analysis

To make the “new normal” happen in the office, we should really know our processes in greater detail. Business process analysis can offer the methods and tools to obtain these details. Mostly, business process analysis is done to improve the processes, but now we have to do it to adapt our processes to the changing circumstances brought about by COVID-19.

“Business process analysis is the process of identifying business requirements and deciding on solutions that best solve business problems.” (Kissflow)

I am convinced that fewer formal processes can also be structured in such a way that allows us to identify process steps or tasks. These tasks are knitted together in a flow — the process flow. Even the creative processes for developing software methods can be defined. They describe the steps that a team should take to obtain the required result. It is not black box magic. It is mostly common sense.

This blog post is not the place to describe how process analysis works or what steps to take. (Process analysis is a process on its own too.) However, when the process is described, we can take it just a step further. When we formalize the process in a business process management (BPM) system, we can add extra functions that will help us allocate the limited resources. For each step, we can’t just describe who should do it, but also where that task should take place. Maybe not all BPM engines have that functionality built in, but in the “new normal” that should be a standard feature.

New normal

The “new normal” will require a lot of adaptation from us all. Not only personally, but also for our businesses. Space has become a limited resource, but when we know what we are doing — we know our processes and tasks involved — this resource can be planned accordingly. It has always been a good idea to know what you are doing. Business process analysis has been around for a long time. In this day and age, we should analyse our business processes (again) and determine how we can make the best use of our working places, at home, at the office or wherever we fancy.

This article has been previously published on Medium.

Photo Public Domain by Alexandra Koch via Pixabay