Tag Archives: WFH

Working From Home Is Resilient, But Is It Sustainable In Procurement?

The coronavirus pandemic disrupted Procurement in unimaginable ways. Running Procurement from home is possible, but is it sustainable?


The coronavirus pandemic has disrupted the workforce in ways we have never experienced, affecting also Procurement departments and Procurement Outsourcing (PO) providers. Shared service center locations first across Asia and then the rest of the world became hot spots, leading to a rush of company initiatives to enable procurement professionals to productively work from home. IBM was successful in moving 99% of its Procurement Outsourcing teams from 60 centers across 40 countries into a home office environment in only 10 days without service degradation (1), proving that running a Procurement business working from homeis possible and productivity can be maintained when a business can react quickly, but is it sustainable? Have critical activities just been postponed or is this is the new business as usual? Three considerations for sustained resiliency.

#1. Make regularly working from home part of your team’s DNA

While many of us are used to working from home in some capacity, over 80% of our procurement professionals have never done so on a regular basis.  And just because our workforce can work from home does not mean they are able and willing to do so long-term.

But returning to the office means finding the balance between safety and productivity for our teams, and deciding whether to aim for a quick return to the office or a more comprehensive re-modeling toward “borderless workplaces” where staff works from a combination of office, client site and/or home. Returning to the office is based on smart, quick and simple fixes: social distancing, mask wearing, and setting up sanitation protocols, such as rethinking where and when we eat and gather, how we open and close doors and use elevators. Re-modeling more fundamentally looks at how we work and defining what the worker’s purpose and intent is inside the office. Buildings become much more purpose-driven; deliberately sought out for team meetings, new employee onboarding, and collaboration sessions, with more hot desks and larger shared spaces, instead of being the default place to go for work.

But no matter in what capacity we return to the office, working from home regularly or even primarily will have to become part of our DNA going forward, as future infection waves are likely to force us out of offices again multiple times over the next few years.

Achieving this will require us to focus more than ever on internal communication. We have already seen a personalization of written communication over the past few months, with people expressing genuine care for each other, but we need to also listen to our employees and keep an eagle-eyed focus on engagement. By taking time for one-on-one discussions, acknowledging everyone’s individual challenges, ramping up appreciation and recognition, and ensuring we create virtual spaces for socializing we can maintain a sense of belonging and feeling of pride. On a collective scale, short pulse surveys can be a simple way to gauge the team about how they feel and adapt measures for greater engagement and productivity.

Ultimately our teams and their willingness to be flexible will be the first line of defense for sustained productivity in the new world.

#2: Bootstrap adjustments in operating models to accelerate your digitalization journey

Just a few months of working from home on a large scale have successfully increased the sense of urgency for digitalization and more intelligent end-to-end workflows. IBM and our clients have already seen an explosion of home-grown dashboards and trackers, aimed at gaining more visibility into procurement operations, allowing for more granular insights and daily views of the business. In the spirit of agility, we should initially allow for the creation of these “quick and dirty” data collection and visualization tools, even if it is manual and there is duplication. As we learn more about what our post-COVID-19 world will look like and the effort required to maintain a plethora of semi-manual tools becomes a burden, we can start distilling down to only a handful of tools and a new operating standard, creating the enablers for a broader roll-out of “no touch” procurement solutions, including traditional tools like catalogs, as well as newer solutions like marketplaces, chatbots, guided buying assistants, robotic process automation, and analytics to accelerate speed to insights and decision making.

Even more delicate and trust-based processes like Category Management and Strategic Sourcing can benefit from digitalization, for example by running “Virtual Sourcing Bootcamps” with business stakeholders using a series of video calls to map out purchasing plans, identify additional addressable spend and define more robust category wave plans for the year.

Additional incentives can be created for those internal clients or BPO customers who are resistant to a more permanent work from home delivery environment by redistributing real estate charges and differentiating expected employee productivity to create a price differential between home- and office-based setups.

#3: Learn to build trust virtually as a buyer and a seller

Until recently, meeting face-to-face was a non-negotiable prerequisite for the signing of large contracts, which we at IBM have experienced both as a supplier of Procurement Outsourcing, but also a buyer agent with our own and our customer’s suppliers. Finding a way to make customers comfortable pulling the trigger on multi-million-dollar contracts with little to no human contact is going to be a key success factor for our new future.

In the outsourcing world, visiting one or more delivery centers is a staple in every sales pursuit, but with increasingly distributed teams and a desire to reduce non-essential business travel, we are now showcasing our teams and their capabilities virtually. Using a mixture of live and pre-recorded videos, online whiteboarding tools and virtual roundtables with practitioners we have been able to create an authentic virtual delivery experience to aid in the sales process.

Experiment with virtual collaboration tools not just internally, but get comfortable using them with clients and suppliers to co-create, or hear from experts and practitioners that wouldn’t otherwise have been flown in. Focus your travel dollars and effort on one key meeting or workshop and augment it with a few virtual “visits” to round out the picture.

Summary

Leading a borderless workplace Procurement team is possible and can even deliver superior results if employees are engaged, but ensuring sustainability requires active shaping of your team’s DNA, a more digitalized operating model and the confidence to build trust in a virtual environment. Sometimes creativity requires constraints to really flourish, and let’s use the existing restrictions as an opportunity to emerge from this crisis stronger than when we entered it.

By Matthew Bounds & Martin Esser. For more information about operational resiliency, read:

·       Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) Services for business continuity and resiliency ibm.com/bpo

·       Building operational resiliency for anytime, anywhere and any situation

Footnote: (1) IBM Services blog, “Building operational resiliency for anytime, anywhere and any situation”, May 4, 2020, https://www.ibm.com/blogs/services/2020/05/04/building-operational-resiliency-for-anytime-anywhere-and-any-situation/

Happy At Home Alone? 5 Ways To Negotiate Your New Normal

Nine in ten of us do NOT want to go back ‘normal’ once lockdown ends. So how do procurement professionals negotiate a new WFH arrangement – that works for them and their employer?


With half the world in lockdown we are starting to get used to the ‘new normal’…. and after an initial reluctance, most of us are embracing the idea of a new way of life.

Yes, we do want some aspects of “normal” life to return. Being able to socialize, see our families, have a decent haircut (that’s not done at home) or enjoy a weekend at the beach.

But we don’t actually want to go back to life as it was.

A recent poll in the UK found that only 9 per cent of Britons want to return to life as “normal” after the end of lockdown.

One area where we are yearning for change is work … or more importantly the ability to work from home and/or more flexibly now that we have put the systems in place, mastered video conferencing and created our own home-office environments.

The good news is that three-quarters believe their manager trusts them to be productive when WFH according to research commissioned by Visier, which provides people-analytics to over 5,000 businesses that employee 7 million staff across 75 countries around the world.

So, if you are one of the 9 in 10 who wants a different type of working life, build on this trust: meet your deadlines, exceed expectations, continue to work collaboratively and show that you can excel at online meetings and conference calls. Do not give your manager any excuses to say WFH does not work – and that you have to return to your place of work, once offices are back open again.

The best way to tackle this negotiation is like any business negotiation (as a procurement professional you already have the skills). So be clear about what you want to achieve, build a compelling case and then make a persuasive argument.  

STEP 1: PROVE IT’S THE BEST WAY FORWARD

Seven in ten staff who are working remotely for the first time as a result of the Covid-19 crisis, felt they were either more or equally productive as a result (despite the unique challenges of slow internet speeds, homeschooling and hours queuing to purchase life’s necessities).

So, working from home does work. Just make sure you have the data to support your argument and include this information in your flexible working request. It will make it far harder for your line manager to refuse…and also help you prove to yourself that you CAN do this.

TIP: Make this data easy to assimilate by churning the figures – I wrote five more pitches every week, responded to 15% more enquiries per day, set up an online meeting with a new supplier and negotiated a contract remotely etc… It is much harder to argue with facts.

STEP 2: WHAT DO YOU REALLY WANT?

As with any negotiation, you need to have a clear goal. Perhaps WFH 5 days-a-week will seem too isolating (or impractical), so do you want 3 days in the office, 2 days at home? Or maybe a 9-day fortnight.

Also, if you are likely to fall into the category of being asked to work more flexibly (social distancing is going to last for some time, so you may not actually be welcome in the office), you need to work out what works for you. If you crave the stimulation of an office environment at least part of the week, make sure your employer knows that WFH permanently is a deal breaker… and let’s face it we all find it difficult to be home 24/7 with family rows over internet usage.

TIP: Presenting a simple solution will make it easier for your immediate line manager to make a decision (remember, everyone else will be putting in flexible working requests too). However, you might have to be flexible about being flexible – for example, to agree to WFH on a Wednesday because everyone else is at home on a Friday.

STEP 3: PRESENT A SOLUTION – NOT A PROBLEM

The financial implications of Covid-19 mean that organizations will be looking to shed staff and cut overheads. One of the most obvious cost savings is premises – with predictions that there will be a huge shrinkage in office floor space even after the world gets back to work.

So, highlight the savings on office overheads from sharing space, hotdesking or remote working.

Another way to save money – and potentially save your job – is to offer to work a reduced working week.

Yes, it will mean a pro rata salary (a 20% pay cut if you move to a 4 day-week), however if the coronavirus has taught us one thing, it is to value having less while enjoying more time with those we love.

If you no longer have to afford two holidays a year (it might be difficult if there are travel restrictions for some time to come), are saving a fortune on eating out (more of us are becoming proficient home chefs) and spending less on grooming (who else is embracing a more natural look?), you might be able to take that pay cut.

TIP: Make yourself less expensive – you will then be less expendable. Being cheaper to employ while being more productive will make you less of a target for redundancies than your colleagues.

STEP 4: WHAT DO YOU NEED TO MAKE IT WORK?

There is no point asking to work flexibly if the office can’t get hold of you, conference calls keep cutting out and your presentations no longer look professional.

So, you need the right tools. That includes the right tech (laptop, software, printer and an upgraded internet connection). Also discuss insurance (this might cost more if you have expensive equipment at home), the extra costs of running your home office (electricity) and an allowance for things like stationery, printer ink and other office supplies.

TIP: Don’t make expensive demands (it could be a dealbreaker) but show you have thought through the practicalities of WFH and wish to have an open conversation about how to make the new arrangement work. In some countries you may be able to claim these expenses against tax and in the UK from 6 April 2020 employers have been able to pay up to £6 a week (£26 a month) to cover additional costs if you have to work from home (although not for those who choose to do so).

STEP 5: KNOW THE LAW – JUST IN CASE

While employers are likely to be highly responsive to flexible working requests – or even insist that more staff WFH at least part of the week – it still pays to know the law…and in particular, what reasons your employer can use to refuse your request.

Many workers around the world (Europe, Australia, some parts of the USA) have the right to request flexible working (although this is NOT the same as being able to work in the way you wish – you just have a right to make a request).

Generally the reasons for refusal include:

  • additional costs
  • it is impractical – either you have to be there in person or there will be difficulty reorganizing work among other staff
  • there will be an impact on performance, productivity, quality, customer service

TIP: It is better to preempt a refusal, by countering it in your flexible working request. It will not only show that you know your rights but also that you have thought of practical solutions to any potential problems.

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