Addressing the COVID issues: Remote Work and Nerve Centre architecture

Navigating your business during the Covid-19 pandemic is the hardest challenge most leaders have faced in their careers so far. Experts advise using “the Nerve Centre architecture” to manage your teams across 5Rs requirements. But what does it mean exactly?  

Recently we’ve discussed the impact of Covid-19 on the economy and presented McKinsey’s five horizons (5Rs) leaders need to think and act across in order to ensure the safety of the company and their employees. Those perspectives are: 

  • Resolve (Address the immediate challenges) 
  • Resilience (Address near-term cash management challenges)
  • Return (Create a detailed plan to return to business back to scale quickly)
  • Reimagination (Re-imagine the “the next normal”)
  • Reform (Be clear about how the regulatory and competitive environment in your industry may shift)   

If leaders want to succeed in managing employees during Covid-19 pandemic, they have to operate actively on each of these levels. To do that, McKinsey analysts recommend implementing a Nerve Centre architecture in your business. Yet creating new business architecture while simultaneously switching teams to remote work remains a tricky challenge. Let’s start from scratch. 

How to avoid the most common mistakes during switching to remote work? 

The best office-less system is the one that works. There is no other universal answer or scheme to follow, while introducing remote work solutions. Nevertheless, according to Netguru, an IT and consulting company, there are three critical factors for leaders to follow: 

  • More control is not a solution: Instead of thinking about how to implement full control, leaders should be looking for trust-based relations with employees. Give people clear, actionable goals with a deadline instead of checking your team’s progress every five minutes. 
  • Communicate! It may sound pretty obvious, but excellent communication is essential for managing a remote team. While misunderstandings can be cleared up quickly in-person, they can become huge issues between remote parties if left unchecked. So taking care of the clarity of your emails and checking your communicators often is a must of remote work. 
  • Build a strong team: Even though most people try to isolate, we all remain social creatures, and we need contact with other human beings. Leaders should remember that and put a lot of effort into team-building. While real-life events are not an option, people can still meet online.

Implementing these three key factors should be a good start for building Nerve Centre architecture in your company. But what exactly does it mean? 

Nerve Centre structure for your business

Integrated Nerve Centre is a concept developed by McKinsey that is supposed to guide your company through the Covid-19 storm. As Mihir Mysore and Ophelia Usher wrote, this model is “an efficient means of coordinating an organisation’s active response to a major crisis. It is endowed with enterprise-wide authority and enables leaders and experts to test approaches quickly, preserve and deepen the most effective solutions, and move on ahead of the changing environment”. 

The idea behind this concept seems to be quite straightforward. In order to survive the crisis, company is supposed to organise employees in five cross-functional teams with clear roles, responsibilities and decision authority. The example of this structure presented by Mysore and Usher in their analysis showed:

  1. Nerve Centre integration team (Senior C-suite leader, Project coordinator, Epidemiological expert, Scenario planning analyst)
  2. Customer engagement team (Head of sales and marketing, Incentive managers, Customer communications, SKU manager, Financial analyst)
  3. Workforce protection team (Head of HR, Ombudsperson, Legal, Employee communications, HR full-time leader, Security)
  4. Financials stress testing team (CFO, Financial analyst, Strategy or business-development manager. Legal, Treasury)
  5. Supply-chain stabilisation team (Head of procurement, Procurement manager, Supply-chain analyst, Regional supply-chain managers, Logistics manager) 

Although the example may appear pretty inflexible, the model was designed as an agile structure with enough autonomy of action granted to constituent team leaders to work through bottlenecks and keep the response moving. The model should be implemented quickly with individual roles, responsibilities, and accountabilities made clear. Also, everyone should be aware of the fact that roles and responsibilities may be shifted with time, so flexibility will be needed. In rapidly changing times, there is no room for cross-checking decisions with other leaders. Each team should be authorised to make timely decisions, so trust is key. 

Implementing the three key factors for successful remote-work and using the Integrated Nerve Centre model may be the best chance to survive Covid-19 epidemic. Nevertheless, even the best model or advice may not be enough. This is why leaders should stay vigilant and aware of the needs of the moment. The best way to survive is to use the available knowledge and adjust to specific conditions of the business.