Why your business needs to be like the kitchen

by Jeff Ryan, MD of AWCape, a Sage Business Partner

One of the greatest places in a house is the kitchen.

The kitchen is generally the central part of any household. It is where meals are quickly devoured between meetings, cold drinks available on hot days, a place for cookie baking, champagne sipped for special events or candles blown out on birthday cakes. And let’s not forget the coffee dates on the kitchen counter! So, a real hub of activity.

It is a meeting place. It is also where families and friends congregate when they visit. And it is these connections and interactions that make the family work and create togetherness.

What makes a great business? The same as a great kitchen: Connections and interactions. Both between people and systems.

The pandemic has made creating meaningful human relationships at work much harder. The informal interactions between colleagues have drastically reduced. It is only through intentional meetings where chats about children, pets, birthdays etc. are happening.

This has put a strain on many organisations’ culture, their ability to portray a unified front and have high performing teams. Adding in the change in attitude to work / jobs brought about by “Work from Anywhere”, employees are also not as loyal as previously. In essence, HR leaders have a huge role to play in this environment to attract and retain talent. Recent Sage research highlights that 93% of SME businesses in South Africa say that recruitment and resourcing will be at the heart of their growth strategies post-COVID-19.

More time in front of screens = fewer connections

Unfortunately, some people also spend their ‘kitchen time’ on their phones or on screens, and similarly, businesses are finding it hard to create and maintain a strong company culture.

Employees are engaging mostly through sterile virtual settings. The novelty of space, beach, jungle backgrounds have worn off and most people cannot be bothered to turn on their cameras. This has created a very tough environment for leaders to bring people together and align on organisational values, goals and strategy.

Some organisations have tried to replace the previous physical events with virtual ones to counter this lack of interaction. Although best-intentioned, human communication and interactions cannot be replaced by virtual technology.

McKinsey & Company notes that: “Considering only remote work that can be done without a loss of productivity, we find that about 20 – 25% of the workforces in advanced economies could work from home between three and five days a week. This represents four to five times more remote work than before the pandemic and could prompt a large change in the geography of work, as individuals and companies shift out of large cities into suburbs and small cities.” 

This means real interactions are, for the near future, still going to be limited. And given the preference for more flexible working arrangements, getting everyone into the office at the same time may not be possible going forward. There will always be someone dialling in from a screen.

What does the kitchen of the future look like?

1. The air fryer → Embrace technology

It is no secret that an air fryer was on many Christmas lists due to it being the “latest invention” and also being effective, quick and healthier to cook food or bake!

It’s the demand for technology that will bridge the gap between the current online and real-life experiences which has escalated due to WFH. There have been such massive leaps in video capture, bandwidth, Virtual Reality / Metaverse and other supplementary technologies that will enable human interactions to be so close to reality as to be indistinguishable.

For the short term though, there will be nothing to replace the “real thing”. This means business needs to ensure that there are real interactions. Not just with team members, but also with clients and suppliers. Spontaneous visits, planned trips or even regular get-togethers will be extremely important. However, getting the balance right with cost and ROI (in the form of appreciation and stronger relationships), will be a key part of successful businesses moving forward.

Another important aspect is to invest in the right technology. In most cases, the choice for virtual calls over the last year was an enforced decision, rather than a strategic one. More and more options will become available, and it will be important to stay abreast of changes while not being led by fads.

2. Enough seats at the table → Ensure each employee’s needs are catered for

Ever joined a gathering or house braai and you didn’t have a space at the main table when it came to dinner time? How did that make you feel? If it is a bigger braai, some people end up eating on their laps or standing – and several people are excluded from the ‘main table’ conversation.

Humanity has a history of catering for the majority and then… realizing many groups have been excluded.

This has led to many movements for equality, inclusion and fairness. As we move forward there are many differences that will need to be factored in – so ensure your dinner table cater to all these:

  • Introverts / extroverts / culture = face to face, real version, avatar, camera off
  • Poor / Rich =  technology access, bandwidth, a good WFH setup, cloud-based systems
  • Single / married / kids = WFH environment, preferred working hours, flexibility, less commuting, more balanced family life
  • Age / digital native = paper-based processing vs. `Generation Z preference
  • Independent / collaborative roles
  • Full time / part time = the gig economy, time zones, multigenerational workforces, pay for performance structures

“Leaders should harness the power of their teams’ diverse perspectives to enhance performance. To ensure team members have an equal opportunity to contribute in virtual meetings, leaders must prevent meeting attendees from defaulting to observer mode” – McKinsey 2020

Not allowing an environment for each person to feel part of the organisation will lead to a sense of exclusion. Company policies will need to be flexible enough to allow for differences per individual and their specific preferences.

In addition, this flexibility needs to be aligned with the organisation’s strategy and goals. With our remote workforce at AWCape and COVID, we have found that “performance-based remuneration ” is ideal for our workforce and we believe it is a model that all organisations should embrace going forward.

3. Elegant pairing of starters, mains, desserts, and wines → Integration and Automation

An efficient, high performing organisation has an alignment of goals, people and systems. And it all flows together – from the starter, to the mains and then the dessert. Even better if there is a wine that works well with all three to ensure it enhances the overall experience.

The first two go hand in hand and performance-based remuneration can really drive this. But also, the key to this alignment is transparent communication and clear values and ethics. With Gen Z coming into the workforce, who is particularly focused on this, successful organisations will prioritise these needs concisely and consistently.

Unfortunately, systems in many businesses are not aligned OR integrated. There is a multitude of reasons for this, but the ingredient for success going forward is for all systems through the business to be seamlessly integrated. Manual, repetitive tasks should be automated.

We, over the years, have partnered with many solution providers that provide a platform for systems integration, data transfer and process automation. Two platforms we have had many successful integrations with are Synatic and ModernFlow.

Both these platforms allow for custom integrations between systems, scale to grow volumes and ease of administration. What we have found is that these platforms are especially powerful when integrating with best-in-class Payroll, ERP, CRM or BI solutions that are built for integration (i.e. web and platform services). A very good example of this is Sage Intacct where over 60% of Sage Intacct transactions occur via Web Services.

On the automation side, whether in an office or a virtual world, repetitive manual tasks are a very quick way to make your business unproductive, staff morale low and more than likely lose opportunities – that no-one can afford in this tough economic climate!

How’s your kitchen renovations going?

We’re already halfway through 2022 and only one thing is certain: the way of working has changed and will require different skills, leadership, infrastructure, mindsets and technology.

There is no better place (and time!) than an efficient kitchen where meaningful relationships and togetherness are formed, fantastic food (product) produced and consumed and the cycle is easily repeated.

The big question is: how much is your ‘kitchen renovations’ worth to your business? And more importantly (like a kitchen upgrade for house sales), are you willing to invest time and resources on the upgrade?