Malcolm Follos looks at how you can build a productive workforce even though people are spread far and wide.

The lock-down period has blown away the stubborn resistance some leaders and managers had towards home working. It is clear that for many, but not all, home working is not only possible, it is desirable. It has delivered hidden productivity gains, provided the opportunity for increased flexibility and an improved feeling of personal control. What is not to like?

Well for some it has been a nightmare! They have had to juggle home schooling, unsuitable working environments, constant interruptions and a loss of the preparation and decompress ‘buffer time’ that the daily commute used to provide. They cannot wait to get back to the office!

Now that the lock-down restrictions are beginning to ease (across the UK at least), and the fear of a 2nd wave as the winter approaches is ever present, leaders are beginning to grapple with the question; ‘what type of organisation design is best suited to our needs now?’

For some, mostly in the professional services and knowledge economy, the answer may well be stay at home. For others, whose work depends on access to specialist machinery or equipment, the answer will be get back to work.

For most however it is very likely to be some form of hybrid workplace that begins to emerge. A workplace where many will work from home for some if not all of their work time, and others will be back in their pre C-19 place of work. A workplace that will all look and feel very different.

Tears in the Organisational Culture

Hybrid workplaces inevitably create a series of tears in the organisational culture that leaders need to be wary of, such as:

  • Organisational norms will be re-scrambled – potentially creating a 2 (or even 3) tier organisation. With those working close to the leaders having greater access and those working remotely feeling a bit left out.
  • Disruption in the social cohesion that enabled informal conversations to take place. Those working from home find their interactions look and feel more ‘formal’ which robs them of the impromptu chats that help glue people together.
  • Loss of impromptu corridor conversations that form ‘air bridges’ between people in different functions.
  • Serendipitous idea sharing becomes a lot more difficult, this can have a detrimental impact on fast innovation and quick win implementation.
  • A shared sense of purpose and identity starts to erode with time. A 2, or even 3, tier workforce makes it harder for Town Hall style interactions and collective communications to take place.
  • Motivation to do their best work without being stimulated by having their colleagues around is a real problem for many personality types. Missing the ‘buzz’ of the workplace, weariness and loneliness can set in leading to a drop in performance. This can easily negate the initial productivity improvement gains seen in the first flush of excitement around this novel way of working.

Tips for Leaders to Consider

Leaders need to be aware that leading a geographically dispersed workforce takes more time and energy than it first appears. Increased effort and new rituals and habits are needed to counter these cultural tears. Top tips to consider are:

  • Make sure you are visible and available to those working from home.
  • Start your meetings with some social discourse, checking in to get a sense of how people are feeling before the business of the meeting starts.
  • Check you are trusting your people to deliver and this trust is evenly spread around those in the workplace as well as those at home.
  • Delegate with care. Check understanding of the task, the outcome, the deadline and offer mentoring support, but stop short of telling them how you would do it!
  • Focus on outcomes and value delivery and become less interested in measuring effort and activity. Kill ‘presenteeism’ once and for all it was always a salve covering up for lack of trust.
  • Create a psychologically safe place for people to talk and support each other. Consider mutual coaching and mentoring sessions across your organisation.
  • Hone your skill at starting sessions with clarity of purpose and remember not everyone will be on the ‘same page’ as you. So, rewind and explain why any session or meeting is taking place so people present and dialing in are all orientated before you get into the topic in hand.
Grab this Opportunity

Whilst some strategic thinking can help you prepare for whatever Hybrid ways of working are created for your organisation, this is an emergent reality. Remain agile in both mind-set and in actions and tune into what the University of Life is teaching you.

The gradual relaxation of the lock-down creates a window of opportunity to completely reset the way your organisation works. Good leaders will grab this opportunity and evolve their organisations to ensure they are more resilient to survive and thrive long into the future.

If you would like someone to bounce your thinking off please contact Malcolm. He will be delighted to help where he can.

Contact Malcolm at [email protected]

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