Covid-19 will subside, but remote work will subsist.
Many work-from-anywhere (WFA) mandates are now stretching well into 2021 and beyond for knowledge workers. There are several benefits, as well as teething problems, as I discussed in a recent article (registration required) for Harvard Business Review.
Do you face any such problems that have thwarted your WFA experience? If so, here is a playbook for you.
Covid-19 has changed the core DNA of our workplace. It has ushered in many insights, especially that leadership matters more now than it did before. Real insight shows that the bottleneck problems are often due to behavioral, managerial and leadership issues instead of being technological.
My prolonged (more than ten-year) WFA experience has taught me that the old adage “out of sight, out of mind” no longer applies. “Proximity is powerful” is passé now. Even virtually, humans love connecting, if we know how to do it.
In 2009, as a vice president and global head for initiating, shaping and nurturing two new global functions (global portfolio and global knowledge management) for a company with 110,000 people in 73 countries, I opted to WFA and shifted to my hometown. We made this option mainstream for our globally distributed team, bosses and peers, but smoothing everything out required very complex, mandated collaborations.
WFA is a model we made adaptable to everyone in a matter of months. We had a very successful transition and consistently exceeded our joint global targets year-by-year.
Our learnings from that time period are:
• There is a clear difference between initiating WFA and enabling sustainable WFA to make sure that the internal working culture is woven into the fabric of an organization and stays intact for the long haul.
• Leadership is not just restricted to the four walls of an office. Rather, leadership is really about the culture and environment you create among remote team members.
• For us, the aim was to function like a global village. It had nothing to do with geographical proximity for all of us distributed in 73 countries.
• I was always accessible — my office door was virtually open.
To make the cultural shift to a sustainable and effective WFA culture, focus on results (not time spent), strategy (not tactics) and effectiveness (not “busyness”). For us, this required a two-pronged effort: 1) tune/pivot/learn new ways of leading and managing and, simultaneously, 2) reform working culture into a truly people-centric culture.
The good news is that leaders/managers with good emotional intelligence already have what it takes to lead a distributed team. Such leaders don’t really need to pivot too much when it comes to shifting to a WFA model. My bosses were effective leaders, and these leadership traits resonated well in a remote environment. As an emotionally intelligent leader myself, I cascaded those traits from the very top to the very bottom levels of leadership.
So, what did we do specifically?
• We shifted our language from what to do to how to do things differently with courage, humility, discipline and empathy for our day-to-day interactions.
As part of that, we embraced hybrid meetings mode, as 90% of the team worked from home in their own countries and rarely at local offices or headquarters.
Our knowledge base was our central repository for anything we did, shared and stored.
We clicked into an organic harmony between remote work and agile management principles.
• Asynchronous communication was the perfect shift in communication strategy. For remote teams, it preserved the human connection, and it was an effective way for leaders to share their voice, human emotion and intent.
Everyone could commit to responding to the message within a certain time, but they could listen to it at a time that didn’t tank their current workflow and concentration.
Synchronous work was done via shared documents coordinating in a chat window. Working this way was infinitely more effective than a long video conference.
• We made temporary collaboration hubs, both in our own country’s local office and also at the Paris headquarters.
Our local team or global team may meet to collaborate half-yearly or yearly. Such get-togethers used to be a celebration, not a chore. The genuine bonds of comradeship forged at such get-togethers are just as strong to this day, and we are all personally connected despite having moved forward in our professional lives.
• We added value in identifying, fixing and nurturing the missing pieces of leadership and managerial skills.
As a certified coach, I used to spend 20% of my time strengthening the managerial and leadership muscles of my team. We openly discussed potential points of friction and mitigated them upfront (remotely), before they could have the chance to spring up unexpectedly at us later to weaken the trust factor between us all.
• 99% of the time our remote meetings (daily/weekly/quarterly/half-yearly community meetings) were audio-only and were very effective.
We found that remote communication, not having access to visual cues (as in audio-only calls), actually increased the equality and openness in speaking time. This positively affected our collective intelligence, which we realized had been adversely affected during video calls.
• Laughter kept our team connected in good and bad times.
Laughter is one of the best ways to keep a team emotionally connected. Especially in a VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) environment, anticipating any uncertainty/challenge was treated like inviting fun for us. Laughing at ourselves and laughing at the ongoing/upcoming challenge together is still the go-to way to handle bad times for people who were previously a part of my team.
• We established neatly defined and mutually agreed-upon protocols.
For email engagement, self-review, read and edit before sending emails to make sure they’re driving the right message.
For governance, conflict resolution, calendar blocking and celebration of successes are helpful in streamlining ways of working and engagement.
For meetings, an agenda and end time are a must; every action item should have a clear owner, channel and deadline. Build a plan to gather and track together to avoid potential melodrama.
To conclude, the future never belongs to the biggest or the fastest, but instead to those who can adapt best to the new environment successfully.
This article originally appeared on Forbes.com [link to original article click here]
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