The recent pandemic has turned the Corporate world upside down. The working styles have witnessed a 180-degree turn with most organisations encouraging their employees to work from home. But is this change here to stay? Or is it like a fad? Will we end up where we started from? Harini Sreenivasan might have some answers for us.
The year 2019
- Work from home? No way!
- We have a new work order. Lease more office space!
- Relocate to where your team works from! How can you manage from here?
The year 2020
- Please work from home!
- Terminate excess office lease. We don’t need any!
- Manage your team from wherever you want to!
The pandemic swirled a wand that went swoosh! The ways of working in Corporate Inc. turned upside down but are we ready for this overnight change? Or is this similar to a crash diet and we will be back where we started very soon?
Just like a diet, the results of managing virtual teams look magical. Imagine building a team with the best people on the planet, one that can work transcending all boundaries, quite literally! From an employee perspective, there can be nothing better than being able to enjoy the freedom and flexibility of working from one’s abode. Let’s look at some ways to implement this with care so that it doesn’t back-fire like a crash diet!
We have seen reports of large companies letting more than 70% of their workforce work remotely. It is time to gear up for this change and re-invent the way we work. For starters, here are some interesting remote working lessons from the western world that could come handy as we prep for this transition
According to SHRM’s 2019 Employee Benefits Repost, 69% of respondents in the United States preferred remote working. This has resulted in more freelancers and contractors in the workplace.
Research by a Stanford professor has proven that remote work has not just increased productivity but also reduced attrition. His study showed that employees working remotely found it easier to concentrate and were less likely to call in sick or take long breaks. Moreover, employers saved huge amounts of money in real estate costs. In spite of these, large organisations had a roll back their virtual working policies, quite ironically. This certainly underlines that there are some things that matter and some creases that need to be ironed out before we jump in to make this change.
The most obvious challenge is that employees may feel distant and disconnected from their teams. This could result in poor communication or perhaps even siloes getting built within teams. The approach here for leaders is to keep the team strung together to a common purpose and a goal.
And how does one do that? For any relationship to work sustainably and effectively, trust is the key! When managers and team members trust each other and believe that they are working together towards a common goal with a strong sense of purpose. With this foundation of trust, collaboration and engagement get built-in quite logically.
One could think of innovative ways of communicating the shared mission to the virtual team members. Perhaps, clear articulation of the mission in a document could help. This also appeals to the un-conventional and self-driven kinds who believe that their time and efforts are being put to good use. Of course, merely stating the mission would not help, it needs to be demonstrated in every action by the leader.
Humans are social in nature and that has a key role to play in managing virtual teams. Meetings need to happen, not just for monitoring work and measuring progress but also for interpersonal understanding.
Using virtual meeting tools helps put a face to a name and open immense possibilities for team members to get to know each other better. Periodic video calls with informal ice breakers built into the agenda could help employees to loosen up and speak without inhibitions.
Eventually, managers will see their teams sharing concerns, constraints, and challenges openly and coming up with solutions by sharing loads.
For organisations that have worked in traditional styles with the manager having everyone work under his nose all the time, one challenge is productivity measurement. Obviously, what worked for face-to-face teams is not going to work for virtual teams. On one hand, some team members might misuse freedom and shirk work. On the other hand, others could reach burn out due to the lack of boundaries of work timings. It is imperative for managers to balance both. Managers could try virtual daily huddles to keep everyone on the same page at all times. Informal check-in by each team member holds everyone accountable for achieving daily targets. Additionally, managers may also be required to schedule periodic one-to-one meetings with each individual. This builds rapport and also gives exclusive time for assessment of individual behaviour. Such meetings are excellent platforms for understanding individual challenges and skill gaps and ensuring managers role in helping through.
Many a time the best performers in the team tend to overwork in the absence of boundaries. They get so engulfed by work that they forget to find time to relax. Without clear boundaries of working hours and designated holidays, such workaholics may be heading towards exhaustion. This damages not just the individual but may also build dislike towards the organisation or even disengagement. Here the manager is expected to intervene and keep a check on such employees. She/he can encourage staff to maintain some regularity in business hours and enjoy their paid time off or holidays. Untimely emails, mood swings visible in the language, unexplained drop in quality of work etc. are some symptoms that shouldn’t be missed by team leaders. The regular one-to-one meetings can be used not just to measure productivity but also to check on wellbeing and extend support as needed.
If not done right, communication can get muddled if teams never meet face to face, trust and collaboration suffer when workers are siloed, and sometimes it’s hard to tell if employees are tasked with too little-or too much.
Despite these challenges, the current pandemic is demanding that virtual teams are here to stay. Remote work allows companies to compete in an increasingly globalized society, so the real challenge becomes adapting to the new workplace.
When organisations overcome the challenges, managers and team coaches will enjoy the rewards of leading cohesive virtual teams by setting renewed goals and reaching them; watching team members develop and leverage their strengths and ultimately benefit from healthy team dynamics that ensure that the right decisions are made and implemented.
It’s certainly warm in there, at home. Let’s learn to be cool about it!