You’ve likely heard the expression, Put the genie back into the bottle. Here’s a twist on the idea given our current reality.
In the coming weeks and months, it is highly likely that we will be emerging from the #COVID19 restrictions that are currently governing our daily movements. None of us knows for sure how things will unfold; however, I am confident in saying that we won’t be throwing a switch and going back to the way things used to be.
In all likelihood, you will be faced with one or all of the following possibilities:
- The genie doesn’t want to go back into the cubicle. Some people, including your best performers, will decide that they don’t want to go back to the office. They’ve embraced working from home and would rather look for a new organization to join that offers them the option to #workfromhome, even in a difficult job market.
- Not as many genies will fit in the office given the new cubicle configuration. Social distancing rules at work might restrict the number of people that you can have in the office at any given time. The amount of square feet you have simply won’t cut it as everyone will take up a bigger footprint.
- Genies no longer have cubicles to go back into. Your organization actually enjoys how the reduction in costs associated with people working from home looks on the balance sheet. Granted revenues may be way down at the moment, but people can see what the bottom line could look like in the future and that’s appealing.
It’s one thing to create workarounds in the short-term to deal with the current work from home situation, but quite another to establish enduring solutions. Allow me to offer three areas that you and your colleagues should explore in order to prepare yourselves for the future of work in your organization.
Area #1: People
Let’s face it; some people are more effective than others in remote work situations. Beyond the technical skills needed to perform a particular job, working from home requires people to effectively focus their energies, organize work, operate independently, self-motivate, communicate, and remain highly reliable. You and your organization need to ensure that these skills are not only evident in those that you hire in the future, but are developed in those who are currently on the team.
Here are steps to follow as you assess your people.
- Make a list of the skills team members must possess to effectively perform their roles remotely. These can be items that I listed above or others that are important in your organization. Confirm your list by asking others to provide you advice.
- Evaluate each team member against the list of skills from 0 (low) to 10 (high).
- Ask each team member to evaluate her or his skills using the same 0-10 scale.
- Compare scores. Identify areas of agreement and difference.
- Talk to each employee in an effort to answer two key questions: 1) How did each of you assess the skills? and 2) what
- needs to be done to close the gap in areas that require improvement?
- BONUS STEP: Have the same conversation with your team and your boss about the skills you need to perform well as a leader in a virtual workplace.
Area #2: Processes
I may have never been to your organization, but I can confidently make a few predictions about your work world.
- Your organization is filled with lots and lots of processes.
- Many of these processes are layered on top of others, creating a spider web of systems.
- A few key processes are understood by a select group of brave souls who have invested time to become experts in a particular area. If something needs to be done using that process, everyone knows whom to ask.
- Some processes apply to everyone and, although everyone has been trained on the workflow, there is still inconsistent performance against the standard.
- Far too many of your processes are not well aligned to support virtual work and the past several weeks have made that terribly obvious.
The good news is that the shifting sands of today’s world provide us an excellent opportunity to change how work gets done. To help you make that happen, I suggest you perform the following steps:
- Pick one work process (e.g., order processing, product packaging, travel reimbursements) and write out the steps for the process.
- Review the process steps and ask yourself if how things currently get done is the best way to handle your team’s workflow, especially in a work from home situation. For those that could benefit from improvement, consider if the resources required to make a change are worth the return on investment.
- For processes that would benefit from making changes, identify how you might change or redesign things.
- Take your work to others to gain their feedback, insight, and if needed approval.
- Test the change using a subset of the work to see how things go.
- Assess the results and make refinements or adjustments.
Area #3: Communication
George Bernard Shaw famously said, “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”
Considering the fact that Shaw died in 1950, I think it is safe to say that he could never have envisioned how we would communicate today. In the past several weeks alone, you have likely become familiar with tools and terms that you never knew. Zoom may not be new to you, but Zoombombing probably is.
Perhaps Shaw might have said something like “The single biggest problem with Zoom, Slack, Skype, email, text, and other forms of communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”
There is a lot of noise in the system these days. Much of is keep you as a leader from effectively communicating with your people. Here are a few things to consider when you are communicating with your people:
- Message. Opportunities for miscommunication abound. Avoid exacerbating the problem with unclear messages. If you find yourself having to constantly explain what you meant by something, odds are that you need to revisit how you craft messages. After you draft a message, set aside so that you can come back to it with fresh eyes. Ask someone to review it and ask someone to explain what they just read. A bit of reflection on your own and involvement from others goes a long way.
- Audience. It’s always important to consider your audience, but this is especially true when they might be consuming your message under new conditions. If I ask you to think about writing a note to one of your team leaders, you likely generate an image of her or him reading the message at work. Now envision that same colleague sitting at a makeshift desk, reading your email at home, with a partner working three feet away, and a middle schooler trying to virtually learn in the next room.
- Mode. With all of ways we can communicate, it’s easy to lose sight of which modes work best for a given audience and a given message. Be careful to simply default to what mode you like best or find easiest to use. Think about the message and the audience and pick the mode that is right for the situation. Yes, this may even mean picking up the phone and calling someone.
- Frequency. Don’t add to the noise by communicating too often. Also, don’t add to the silence by communication too infrequently. The first can cause the message to be lost in pile of communications. The latter can cause people to fill in the silence with the stories in their heads about what is ‘really’ happening in the silence. We like reliability especially in times of uncertainty or change. So, create and keep a cadence of communication that works best for you and your team.
Patrick Leddin, PhD is a sought after writer, speaker, and global leadership consultant. Patrick is an Associate Professor at Vanderbilt University with a thriving leadership blog and podcast, and 25-years of leadership experience. He offers an unparalleled mix of academic rigor and real-world experience.