The proof that many managers have difficulties in managing their remote teams lies in the current debate about employees returning to the office. While the issue of work organisation, the costs of business real estate and the motivating social aspect of working in a physical team cannot be ignored, few studies have pointed out that a significant part of generation X has had difficulties managing teams during lockdown. No more travelling, no more quick exchanges on projects around the coffee machine; all the reflexes accumulated during years of career wiped out by a virus whose origin is still unknown.
The long period of working from home (WFH) has created a more vehement demand for this new flexibility; it is time for companies to assess their management’s ability to manage teams with a remote control.
In order to find out where the problem lies, but above all to document it on an objective basis, it is often interesting to compare the performance of the teams before and after lockdown. If this exercise is new to the organisation, it will be necessary to create criteria that can be verified afterwards, such as projects completed, customer satisfaction, process improvement / digitalisation, turnover achieved, etc. Following this exercise, review the results with the extended management of the organisation, seeking to identify the downsides of success as well as the individuals who have distinguished themselves during this period.
If the performance of the teams has not been eroded during the lockdown, you will have relative evidence that the management has managed the teams in remote mode. On the contrary, you will need to dig a little deeper to understand where the deficiency lies and take steps to remedy it.
The performance of the organisation’s talent, both young and more experienced, also needs to be measured and analysed. The differences between before and during are often based on the same point: a more distant management.
Improved performance may come from more freedom in the organisation of work caused by lockdown. Once out of the rhythmic straightjacket of the office, some talents are free to organise, manage and find shortcuts in communication and project management. For these people, the work done at home will have been beneficial. The management style they require is perhaps different from the one they received before the lockdown. This should be discussed with the line manager.
The decline in performance can also come from more freedom in the organisation of work; alone, some lack structure, exchange and social motivation. Procrastinators prove to be inefficient more quickly than others and slow down the team when working virtually. And above all, textual introverts, those talents who do not like to write but prefer to use pictures, whiteboards or the spoken word, will lose their power in a digital world where only text documents your work over the long term.
This last point will certainly give rise to a new breed of talent: the « textroverts ». These are the colleagues who most often thrive on the written word. The ones who have the best notes taken at the Monday morning meeting, the ones who know how to best explain to customers in a well-crafted email that delivery conditions have changed but that they will not suffer any disadvantage. The textroverts are textual extroverts. They are the stars of lockdown because what they write can be read at all levels of the hierarchy. If they were not considered before the lockdown, they are now. An effective way will have to be found to retain and develop these newly revealed talents because in a world requiring more mobile working, they will certainly be the strongest cohesive links in the organisation.
SMEs in Europe are still lacking in digitalisation and 15 months of pandemic, including six months of lockdown (if not more in some countries), will have highlighted a known problem, but it will still take time to overcome it. Introducing digital technology without reviewing management processes, without educating management and transforming the culture will be a fruitless exercise. All too often, management is not prepared for this new exercise, and even for years, convinced that digital is only an evolution of MS-Office, management thinks that it will still be able to delegate its utilisation to teams. This is not the case!
« I have never used Excel or PowerPoint and that has never prevented me from making a career; I have employees for that! » one manager told to me last year. With the introduction of video conferencing software and other remote working tools, many managers were facing new difficulties. They have to organise their own video conferences, draw data from the ERP and delegate work differently so that digital becomes a strength and not an obstacle.
Conduct a review of management’s IT performance and train those who are lagging behind. Without digital skills, post-lockdown management has no longer any place.
Trust is the basis of teamwork. The expression « back to work » instead of « back to the office » used by some shows a lack of trust; it is similar to the desire of some managers to prevent work from being done at home, because they are convinced that at home, employees work less because they are not supervised.
« If you don’t trust your employees, then why did you sign an employment contract with them? » is the question to ask.
Lack of trust in an organisation automatically leads to cultural entropy. Cultural entropy is the amount of energy in an organization that is consumed in unproductive work. It is a measure of the conflict, friction and frustration that exists within an organization.
Trust reduces cultural entropy: Suspicion increases cultural entropy. Stephen Covey in his book Speed of Trust puts it this way: “Trust always affects outcomes—speed and cost. When trust goes up, speed will also go up, and costs will go down. When trust goes down, speed will also go down, and costs go up.”
By putting forward the intents and honesty of its decisions, management makes its work and its relationships more transparent to employees. This is the beginning of trust. You have to work on this transparency to work in digital.
Exchange within an organisation remains essential. But in order to exchange, one should not be afraid to speak up. Working on trust within the organisation can increase constructive exchanges. But that is not all.
We all know those slightly introverted or shy employees who don’t often speak up, even though their opinion is always full of good sense and undoubted added value. Digital managers must actively seek out the opinions of these employees who are no longer physically in the office. This is not only a matter of recognition, but also of the manager’s ability to positively differentiate each character of his or her teams. This is part of the “care” that is the most important demonstration of trust in teams.
Beyond digitalisation and other change management programmes, de-containment requires us to review the performance of structures and those who make them up. A change of culture must and will take place in all organisations, which will have a particular impact on administrative and managerial functions. If some organisations now understand that they have been a little slow in the process of digitalisation, there is still time for them to tackle the cultural change imposed by the new « post-pandemic » situation.
Copper Oak’s consultants are here to support you in this project and to offer you tailor-made solutions to make your teams feel even more welcome in the office.