Recently when the Covid-19 threw our world into chaos, the panic it caused spread faster than the virus. The market panicked, and everyone thought it’s the end of the world. Employees forced to work remotely; however, in most cases, no one trained or trusted them to work from home.
The questions that many had in mind were if this is a forced vacation? Are we going back to our jobs ever? When the management was always hesitating to allow employees to work from home, sudden forced changes in this mentality was extremely confusing to many. But what was the fundamental barrier for not allowing employees to work remotely? Probably the first answer is the lack of TRUST in most cases.
In most management’s mind, when an employee stays home, it means the resource might not be working in full capacity expected to fulfill the responsibilities given. Also, most of the time, management might complain about the quality of work that is not as expected when done remotely. We have heard because of many possible distractions in the home environment, the attention of resource derogates, and the quality of work becomes concerned. Does this mean that no one can’t work while sitting in Starbucks? Very strange!
But despite all these concerns still, mother nature finally forced everyone to quit their routine and start working from home. Yes, the worst news to most managers! Those who were never ready to handle the situation and even never trained their resources on how to handle it, or maybe themselves too.
Working with a lot of companies’ management teams, we keep hearing the same complaints about their teams. But what are the fundamental issues? Let’s run a shortlist of possible weaknesses and examine them.
Lacking Culture of Trust and Dignity in the Organization
In the past few years, the companies have neglected their responsibility toward their employees, notably, in terms of protecting their jobs in unstable circumstances through appropriate strategy and planning. Unfortunately, to satisfying market analysts and shareholders’ expectations, the first attempt for many companies is to reduce costs through layoffs.
Simultaneously, it can be saved in many other ways like change in business strategy, planning to foreseen obstacles coming by enforcing metrics, having contingency plans in their competitive advantages, and many other financial solutions before going to the last resort and letting go their employees. The shortfall of seeing obstacles by management will force them to neglect the employees who had no control over company strategy.
Unfortunately, in many cases, corporations sacrifice employees for satisfying shareholders. In fact, by letting go of employees as the first option, they diminish the values that planned to create in the long term. This typical unappreciative attitude toward employees has created a culture among resources that would not last long with the company. Hint, no one cares about the retirement benefits anymore.
As a result, the employees are continually exploring the market, and nowhere is better than seeing what competitors looking for if the non-compete clauses they have signed allow them. Competitors pay a lot more for them if there is a benefit in it, this is why the job market has reached the point of full employment with overpaying salaries. According to McKinsey, 82% of Fortune 500 executives claiming their company failed in recruiting talents.
When management doesn’t respect their talents and resources, they won’t do it in return while increasing the company’s cost in general and long-term. Trust must be two-way. When employees feel disposable, management can’t expect employees to put their heart and soul into work; no matter where they are performing the tasks. We need to fix the fundamental issues and create trust among stakeholders relatively.
Setting the Expectation
It is essential to know and define the expectations between parties involved in a project. Managers love to keep expectations in the dark for easy manipulation when needed. If employees meet deadlines on time, they can push a bit more for next time by saying what about “X”? or wish you have done task “Y” too! The same thing can happen from the employee side that can claim has finished a task. At the same time, quality is not satisfactory or, in worst-case scenario reporting the job is done while still pending. However, both parties can do this in any place, either it is the office or remotely.
Spend a little more time and define expectations for each task and deliverables. Nothing fancy but communicate a bit more while work getting done, don’t work in a black box. If functions are among those types that get repeated over time, make a checklist with a timestamp for easy monitoring.
Planning for a Functional Remote Work Team
For companies that have remote engineering teams, probably they already know how to do this, but let’s review the basics again. When the resources are working out of the office, it is essential to split the task and responsibilities into micro-tasks.
In Silicon Valley Cloud IT (SVCIT), our engineers don’t work from home. However, internally we have invested a lot in knowing our engineers and resources by many personality tests to be prepared in the event of a crisis. We must make sure resources are performing to their maximum efficiencies and what they are best at doing and how to do so when the controlled environment is at a minimum.
Understand your team by running tests like Thomas-Kilman (wildly used by big corporations and Business Schools). Figure out the personality and team standing for better arrangements. Is the person more accommodating, collaborating, compromising, or avoiding instead of competing? It will help avoid creating a dysfunctional team and positioning team members in maximum efficiency.
Like many other companies, SVCIT engineers used to come to the business facility and work as a group. However, Covid-19 forced us to send everyone home and shut down our buildings. However, here is how we handled the crisis in SVCIT:
- Based on experience and preparation, we immediately reshuffled the teams.
- Even though we use popular communication tools, we still made the groups smaller in numbers to increase communication more to a personal level.
- Changed the role of resources even temporarily.
- Empowered resources for volunteering and taking the lead. Double the size of lead resources, if possible. Give everyone a chance to lead a task, process, or project.
- Reduce the number of interferences and make the process more efficient.
Deadlines in a usual way defined for the office environment but not while working from home. How many of us even lose control over these deadlines during business trips? Let’s face it; family distracts you by stepping to your home office and suddenly talking about kids, food, or asking to walk the dog.
What can do in the face of such distractions? The best practice we have suggested in SVCIT to our employees working from home is to work for about 30 to 40 minutes and take a break. It will force you to break the significant deadlines to smaller ones. Then reward yourself when achieving the more consolidated deadlines and go to your family or allow yourself to be distracted for a few minutes. Therefore, You are not frustrated due to your inability to carry out too many tasks in a short period. You may not reach your desired target; the joy of accomplishing a couple of micro-deadlines when put together can achieve the bigger goal.
These techniques are working for us in SVCIT, and within a few days, most of our engineers claimed they are comfortable with remote work. Promote getting more frequent breaks, create micro-deadlines, and reward micro-achievements. Give it a spin!
Create a mandatory goal of the post-project review (Postmortem), and add it to the checklist. Design a series of activities to explore the significant events of a project and the participants. It will provide substantial strategic foundations for the process running. Make sure reasonable goals selected for the review process suggested by Kerth (2006). You will achieve a healthy ROI on this strategy.
- Set small goals to achieve more substantial one step by step.
- Keep everyone accountable for the review process.
- Create a culture of sharing and documenting obstacles, strategies, and success.
The practice above is one of the best ways of team building since everyone wants to shine in these post reviews. Just try to keep in truthful, fair, and fun learning.
You need to create a functional corporate culture. The corporate environment is different from home, and the same rules don’t apply in both situations. How to balance getting the best we want is up to the culture of the environment we create. Back to the beginning, when establishing trust and continue planning, you need to optimize work in a way to maximize the return and reduce the inefficiencies.
Have your resources talk to each other in a group of two or three. Let them be the manager of their own to lose vulnerability and get assertive to prepare for more prominent roles. It will lead to more honest, short, and collaborative communication promoted from the corporate level. When tasks distributed, get a vote for completion and estimate to create mutually agreed and fair deadlines.
Make meeting constructive when working on requirements by providing possible solutions or guides, and waiting for feedback. Force short meetings with quick turnarounds to focus on requirements and feedback right to the desired outcomes. If you need extra time, recess, and start again to have more productive and result-oriented meetings. Investigate why the session did not finish in a given time planned and avoid happening again.
Define success at the beginning of every meeting. Direction, expectations, and requirements need to return with the degree of quality your company promises to deliver. To achieve the deliverables in the condition you expect, use the best tools your teams are comfortable and already using. Have your team members as your allies to be able to monitor all the critical elements.
Fundamental Training is the Key to Remote Work
When employees have to work remotely and away from you, you are not there to manage, monitor, and influence all the details. It’s time-consuming and challenging to control things that are visually not visible. Reduce redundancies to a minimal level, and that’s your goal. You must be a leader to achieve success in this instance; you need to train others to be a leader. If you are already leading the organization, you need to step back and guide others as you did for yourself during your career. To lead others, you must first inspire them to take a challenging position and proof to themselves and others they can make successes. You can’t make everyone a leader, but if your training skills are sharp, you can select the best candidates for your team members to start your training.
Train everyone to build consensus and respect their commitments. As a leader, you will have two independent responsibilities that you need to manage. Performing well and be task-oriented or a leader to create relationships. These two can’t be achieved high in rank together in most cases. Still, you must do your best to clarify and explain tasks and give others opportunities for clarification. For increasing your relationship skills at the same, share your ideas with your teams and create an environment to facilitate getting help in making decisions. Try to avoid delegation or being a teller leader.
Help the team to find their best in the things they do. Let them take the lead on that and TRUST them. Expect deficiencies, and by enforcing sharing and documenting, it will reduce possible flaws if any encountered. Have resources read academic concepts on matters the way they desire them to perform and complete tasks. Let them be domain experts and promote it by asking them questions for help. Give them time to come back and help out, then encourage and reward those who actively participate. Create a collaborative environment for training and again show your appreciation for those who do help others.
In SVCIT, even though we have dedicated engineers for projects, we still ask them to work as a team. Team members must help others, especially when the new resources need speedy training. They need to support and log how much help they have provided to their colleagues. We have designed part of our performance review to monitor and grade the help to other colleagues. In SVCIT, there is no room and appreciation for individualism. Usually, they won’t last much in a tightly team-oriented culture that is running SVCIT culture. Invest in training, and it will help you out significantly when colleagues help each other. It creates a shorter learning curve for any subject.
How to Propagate Changes For Remote Work
There is a lot to apply, as explained above. If an organization is already late in developing and preparing its resources for remote work, then how to propagate changes in the organization is an essential skill must master. There is no silver bullet to achieve goals instantly, but having many years of experience or applying best practices.
To start with, recognize the organization’s potentials and establish a sense of urgency to attract others. Start from small groups and team members to create allies for what wishing to accomplish. This group can grow eventually and be the force to pave the path for strategies. You must require to develop a vision and strategy in order to propagate change and establish the desired culture. Clear vision and strategy to fulfill wishes must be communicated to all team members and follow up regularly. Let everyone know what the big picture is; tell them steps have planned to get there and get feedback from them even to discover a better way.
Empowering a team is the ideal way to achieve common goals since each member can take the initiative to pursue the goals and successes. Let them guard the strategy. More pairs of eyes and brain thought are ways to move forward. During this process, plan short-term wins. Embrace them and share them with everyone. Document them and always try to stay on bright spots detected. In the end, consolidate all the changes and what they have gained from all they have done. It becomes a shortcut and assurance to achieve the same goal over and over again in a notably shorter time and resource utilization. When you put all these together, you have successfully anchored a new approach to change your organization’s culture. Keep in mind; change is not easy. A more established organization always has a lot more difficulties in propagating changes.
In SVCIT, our colleagues have become very dynamic about changes in this practice. That’s why we can switch projects and succeed with high certainty and quality. One of the most strongly recommend books in change propagation techniques is Switch by “Chip & Dan Heath,” taught in the Michigan Ross School of Business Executive MBA program. The book switch prepares how to change things when change is hard by focusing on three elements:
- Direct the rider (the rational mind)
- Motivate the elephant (the emotional mind)
- Shape the path (observing the situation or environment)
Always remember to work on bright spots. When recognized, embrace them, teach them, and clone them. Make goals crystal clear when passing them around. If there is a degree of uncertainty, you can’t expect others to understand fully. Script the critical move and concrete the specific behaviors and expectations. Make sure to clarify what the organization, team, or project wants as a result. The path must be sharp and clear to every vision. Avoid ambiguity and promote clarity. Motivate everyone by finding mutual feelings, and don’t force it if a high degree of satisfaction required. The change must be tangible to others so it can invoke a positive sentiment in them. When Change is broad and vague, minimizing it to smaller changes, making it faster and easier to occur. Let everyone always touch those wins. Then grow people’s mindset and awareness continually; therefore, they won’t forget the process.
Making a new culture requires practice and effort especially one as stressful as remote work, but the result will be tremendous. The very bright advice from the book Switch says: “What looks like a people problem is often a situation problem.” Don’t judge everyone and everything before knowing all the details about them. Tweak the environment sometimes when needed even if it is small. It will help to shape the path that motivated people can follow. To maintain the long-term sustainability of this behavior and reduce redundancies, make sure to build habits so the team can put on autopilots.
As a businessman, engineer, and pilot, using a checklist is an essential thing I do daily. In SVCIT, we have very detailed Checklists almost for every task and process. We reward everyone who finds discrepancies or suggest a new meaningful Checklist for a procedure. By doing this, we have achieved the last part in training and building habits, which is to know that behavior is contagious. Whether constructive or destructive, our actions and behavior can pass along to many others close by in the environment. So why not planning a precise and efficient routine to be spared among teams?
Corporations mostly neglected to prepare their resource for crises like Covid-19 and, as a result, left employees not equipped for remote work. They can’t expect suddenly to produce the same quality work if we don’t act fast. But it’s not late since this pattern will not stop and will affect the future of the way we work. You must consult with outside help if a quick turnaround required. Let other domain experts intervene and correctly do the job or rebuild from the beginning. From the top organization level to the bottom, develop mutual trust as the first action.
When working on trust and team building, define the expectations clearly by the party involved as required, unless someone in management is not doing it right. To move forward, having a functional team is mandatory and considers everyone as an ally. A “functional team” building takes time, and steps might go wrong but share, document and retry again to fine-tune teams.
We can’t resolve problems without substantial planning. Set small goals rather large, have everyone participate, and fine-tune plans as needed. Get mutual agreement on deadlines, deliverables, and processes as much as possible. It doesn’t have to be fully democratic but can’t be fully dictatorship either in remote work.
Don’t forget to invest in training resources. Train individuals to lead rather than just manage. It is impossible to train everyone all the time, so let the resources virally handle the job. Let teams understand that “change” is coming, and it is essential to propagate them in the right way. Create foundations to accept and appreciate the change. Promote it and let everyone see the positive side of that.
Accept the world’s professional workforce behavior is drastically changing, and it is getting forced to be efficient, smart, and productive in a remote environment. As we always say to SVCIT engineers, “Work smart, not too hard.”
Author: Cyrus Akbarpour
Copyright Silicon Valley Cloud IT, LLC.