Virtual Workplace Series Recap
In the first four blog posts of this 6-part series, we discussed the COVID 19 crisis and the rapid shift toward more virtual work. We highlighted the challenges associated with this shift and associated opportunities for positive change. We recognized the social justice crisis we are facing and the increasing pressure to manage and lead in more authentic, just, and transparent ways and the need to consider leadership strategies that yield greater understanding and deeper and more meaningful organizational transformation.
We shared our thinking on how ever-higher levels of emotional intelligence will be needed to support the expanding numbers of people working remotely and on virtual teams. And, we talked about the associated needs to enhance leadership skills needed to respond with authenticity and thoughtfulness to the individual and collective upset and negative consequences of both crisis situations—COVID and the growing need for social justice.
We discussed how dealing effectively with genuine fear and anxiety is an ongoing challenge but critically important now because NOT dealing with stress and fear correctly has the potential to upend “informed action” which is essential for progress. In our fourth blog, we suggested how managers and leaders must focus on vital tasks to create a safer, calmer, and more productive virtual work environment for remote employees especially during this time of physical and psychological challenge and distress.
This post on leadership strategies is part 5 in our 6-part series on working virtually. In this series, we explore the workplace as it experiences the Pandemic of 2020, recovers from it, and use “lessons learned” to suggest new ways to innovate going forward. We’ll share our concerns and insights and discuss actions we can take now to support the workplace as opportunities for working virtually become even more commonplace.
6-Part Series on Working Virtually
- Part 1: The Virtual Workplace – Overview of the emerging virtual workplace.
- Part 2: How Emotionally Intelligent Are You? – The need for Emotional Intelligence (EQ)—now more than ever.
- Part 3: Moving Beyond Fear – Why and how to deal with fear and anxiety in the workplace.
- Part 4: Reimagining the Role of Managers & Leaders – How current challenges have led to a distinct reimagining of roles at work—especially for managers and leaders.
- Part 5: People and Virtual Leadership Strategies – What factors create successful organizations and where to focus and invest now.
- Part 6: Successfully Dealing with Today’s Current Crises – Recommendations & action steps for various leadership roles
Where to Focus and Invest NOW
In this post we talk about the need for more effective leadership and highlight actions managers, leaders, virtual team members, and individual contributors need to take now to deal effectively with a growing set of challenges and opportunities. We discuss approaches we believe will have the greatest impact on creating positive outcomes given the complex situations organizations are facing.
Early research suggests that while remote work can offer significant positives outcomes—especially in the time of COVID 19 — it is not yet clear if working virtually is the best long-term solution for organizations. Firms like Humanyze that focus on advanced research in organizational network analysis and behavioral science have been studying the pros and cons of co-located work, hybrid arrangements (some work remotely and some co-located), and working virtually exclusively. The research is new and still limited says Ben Waber President & Co-Founder of Humanyze at a recent conference hosted by Achieve Engagement. This early research is providing initial data to suggest it is not clear if virtual work for everyone is viable over long periods of time.
Still other research points in a different direction. A recent article in Harvard Business Review, To Raise Productivity, Let More Employees Work from Home, suggests many benefits when people are allowed to work remotely.
QwikCoach believes that remote work—in one form or another—is here to stay. And while new research may suggest that the hybrid approach (a mix of onsite and remote work) is, in fact, the most challenging, over the next few years as more research is conducted and more effort is made to optimize this style, we believe we will see an on-going shift toward more hybrid workplaces.
What this means is that organizations are going to have to step up their ability to support strategies they believe create value—like “holding” which we will discuss shortly, coaching, mentoring, engagement, recognition, collaboration, and other positive workplace practices in both virtual and hybrid situations. Organizations will have to understand the pros and cons of using a hybrid work structure and consider what changes will be required to take full advantage of onsite and remote work and optimize the benefits both offer individually and together.
Leadership strategies will also have to change to accommodate and support this new way of working—and thinking. Leaders will have to create innovative ways to support problem-solving, decision making, and strategic planning, advance leadership development, maintain and adjust strategic goals, advance the company culture, get buy-in, and achieve genuine employee engagement. It will require hard work and focus but it’s a business strategy that new leaders and old will have to embrace. A good leader will have to become a great leader and the leadership pipeline will have to include attention to a set of personality traits and other factors that yield the positive impact required in the new 21st-century workplace. Maintaining the status quo is no longer acceptable.
Our other educated guess is that the growing concern for social justice and its impact on businesses will not fade or be set aside. This time it’s different. Employees of all backgrounds are demanding action and change in policies and approaches that determine development and advancement opportunities and how businesses function. The need for bold and emotionally mature and intelligent conversation and action now—and over the next few years—is going to be profound and demanding. Leaders, managers, individual contributors, as well as those working on remote teams, must step up with a new level of concern and commitment to ensure organizations make the right decisions about what really matters going forward.
As the late President Kennedy reminded us, the Chinese word crisis includes two symbols — one for danger and the other for opportunity. More people than ever seem to believe—if not “know”—that this is a unique and different time. This is a time when we absolutely can and will confront the crisis by stepping up, rising above, and finding better ways to move ahead. Not all will land safely, but informed thought coupled with informed action will help individuals and organizations make systemic changes that will transform and improve the way we interact and work.
What We Have Learned About What Creates Success in Organizations
Research and practice during the last 15 years have provided more and greater clarity about what makes for individual, team, and organizational success and how leading virtual teams in a virtual world presents special challenges.
Large scale and multi-year studies at Google (Project Oxygen and Aristotle respectively) have enhanced our knowledge of what makes a great manager or leader and what matters in creating outstanding teams.
Project Oxygen for example asked, “what makes a great manager?” Here are the results:
- Is a good coach
- Empowers team and does not micromanage
- Creates an inclusive team environment, showing concern for success and well-being
- Is productive and results-oriented
- Is a good communicator — listens and shares information
- Supports career development and discusses performance
- Has a clear vision/strategy for the team
- Has key technical skills to help advise the team
- Collaborates across Google
- Is a strong decision-maker
Additionally, our understanding of personal effectiveness and strategies for personal wellness—both mental and physical—have also been more broadly understood and embraced in organizations. Practices like mindfulness for example—widely studied and much researched and once considered not relevant to a business enterprise—have become mainstream in organizations across the world. In this sense, there is a significant amount of useful information about what works and does not create successful people and organizations. Today there is more willingness from leaders to try fresh approaches and incorporate them into the workplace.
Other studies have shown that engagement, recognition, and collaboration are all keys to success. Technology organizations have been listening and leading with new products and solutions for years — ones that enable workers in multiple time zones to overcome the difficulties presented by almost any time of virtual environment. For example, numerous tools have been developed to help organizations speed up and improve involvement. These tools leverage technology to increase the ease with which people can communicate with each other—think Slack and Zoom. They also improve our ability to collaborate by helping us share documents, ideas, and opinions easily—as for example with Microsoft Teams or 15Five. Some also include easy and fast ways to offer recognition.
These software tools are increasing in popularity and helping the “transaction piece” of the performance equation — software is designed to make things faster and easier to do. This is their strength. With these tools, a virtual team leader for example can quickly send someone positive recognition or have a one-to-one meeting no matter the location. There is no doubt that the amount of transactions and the speed of them is providing needed support for many people in many organizations and encouraging more forms of recognition, engagement, and collaboration.
As technology makes it easier to complete “transactions” there is a growing need for people to be effective too. Transactions are performed by people. Collaboration, coordination, and communication can be facilitated and supported by technology but they are completed by people who must have all of the requisite skills and abilities to perform “transactions” successfully. The easier it is to complete a transaction, the more we will have, the greater the need for people to be able to do them well.
But what about in times of crisis? How does crisis affect what we do and how and why we do it? Does crisis call for new types of leadership? We believe it does. We definitely reject older command and control (just do this) approaches that may seem the best instinctually during times of stress. On the contrary, however, what we are hearing, reading, and experiencing is the need for leaders to be open to fresh suggestions and ideas about what it means to be a leader – in fact about how to lead in times of uncertainly and crisis.
One such article—the April 22, 2020, Harvard Business Review article—The Psychology Behind Effective Crisis Leadership by Gianpiero Petriglieri – is persuasive. Building on early research from child psychology and the idea that “holding” provides needed support for children, Petriglieri builds a compelling case for why and how the concept of “holding” and a new approach to leadership it needed. Here’s what Petriglieri says:
What do I mean by holding? In psychology, the term has a specific meaning. It describes the way another person, often an authority figure, contains and interprets what’s happening in times of uncertainty. Containing refers to the ability to soothe distress and interpreting to the ability to help others make sense of a confusing predicament. Think of a CEO who, in a severe downturn, reassures employees that the company has the resources to weather the storm and most jobs will be protected, helps them interpret revenue data, and gives clear directions about what must be done to service existing clients and develop new business. That executive is holding: They think clearly, offer reassurance, orient people and help them stick together. That work is as important as inspiring others. In fact, it is a precondition for doing so.
We agree that holding, along with deeper more powerful conversations using great interpersonal skills will prove the difference between organizations that survive and thrive and those that fail during times of crisis and uncertainty.
Maximizing Benefits—What to Focus on Now and in the Near Future
Without a doubt, it is now necessary to help people learn how to achieve the personal development needed to do what research suggests are the most important things leaders, managers, and others need to do.
- Be authentic, transparent, holding, and focused on the core activities that make a real difference.
- Be able to do what’s needed because they have the:
- Right attitude and mindset and understand how critical it is to act this way and
- Actual skills to have the types of conversations and form the types of relationships that make human interaction successful.
More specifically people need to:
- Be able to understand the needs of others and be able to listen actively, Communication technologies without effective communication skills will never enable people to maximize effective communication efforts.
- Give and receive meaningful feedback – the kind that actually helps individuals grow and change,
- Show empathy, demonstrate know-how, know when to talk and when to listen, and know-how to encourage others to talk,
- Be able to conduct consequential one-on-one interactions, team meetings, and individual check-ins that go beyond what’s obvious and standard and produce guidance and results that really help people grow, develop, and succeed.
Our leaders have to go beyond empty words and actions and demonstrate an ability to stand up for what is right and make meaningful and significant progress no matter how tough the situation.
If there is “good news” it’s that with crisis comes opportunity. Today’s crisis situations are providing what in adult learning theory we call “disorienting dilemmas” – the opportunity for our leaders and others to examine outdated assumptions about everything from how a business should work to how people should relate to and engage each other. In other words, we who are in the business of helping people perform and grow have a unique opportunity. In the still early part of the 21st century we have a chance to help people use these “dilemmas” as fuel to encourage people to learn, discover, try new approaches, and implement new ways to work. And here’s the really good news — we believe this type of acceptance and learning will lead to beneficial personal and ultimately organizational transformation.
A Way Forward—10 Things Leaders Need To Do Now!
- Support and encourage bold action.
- Experiment when the way forward is not clear. When in doubt, try something.
- Accept that people are ready for bold action—many are way ahead of senior management
- To the extent you can influence your organization to encourage “holding” in these troubled times—do it without hesitation.
- Coach and Mentor as much as possible to build more powerful relationships throughout the organization. Today it is possible to support and encourage coaching and mentoring activity with online tools that expand the amount and quality of support provided.
- Respect the value but also the limitations of technology to help people be great leaders and team members. It is absolutely necessary to use good technology and software but using one or both cannot be your singular focus. No one becomes a great leader because they clicked links or used an app to send the most friendly recognition message to the largest number of employees.
- If you are helping people develop competencies essential for success, urge them to seek 360 Feedback. Encourage them to use tools that are easy to access, use online, and provide insights that support follow-on discussions and the creation of meaningful individual development plans. Make learning and development truly continuous and meaningful.
- Provide and develop a mentoring program that empowers and reinforces the values your organization stands for.
- Reinforce and help people use all the learning resources available by making these tools easier to access and more connected to their individual needs. Help people understand personal development at a deeper level than just “take this course” or use this tool. Continuous learning is not just continuous exposure to more information, it’s a mindset and an approach to life as well as business that involves self-reflection, an open and curious mind, and work – yes, effort.
- Openly acknowledge that the road won’t be easy or smooth. But do not fail to leverage a new willingness to learn and discover to tackle and overcome today’s issues and in so doing create a new and better way forward.