Part 1: How necessity, discovery, and innovation are creating a fresh roadmap for the 21st-century virtual workplace
Like many focused on improvement, QwikCoach has grown increasingly interested in creating a new, enlightened, and more engaging, supportive, and productive work environment. To do this, organizations must find better and more innovative ways to support people at every level. This opportunity becomes even more necessary as working virtually becomes increasingly commonplace.
In this 6-part series, we’ll 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 becomes 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 & 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
The Current Reality
Plato had it right—necessity is the mother of invention. (The Republic, 380 BC)
No surprise we’re seeing that admonition play out right before our eyes as the need to social distance in response to COVID 19 is moving many to reconsider long held beliefs about the workplace and make dramatic shifts.
While some changes have already taken place—like creating a technology infrastructure that enables a virtual work environment and supports remote teams—the recent imperative to work remotely has in a relative instant changed the way work is imagined, performed, and managed.
Those who have long believed that allowing too much flexibility in where and how work was performed have been pleasantly surprised to find that remote workers can be as productive as those working in traditional office settings. When it became necessary to allow work from home, most rose to the occasion and proved that performance would not suffer. In fact, as reported by Fundera.com, “two-thirds of managers who offer telecommuting flexibility report that employees who work from home are overall more productive.”
If the right foundation is set—teams that are trust-based and results driven—the location from where work is performed can become secondary.
And, today’s technology is also allowing more productivity and innovation which may be another reason much current research is rosy about working remotely.
But for many organizations and institutions—large and small—it is unlikely that the profound changes made over the last few months to accommodate the need for reduced face-to-face interaction will quickly fade especially if good results remain. The “new normal” will be shaped permanently by what we continue to learn and experience from virtual workers who learn to strike the right work-life balance and generate meaningful results. At this point, we will likely continue to create and support more opportunities for virtual work by individuals and virtual teams because both appear to be working.
The unintended but real changes and insights that have resulted from trauma at every level in organizations will be cause for some level of fundamental change. Why? Because what many have discovered is that there are real benefits with working virtually and these benefits can be preserved, leveraged, expanded, and integrated to create a new “workplace normal.”
We believe the traditional office, the daily commute, and the need to interact in-person will not disappear. What will appear is a more pronounced blend of virtual and in-person interactions that provide a much broader range of workplace opportunities and expanded benefits.
Consequently, as the concept of the “virtual office” evolves in this new direction, innovative approaches to management, leadership, collaboration, project management, video conferences using Skype and Zoom, coaching, mentoring, and so much more will also be needed—and eventually provided.
Unintended and profoundly positive changes that have occurred because of COVID 19
Change 1: Bosses have experienced something new and now “get it”
Crisis situations often create opportunity for dramatic change. These changes typically affect policy, procedures, technology, hiring, and other common factors and resources that enable change.
The Pandemic of 2020 has been different. Every level of management and leadership—yes, including the “C Suite”—has been affected, involved, and on-board! People have stayed home to work from home. The fact that the dog, children and other at home realities have become part of “the workplace”—and civilization as we know it has not ended—means there is a new appreciation for what’s possible.
Workplace taboos and dogma have been challenged—some would say “put to the test”—and guess what—the workday has survived, people have learned to accommodate change, projects are getting done, check-ins continue, global teams are interacting, and many are seeing new opportunities for redefining how and from where work can be accomplished. A new virtual working environment is being created right before our eyes, and guess what, it’s working!
And here’s the “magic”: the boss is not just hearing about it. Working remotely is not an experiment, proof of concept, or pilot done by a few to test a concept and generate a recommendation for possible future consider. It’s real. It’s now. And, it’s being done with bosses who are participating and experiencing what’s possible when work is performed virtually.
As a result, leaders will have the ability to reflect on the costs and benefits of remote work, reexamine overhead costs, determine what “new doors” to open, ask these questions, and seek answers.
- What new technology will be required?
- Will new costs be outweighed by new benefits?
- How will opportunities to reduce travel to conduct meetings and conclude sales affect the bottom line—or improve it?
- When will in-person interactions be imperative?
- How should we plan time together to get the best outcomes?
- How will we build teams, complete projects, create trust-based relationships, innovate, and drive results in a post COVID 19 world?
- What will be the same and what will be different?
Change 2: Performance realities matter because no one sees or cares about efforts to look like you’re a high performer
Showing up “at work” and giving an appearance that you’re working is no longer key. Keeping late hours, having tons of meetings across multiple time zones, looking particularly skillful, or looking buff and together now seem quaint and silly ways to measure anything much less be used as an indicator of actual performance.
There really is a clearer bottom line to achieving things—or not. You either did or did not make something happen. Results define performance not “appearance.” If you are asked to produce a result and you do in ways that are consistent with the organization’s core values, team member expectations, and accepted behavioral norms (clearly communicated before-hand) that’s what counts!
Where you do it from is quickly becoming less significant as geographic boundaries dissolve and telework becomes more and more the accepted norm by millennials, gen Zs as well as older gen Xs and boomers who are now more positive in their attitudes toward virtual work.
Change 3: Work/life balance as a preference or a great idea has dissolved as a “presenting and important issue”
The Pandemic of 2020 has made absolutely clear what should be EVERYONE’s top three priorities in life. We present them in order of importance.
- You! Take care of yourself because if you don’t, you can’t help others. What you do has the potential to hurt large numbers of other people in every area of your life.
- Your personal network and family. These are clearly people who need you and caring for them isn’t a luxury but a universal and profound responsibility.
- The organization and your team. Because people need a way to contribute, be productive, and make a living.
Prior to COVID 19 the order of importance for many was reversed and this “priority conundrum” had become the source of much anxiety and stress. While some will debate our order, we believe that discussion seems superfluous when this disease has stripped us all down to what is right before our eyes and what is clearly important. We also believe that this new ordering of priorities is likely here to stay for the foreseeable future.
Change 4: Catastrophic necessity is driving rapid innovation and acceptance
With articles suggesting people now own “Zoom shirts” (NY TIMES SUNDAY JULY 5th Styles section) the point has been reached where not only is zooming/video conferencing everywhere, it’s so comfortable people even have an easy way to dress for it. While some feared it, worried about it being too revealing, or just felt uncomfortable, new technologies and relatively older ones are now being used by just about every member of the quickly evolving virtual workforce. And for the most part, they are working and working well.
With the “gallery setting”—where the participants are show in equal size boxes—a new “equality” has come to meetings. Where in-person meetings were often swayed by the most senior, most vocal, or most influential, getting everyone connected “in the same way” brings a certain level of automatic equality and expectation that talking, sharing ideas, and making points needs to be and should be an equally shared responsibility by all participants.
Change 5: A culture of learning, experimentation, and personal accountability is becoming a new norm
Who knew that with lots more folks working from home it would become clear that experimentation, personal accountability, and collaboration were becoming enlightened and accepted norms? Culture is not defined by “space”—an office suite or entire building—but rather by how people (vital human resources) interact. These interactions determine what is shared and what is valued. Read our blog post about how to create a caring culture to learn more about this.
As people rise to the occasion and accept that work can be done differently in real-time, many have been freed from old constraints that might otherwise have limited an openness to try new ways to work.
A willingness to experiment is a must for culture shapers. Because large segments of organizations have experienced dramatic change they will likely be much more comfortable and accommodating when on-going opportunities for change are presented. This is a wonderful development—one that will lead to even greater prospects for growth, innovation, and employee engagement. All of this will become possible, and yes, inevitable as the traditional office continues to evolve to support the virtual workforce of the future.
Strategies to Try Now
Recommendation 1: Focus on HR/Learning/IT Integration
HR/Talent/Learning need to bond more strongly with IT and work out old impediments to active collaboration now
HR has dramatically increased its reliance on and connection to technology in the last 10 years. More emphasis and reliance on data to run the business has become an imperative. More learning and collaborating online has become the norm and needs to happen seamlessly. Technology to support hiring, succession planning, benefits administration, and other functions that once were cause for stress (and some level of distrust) between IT and HR ultimately allowed both to forge new connections and stronger relationships. These shared experiences have created a new level of understanding and appreciation for the value each brings to the table as solutions are jointly developed or acquired.
At the same time, the learning industry introduced more standalone solutions—from Learning Management Systems to platforms for hiring, learning, and collaboration. As the nature of work changes, HR related technology and support will require rapid change as well. Integrating hiring, onboarding, learning, coaching, mentoring, collaboration, and other activities must become easier, and it needs to be easier NOW. Technology organizations have to provide even greater levels of support for “people related functions” and develop and integrate more innovative tools—quickly and easily. Organizations should not have to avoid innovation or decline it in areas such as coaching, mentoring, or leadership development for example because of technology related barriers.
Since COVID is likely to super charge the need for technology-driven innovation, the need for IT/HR collaboration is greater now than ever.
Recommendation 2: Pursue Partnerships to Create Amazing Virtual Learning Experiences
Work with high quality traditional learning vendors to jointly develop new online, virtual, or other innovations to replace as much in-person learning activities as possible.
People still need to learn. They still need to have all the knowledge and know-how once provided with traditional classroom training. The opportunity is to continue to move as much as possible online by working with technology vendors directly. Engage Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) and instructional designers and allow them to collaborate with technically savvy workers to create new approaches to online learning. Working with SMEs who really understand a field or subject is the best way to leverage their expertise and create amazing virtual learning experiences.
Recommendation 3: Promote & Support Online Coaching
Accept that more people want and need coaching, mentoring, and support and provide tools to do that.
While online coaching is not at the stage of online learning, it is getting there quickly. To move this new technology forward, we urge organizations to promote self-coaching and online coaching. Self-responsibility has grown with COVID and leaders need to recognize it and leverage all of the consequential benefits.
To do this:
- Help coaches use online coaching tools. Provide access and support.
- Think chat rooms, virtual team meetings with co-workers, Skype, Zoom, social media, and a host of other tools. These and others are replacing what previously happened around the water cooler, in large meeting rooms, and in cars, planes, and trains on the way to meetings around the world.
- Encourage more senior members of your organization to engage in mentoring. The more people who work remotely the more mentoring will be needed.
- Recognize that everyone needs and must have some level of coaching support and access. Leverage technology to provide it. Combine online access with live coaching to get the best results.
- Use online coaching programs and content to support remote workers. When the right kinds of support are provided people will get the help they need to perform every aspect of work in new, different, and better ways.
- Do the same for mentoring. Online support for Mentors and Mentees is available. Use it!
- Finally, don’t wait for a perfect solution. They aren’t here yet, but what is can dramatically improve the amount and quality of existing coaching and mentoring by 50% or more.
Learn How QwikCoach Supports the Virtual Workplace
We’ve taken all that we’ve learned coaching others to achieve workplace success and put it in one easy to use online coaching support tool. Learn more to see if QwikCoach is the answer to a better virtual workplace for your organization.
The changes brought by the Pandemic of 2020 aren’t in any way all positive certainly. Its downsides are horribly apparent. This series is in no way meant to minimize the destructive forces now being experienced across the country and around the world. But attitudes are shifting, and new ways of thinking and interacting are happening that can and should increase productivity and have the potential to create even stronger more focused workplace cultures.
There is a natural concern that more remote, distance, and at home work will fray the already rough lines of collaboration, friendship, trust, and camaraderie that most know create the conditions for success and innovation. Experiment more, try different approaches, and use some of the good, unintended consequences of COVID 19. No one would deny us the right to those.
Remember, you have the ear of bosses for the first time in a long time. Crisis does provide opportunity. We believe leaders at all levels—from the C-Suite, to HR and IT, and all other business unit leaders—should leverage this once in a lifetime opportunity to make a fundamental difference in creating truly great, collaborative, high performance, coaching-centric workplaces.
Thanks for reading! If you liked this topic, check out part 2 of this series on working virtually here: How Emotionally Intelligent Are You?.