July 9, 2020

Why Remote Teams aren’t all Plain Sailing – and How to Calm the Water #2

For many organisations that hadn’t previously been working remotely, the move to remote working due to COVID-19 was sudden.

People had to adjust very quickly, a sink or swim situation which for many was complicated by sudden home schooling at the same time. And still is!

We work a lot with Healthcare professionals, and 2 weeks before lockdown, doctors, nurses and psychiatrists were already predicting what was going to happen. They warned their respective organisations they would need the tools to continue working remotely, and that this should be actioned asap. Most ‘parent’ organisations seemed to baulk at doing this though, and put the pause button on just in case it wasn’t needed.

History of course shows us that it was needed, and these in-high-demand healthcare professionals were thrust into a situation where they had to muddle through without the tools to do the job. In particular, many were left without access to certain platforms they needed.

Ring a bell?

This is what we call a level Zero to Level One move in remote working autonomy. There’s no adaptation to make it employee-friendly, which puts a lot of strain on the people involved, reducing their efficiency and effectiveness. People carry on working as before, only from home.

For some organisations one of the blockers centres around security to their networks. It’s clearly an area that has to be dealt with, yet many are hiding behind the ‘we have to work behind a wall’ mentality as if the wall will save them. Events over the past few years show this is a fool hardy strategy, and that multiple layers of security need to be in place. I won’t go into detail here as it’s one for the IT security professionals, but suffice to say there are lots and lots of very successful, fully distributed organisations able to manage this risk with employees working all over the globe. So it *shouldn’t* be a blocker if it’s really needed.

Now of course a lot of organisations say they have made big adjustments to the tools needed for the job, which is great. At the same time, very often those adjustments are made by senior managers whose life/work experience revolves around email, access to databases, CRMs and so on. It's a positive step in the right direction, BUT…

…if you’re now truly moving to a remote set up and you’re still using email for your internal communication, you’re helping perpetuate one of the bugbears of remote – and indeed fully distributed – working: that without huge cc lists, your communication is locked away in a virtual mailbox where it’s only visible to a select few. Nobody likes enormous cc lists hey? In fact many folk automatically route any emails they’re cc-ed to into a ‘read later’ (a pseudonym for never) folder. And if you’ve had a back-to-back day of video conferences and now quickly need to catch up on key decisions taken on important projects in the last 24 hours, you’ll know that wading through a day’s unread email doesn’t help you find the answers quickly.

Equally, if you’re working on a project and quickly want to find out if anyone else is or has worked on the same thing in a different region, the ability to quickly contact the right people isn’t always easy. What’s their name? Did that person just leave? Who’s replaced them? Where did they store the information? Is it buried in an intranet site somewhere? Or a computer hard drive? The good news is that new platforms are tackling these issues, and making it both easy and fast to find the information you need, and to get to the people you need. Without an email in sight!

So until you embrace different ways of working internally, you’re going to remain hamstrung to only leveraging the benefits of remote working to a certain (limited) point.

It’s a bit like the development through different stages of Tribal Leadership. From ‘I’m great’ (which is endemic in so many professions where the emphasis is on your academic credentials, a by-product of the ‘you have to be published to be anyone’ paradigm’ - through ‘We’re great’ – a very significant shift where you notice the change in attitudes, language and results – to ‘Life’s great’ where large organisations end up collaborating for the greater good and making hugely positive difference to the world. You can’t achieve ‘Life’s great’ outcomes with an ‘I’m great’ culture. Just as you can’t fully leverage the benefits of remote working when stuck with email and a fire-walled system.

The platforms we work with shape how we work, and what the limits are. They also start shaping our brains – yes, seriously. And the extent to which you want this to happen is a choice. Choose carefully.

Here at Leading Beyond we like to keep at the cutting edge of technological innovation that supports effective working, and have links to some of the most exciting developers out there. If you’d like to know more about how new technologies are helping organisations realise their goals, be that remote, distributed or even office-based, do get in touch. There’s some exciting stuff going on in the domain that could help unleash more of your organisation's potential.

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