One year into the Covid19 pandemic we cringe when someone refers to “the new normal”. It’s not new anymore, and it certainly is dawning on everyone that the traditional office and the concept of traditional workplaces and working hours has evolved into something different for good.
In a previous article I wrote about how we are all different in our needs when it comes to a physical vs. a virtual way of working.
Some of us never belonged in the office – we were just annoyed and distracted by the interruptions to the deep work we were trying to do.
For these Artisans, escaping from the office was a relief and an enhancement to their ways of working.
Some of us will always have a direct and real-time interface to our customers & all that has happened is that the frontline is now both virtual and physical. With the right tools and interfaces the frontline can now be global & and aided by Artificial Intelligence and Virtual Assistants. For these Frontliners the battles are around bandwidth and a sense of connection to the organisation, but they can be closer to customers and more well informed in many ways.
Two groups – or tribes – of the workplace have had a rougher time – mostly because they work closely with colleagues and are more inward facing that their Artisan and Frontliner colleagues. These are the Collaborators: groups of talented employees who get things done in teams and the Leaders of People who use their personal presence and ability to inspire to lead groups of people. For both of these tribes the transition has been more difficult.
The easy – round the table collaboration has become harder and more challenging to move on-line with the first generation of collaboration tools we grabbed – Zoom/MS teams/Whatsapp when the remote era emerged suddenly.
For Leaders of People they now needed to get the message, the inspiration and the engagement across virtually – some with great success others with great difficulty.
The starting point, then becomes – where is the core of your role and contribution & what might you need to learn to be effective in the remote management era?
Your challenge will emerge as a gap between your default way of working and the needs of your role now that virtual work is here to stay. When we facilitate our workshops about the transition to remote management we often start with the spread of roles and tribes in the team and the gap between the comfort zone and role needs of each team member.
Organisations with a large variety of contribution tribes and a big gap between the comfort zone and role expectations of many team members are in for a difficult transition.
With this brief intro to the complexities of remote management when it comes to roles and contributions behind us, it is time to introduce the superheroes!
To give the new capabilities and skills needed to thrive in the remote management era a tangible form, we created some superheroes, each representing a set of skills and abilities – or superpowers that managers need today to be effective.
Some of these superheroes have been around for some time & have just become super-relevant in the uniquely challenging times we are facing right now. Some are new creatures – born of the virtual working era.
Lets meet them and briefly outline their special powers!
Our First Superhero is The Time Zone Tracker!
This superhero understands the magical ability to use time zones to his advantage. This could be geographical time zones, using a global talent pool to get work done 24/7, but he also understands his team’s personal time zones. Do you know the rhythm and optimal “time zone” of each of your team members, their ways of life and their own “best times” to work, collaborate and be available?
The office & office hours used to give us all a predictable (if inefficient) time-zone to operate in, now that it’s gone, you have the freedom and responsibility to manage time & time slots in teams lives as a strategic resource!
Our next superhero knows that everything doesn’t need to be a meeting!
She has the uncanny ability to structure, guide, manage and recognise work offline! Introducing the Off-Line Organiser! The number one gripe of the newly remote workforce is that everything needs to be a meeting. As managers are overwhelmed by their insecurities & lose the crutch of the office as a reassurance that work is actually getting done, they set up more and more synchronic working sessions, meetings, check-ins and calls.
The Off-Line Organiser challenges us to manage work by structuring it better, providing written feedback and by allowing teams to get on with it, while building feedback and guidance processes right into the virtual workspace.
Our teams need less management & often dream of just getting on with the work, but then when you do lead – how do you show up?
In the virtual era our colleagues are people we see on screen.
If your managerial presence is dependent on how you look on screen, you need to become a Screen-Star!
This superhero is not vain, he is simply aware of the fact that the way you appear on screen can be the difference between making an impact or not.
This superpower includes some tech skills – how to set up an effective home studio but also how to dress, behave and manage a video conference to make the right impression and deliver energy virtually. It goes without saying that a screen star has his camera on during a Zoom or Teams call, but then he also makes the moment count.
The next superhero is a familiar one in some circles. He is well known in the software development world and has become a bit of a buzzword hero of late, but he has some great ideas for remote managers. In the era of remote management the Agile-Aficionado has some useful superpowers for us.
The Agile movement with its emphasis on short delivery cycles, high levels of customer involvement and short, sharp engagement sessions has a lot to offer the remote manager.
As it gets harder to connect quickly without the overhead of setting up a formal meeting, many of the rituals and solutions of the Agile movement can help.
This superhero knows that for all its failings and frustrations, the office had some benefits beyond the daily grind. It was a place to coffee with a colleague, share some stories, sometimes just vent or find some real support. During hard lockdown many people were deprived of their most significant daily social space. So easily work becomes, just work – meetings are all about work and the social fabric of organisations starts to fray.
The Hangout Hero knows that not talking about work is sometimes an important job. Making that happen in the virtual space takes a new set of superpowers and skills.
Someone recently said: “It’s not that I’m working from home, it’s that I’m living at work” .
Working from home sometimes means that work takes over at home and family roles, boundaries and responsibilities become blurred.
This is a major source of stress and impacts on parents and women in a very heavy way. As a manager of a remote team adopting some of the superpowers of The Friend of the Family can make a huge difference to your team. The set of superpowers of this superhero is to not only ensure what we used to call “work-life-balance” before, but to help with the integration of all the roles your talent plays.
Your ability to create a family friendly workplace becomes much more urgent when work moves into the home.
Some families are units of one experiencing huge isolation during periods of lockdown, some families are characterised by abuse and fear. Without the daily meeting place that the office represented, we need to work extra hard to not only overcome the isolation, but to actively be attuned to signs of stress and abuse.
Some of the best storytellers in business can grab a pen & take the team on a journey of alignment and discovery. Some of the most effective teams have a huge whiteboard in a war room where ideas can flourish, projects can be tracked and planned and where team members can pop in and add ideas and thoughts anytime. Some of the most innovative leaders can quickly facilitate a brainstorming session and generate a flood of great ideas from which to select a few winners. All of these abilities have to do with using a physical space to allow for collaboration, creativity and building out ideas. The beauty of a whiteboard on a wall is that its always there, to be used in a shared setting or to visit alone when it suits a team member.
Whiteboards reduce meetings, create visual collaboration spaces and allow everyone to see the big picture.
In the remote management era one of the most useful superheroes to call closer is The Whiteboard Wizard armed with an infinite virtual whiteboard like Miro or Mural this superhero can pull teams together, slay half of all the useless meetings and allow everyone to contribute.
The concept of being accessible via any channel of communication – or being Omni-Channel – has been an ambition of digital transformation programmes for some time. With the sudden dawning of the “remote-first” era this capability has become a crucial management superpower. The superhero we rely on for this set of skills is The Omni-Channel Optimiser this hero shows us how to expand the range and choice of communication channels in connecting with our teams. Despite the proliferation of ways of connecting and communicating managers still get stuck in a rut of email, Whatsapp and Zoom. In choosing a channel to be reachable and to engage the team some deeper thought needs to be applied. As the old marketing slogan said “the medium is the message” and choosing the right channel to convey both content and relationship is crucial.
Closely aligned to the superpower of choosing the right channel to communicate is the ability – no, the superpower of being the Platform Player this superhero invites us to have an enquiring, open and growth focused mindset in navigating the multiple ways of connecting at our disposal to engage virtually. On the one hand it’s a technical superpower – learning to use the platforms and possibilities created by a flood of new ways of working and connecting. Getting to grips with collaboration, whiteboarding, virtual conferencing, messaging and even virtual reality application requires a constant exploration of the tools. But on the other hand, and perhaps more importantly this superhero asks for the development of patience and a tolerance for the awkwardness of trying something new. Instead of another Zoom or MS teams call this hero may try a virtual conference room like Remo . All it takes is an open mind, some curiosity and some patience.
Saying “I’m too old for this” or “this thing is useless and buggy” after 3 minutes of trying may deprive you of an amazing new way of connecting and collaborating.
Our last, but possibly most important superhero has his arms wide open. This Inclusion Instigator is the champion of inviting in. He realises that this new boundaryless world can exclude as much as it opens doors. We are all in this together but we are all different. We have different personalities, different home situations in the background of our video calls, some of us are shy, some of us are bombastic, some have great bandwidth and equipment, some are struggling just to connect. To get the best out of every team member you need to be a master of inclusion and of actively embracing differences.
Leading and managing effectively in the “hybrid”, “remote-first” or even “remote-only” world of work means letting go of the crutch of the office. It means building new connections in new ways, but it also means mastering new superpowers and re-imagining what it means to work, collaborate and manage.
We have created a learning programme to assess and equip managers making the transition from the office to the virtual world. Should you want to call on these superheroes to help you and your team develop these new superpowers let us know and they will swoop in to share more of their special gifts with you!