It’s been 100 days since lockdown began in South Africa and remote working has become a part of everyday life for businesses and employees. This presents a unique opportunity for many companies to adopt new ways of working that will stand them in good stead for the future.
What does the new world of work look like and how are organisations adapting? dY/dX partner, Templar Wales, addresses this question and more in a recent interview with Florence ‘Flo‘ Ledwaba, on SA Today, SABC.
Flo: The 100 days since lockdown have seen remote working become an integral part of the business life. During this time businesses and employees have adapted to a new way of life and operating. Here to chat about working remotely under the lockdown, I’m joined by Templar Wales, partner and co-founder of digital transformation company dY/dX, for more on this. Just as a start, your company, dY/dX, has recently conducted a study on remote working over this period; what have been your key findings, especially in terms of businesses having to adapt to new operating models in the past 100 days?
Templar Wales: Many businesses are moving away from everybody working from home to a hybrid model – where some people go into the office and other people work from home. Some of the key issues that people are struggling with are HR and IT policies. Many policies only for when people are in the office and not for when people are working from home. The other is management style – so the role and style of management in terms of building trust and managing output rather than hours. People have been talking about managing output rather than hours for years but now they are having to trust that people are doing their jobs. A very important part of that is also finding a balance between checking in that people are okay and giving them support, making sure they’re clear on what they need to do, but leaving them enough time to do deep work – to deliver on what they need to.
Flo: HR is central to most businesses. What advice would you give to companies who are grappling with how things are having to move forward?
Templar Wales: The people that are able to do their job from home – if they work on a laptop or phone – are probably the least affected. The people that are the most affected are those who are leading teams and HR; they’re asking questions like, “How do I lead and manage my teams in this way?” So the one challenge is managing your team so that you can work effectively with them and have clarity around your structures, your meetings, how many meetings you have and how often. The other is around upskilling – making sure that both your teams and your management are upskilled in terms of how to work better together, how to build teamwork and culture together, as well as the tools that you need to execute on that.
Flo: Let’s talk about the many positives of working from home – for one, we don’t have to sit in traffic. Also psychologically, it must be quite a lot easier to not have to worry about getting up in the morning, preparing yourself to go to work and sitting in traffic. Surely there must be a number of positives to take out from this, not only for employees but for employers as well?
Templar Wales: Absolutely, the positives are many. There’s the upside on a personal level where you don’t have to sit in traffic for 1 or 2 hours of the day, many people report eating better, exercising and being more mindful. I think the benefits to businesses are that they can start to do a lot of cost-cutting – like downsizing office space and the resources that they use to perform certain duties at work. We need to make sure that we don’t go back to the old ways of working and take full advantage of the benefits that this hybrid model offers – where you can keep people working at home and either have certain people doing certain roles or at certain times; so you do 90% of your work from home and then come into the office as and when you need to. So from a cost-cutting and operational perspective, there are a lot of opportunities for businesses to actually benefit. From an employment point of view – if you are now employing people to work remotely, you can recruit people from around the world. You can find the best people who not only live in your city but anywhere.
Flo: Let’s say, in a year from now, we find ourselves in a situation where we’re all clear, we’re not dealing with this pandemic anymore and it’s a thing of the past… Do you see companies deciding that this has worked and that this is the way to move forward?
Templar Wales: Absolutely. A lot of us hope that that’s the case. A lot of the conversation is around how COVID has forced people into a digital transformation that should have happened anyway. We see this as an opportunity to leap forward and not just with a temporary change of behaviour, but a more permanent one. We need to take the best of both – how do we benefit from what we use our office for and how do we benefit from working from home? Already you have businesses like Google who are employing thousands of South Africans to work remotely in their help centre.
According to a McKinsey report, only 16% of digital transformation projects are successful. This is often because companies are limited in the way they look at solutions, basing their decisions on the experiences they have had up to this point and not on future trends and opportunities. Many businesses still employ an industrial-age style of management, where they manage people by place and time – employee contracts dictate the place and the duration of an employee’s work day and the company’s processes for collaboration and communication rely almost completely on geographic proximity. However, as remote working becomes the new norm due to COVID-19 and distributed teams work from their preferred workspace, team leaders will need to shift their focus and manage their employees differently.
This requires a shift from an office-bound to a remote mindset, the key to which, is an internal cultural transformation. The most successful digital agendas are driven by engaging with people and culture first, and then employing technology. Listen to what Nevo Hadas, Partner at dY/dX, has to say in this interview on ChaiFM.
Avi Kay: I’m reading from your press release and it says that digital-first processes not only eradicate the problem and challenges we had before, but they also eradicate the ineffective solutions we had come up with for these for those problems, making teams more productive and focused on the actual work. Please flesh it out a little bit more as to what that means practically.
Nevo Hadas: Fundamentally, we approach problems from the environment that we understand them in today. So, if you look at Amazon, for example, in 1996, and you looked at it as a bookshop – we would have said it’s a terrible bookshop. With Amazon, you can’t go and browse through or smell the books, you can’t ask the nerdy guy behind the counter about his favourite science fiction book – it’s terrible, who would want to do this? But we’re judging this on the basis of the experience that you have in a bookshop. If you change your mind and asked something like, well, is it more effective at selling books? The answer would be undoubtedly, yes. Amazon is much better and much more effective. And in truth, the science fiction recommendation from the geeky guy behind the counter isn’t as good as 10,000 people’s science fiction recommendation. So what that really speaks to is the fact that we are often limited in the way we look at solutions today, based on what we’ve experienced up to now. And our current construct actually limits our ability to see the future or to see how we could implement solutions which are future-focused.
This ties back into dY/dX. The name actually comes from calculus. It’s the formula for the rate of change – the change in y over the change in x; delta y over delta x. The whole business is about helping companies with digital transformation. We first look at where they are today and then look at where this digital future could lead them to, and we focus on three things. The first one is new products and services – so how could they develop something that is future-focused, that has new revenue opportunities or new service opportunities for their customers, and helps them gain market share or additional profitability in the future. The second one focuses on how digital transformation will impact them as a company – solooking at your processes and saying if I change how I work, and I utilize technology more efficiently and more effectively, how do I change my profitability and my ability to please customers? The final one is looking at the sales funnel and digitizing their sales funnel – looking at how they optimize that flow from a lead to a converted customer, automate marketing and those kinds of processes? The interesting thing that all these three have in common is actually not IT. At the core of dY/dX, we’re actually a human-centred design business. It’s really about understanding people. If you can understand people, you can actually solve a lot of problems in very different ways, which don’t always require very complicated IT.
Digital transformation is interesting because so many of these projects fail. You know, it’s something like a 17% success rate, according to McKinsey, for digital transformation projects. But the thing that makes successful projects is when they actually focus on the culture and the people first, and the technology second. That for us is the key concept – how do you help people understand the problem, reframe it and take it from a different perspective; then it’s easy to solve the challenges that you have.
Avi Kay: I think what a lot of people are waiting for us to discuss is how is COVID-19 and the whole global shutdown will affect business moving forward? My experience has been threefold. Number one, there are those that don’t even know that there’s an epidemic going on – they’ve had to change a bit and they’re wearing masks, but life goes on, business goes on and it’s great. Then you’ve got the other extreme, where you’ve got the guy who woke up on that Friday morning with zero income, zero potential, business shut down, debt, and business overheads that have to be paid. And then there are the guys in the middle, hustling their way through it. But the common thread amongst all three of those people is that the needs to be a way forward – there definitely has been a change. In your experience, what size companies have adapted the easiest to this change?
Nevo Hadas: It’s been less about the size of a company and more about the industry a company is in. Any consumer-facing businesses, like the restaurants and Airbnbs, have had massive issues, no matter the size of the business. We’ve had clients from Tsogo Sun down to much smaller manufacturing businesses that have all been impacted. I think that’s been the primary indicator of impact. The second factor really speaks to resilience, and how well they’ve been able to adapt to things. We’ve seen everyone adapt really well – we’ve actually done an online assessment. About 500 different people have taken this assessment and even teams of companies have taken the assessment – which is really interesting to see how a team evaluates each other – and what we’ve seen is that most people are actually coping with the change. But there’s a lot of issues with how effectively they’re working. And a lot of issues which we can see coming down the line – that there will be in burnout, where people don’t understand how to separate their work and life environments.
Has COVID made a big change in these businesses? Yes, it has definitely accelerated a lot of change that we wouldn’t have had to face or that we otherwise might have had to face over a longer period of time. Working at home and the effectiveness of companies being able to work this way has been moving forward at a slow and steady rate for quite a while. Laptops and data have enabled people to take work home, and now people are actually working from home. There’s been a big transition from taking work home to working from home.
Avi Kay: One thing that I’ve found fascinating is the discussion around how what people were trying to do before, they are now doing and it’s here to stay. Are you working from home or have you got an office that’s up and running?
Nevo Hadas: We’ve actually been a remote-first company for about five years. So we’ve got team members in Cape Town, Joburg, London, Netherlands and recently just added people in Zurich. So we’ve been working this way for a long time and we’re very familiar with this process. The interesting thing for most companies going through this experience, as you said, is that it is here to stay. Right now, everyone is in lockdown, at their homes and at their desks for extended periods of time – this won’t last. What will start happening is that you’ll get more hybrid or distributed teams, where some people will be at the office and some people will choose to be at home. And what we find then in those environments is a change in management – how do you grow, how do you engage these distributed teams effectively – this changes dramatically for businesses, whether they are small or big. They need to start thinking through the next stages of evolution of remote working.
Avi Kay: You’ve made such a fascinating point about management because that’s something that I’ve found that I’ve never really had to do before. Everyone was here, you walked in, you could physically see people, you might look over their shoulders to see what they’re doing. But now when you call and speak to a person, you get kids yelling in the background and you get told, “Oh, I’m just receiving delivery of this or just getting that.” As management, you almost need to have broad shoulders and appreciate that it’s not business as usual, there are other distractions. How do you roll with the punches but at the same time keep the reins tight, but not strangling, so that the worker gets things done?
Nevo Hadas: I think it’s an Industrial Age concept of management – that we manage by place and time. What you find happens very quickly, as you get more into this remote working and distributed teams approach, is you focus more on outcomes. With our team, I don’t know what people do every day and it doesn’t make a difference. I’m sure they do yoga in the afternoons or do stuff with their kids. And it’s great. As long as the job is done and is of high quality, right? That’s all we care about. There are lots of leading global companies with thousands of employees that are all working remotely, which have consistently shown higher effectiveness measures than traditional companies who are office-bound or geographically bound.
What you’ll find as you migrate is that there’s a lot of advantages. You can have more Flexitime workers, no one needs to work five days a week, they could choose four days a week – sometimes it goes up and sometimes it goes down – you’ll find that it changes your employment contracts. This is something that hasn’t hit lots of big companies here yet or hasn’t really hit South Africa, but your employment agreements are going to change because all the employment agreements are: be here at nine, leave at five, and everything is built around your attendance. Now it’s not about attendance. You could be attending for three hours a day and be you know, outworking somebody that is there for 10 hours. So you get all these big cultural and social shifts which companies really need to grapple with, and most importantly managers need to grapple with. The tools that used to work before – when everyone was around, you could see them, you could ask them what’s happening with a certain project – those don’t exist anymore. So how do you restructure your time and processes and not over-communicate?
The first mistake lots of people make is that they want to over-communicate – they do daily check-ins and stand-ups. Stand-ups come from agile, which is a development methodology. When agile started, it did stand-ups to make everyone uncomfortable so that they’d get out of that meeting really quickly – that’s why it’s called a stand-up, you’re not allowed to sit down… But now we’re all sitting down at our computers. So I think there’s a lot of maturity and transformation that needs to occur with how companies approach the way they do work because that really helps your business go to the next level. So you go from an office-bound mindset to a remote working mindset.
It is no longer a question of ifthe Fourth Industrial Revolution will change our ways of working, but when. The answer might be sooner than you think – COVID-19 has already ushered in a new era of digital transformation. While the pandemic has provided a global impetus for working remotely and many businesses are restructuring to move their systems and processes online, traditional employment structures and contracts will start changing, opening up a world of new opportunities for both employers and employees.
Nevo Hadas, dY/dX partner, speaks on SAFM to explain what businesses can expect and how to prepare for the coming changes.
Songezo Mabece: Nevo Hadas, partner at dY/dX, a digital transformation company – we’re in conversation with you this evening because we need to talk about something which makes a lot of senior employees somewhat uncomfortable – engaging technology and how companies themselves are not necessarily moving with the times. COVID has forced the agenda of working remotely and increasing the use of technology, and all of that speaks favourably to the Fourth Industrial Revolution. What is your response to that?
Nevo Hadas: I think it’s spot on. What we’ve seen is a massive and rapid shift for companies and society to move into remote work. It’s left a lot of companies, and especially managers and leaders, in a very uncomfortable position because they have no skills and haven’t been trained in how to manage and lead people that aren’t at the office. I think it has impacted many businesses as you said.
Songezo Mabece: What should be the process or protocol that companies employ? How much of my own personal equipment is supposed to now suddenly be work equipment? What responsibilities does the employer have to provide me with this infrastructure at home? I understand it could be costly, for instance, I’m a lawyer – if we were working in a legal environment the turnover for paper would be astronomical. You would need a printer. Sometimes you would need a colour printer when you engage graphs and colour diagrams. What balance, if any, can be struck between the expenses in relation to fulfilling one’s obligations as the employer and employee?
Nevo Hadas I think that’s a great example. I’m going to first use the example, then I’ll answer the question of who takes on this cost, and what the future of work looks like in an employer and employee relationship. We have a lot of solutions in the office – things that we use and that we do every day that are actually solving a problem that doesn’t exist in a digitized world. So for example, the issue of printing – one of our clients was working quite effectively running radio stations, where they have a traffic department who needed printer desperately. This was one of the key requirements of this department – they would print out documents to see which ads were running where and track their performance and results on paper, just like you as a lawyer – and still, they were forced out of the office. Suddenly paper wasn’t a critical requirement because they worked out ways to work without paper, and everything became digital. A similar thing will happen to the legal profession; the idea of a physically signed contract will shift into digitally signed contracts, and those contracts will become more accepted. So what you find is the requirements that we had before, for things like paper, were actually habits that we’ve developed from working in an office-based environment, and once we move out of the office, we find new solutions that get rid of those problems.
What that means from an employer-employee perspective, talking about who is responsible for certain costs – what you’ll see is generally a progression, especially for the digital-first or remote working companies. The traditional structure of an employment contract which is a nine-to-five – you’ll be at the office at 9 and go home at 5, and all the time between those two periods belongs to me, as the employer… That really starts shifting because suddenly, I don’t know if you’re at your desk from 9 to 5 and I lose control over that period of time. Before, a lot of our contractual and behavioural components came out of the industrial age and a sense of geographic proximity. Location ruled the work environment and employers wanted everyone in the office at one time so that they could maintain control, communicate and do everything they needed to do. But now, I can’t see you and you could be anywhere – I have to move, as an employer and as a manager, to output-based performance. I have to look at what you’re actually achieving. And once it all moves towards output-based performance, I don’t actually have to care how many hours you work and whether you’re working from 9 to 5, as long as the job is done and done well. That dramatically breaks this whole traditional idea of employment. So now people are moving towards flexible employment and Flexitime. The exciting thing for employees is they get more of their life back, they should get more control over what they do with their days, yet still, be able to be employed and produce good work.
Songezo Mabece: On that, it does assume certain things. Some of those things which were not necessarily part of the discussion are now becoming a reality. If we look at the elder generation – it’s enough for them to open the laptop, press the button and start the computer… Then they click on Outlook, Microsoft Word or whatever system they use, and that for them is as much training as they would have needed in interfacing with the infrastructure for the purposes of doing their work. If there was a problem, they’d simply call someone. Now, all of that is taken away because one has to work on their computer at home. Now there are Zoom and Skype meetings and they are forced to be very conversant with this technology, which they didn’t have two or three months ago. Now they have had to have a crash course and learn as they go. This poses challenges to the workplace. And again, whose responsibility is it? I would assume I have to take the initiative but at the end of the day, it can be costing me money to perform my work, which for the most part, was supposed to be something traditionally provided by the employer.
Nevo Hadas: I think there you’ve got a very good point – this transition from the way that work was, to the rapid new world, is the employer’s responsibility. If you’ve come into the contract and you’re already a remote worker, that’s one thing, because you’ve got your laptop, you’ve got your input manufacturing costs, and that’s part of your agreements with your employer. But if you’re a traditional employee and you’re seeing the shift, then definitely – it’s actually in the employer’s interest to help you transition into this new world.
We’ve recently been doing a whole range of assessments for companies and we’ve been breaking it into two concepts – the one is ‘Company Remote Readiness’ and the other is ‘Team Remote Working Maturity’. We’ve been doing this to get a sense of whether these companies are ready for their people to work remotely. In other words, if somebody has a laptop, then it’s great, they can take it home. But a lot of companies don’t have that. They have PCs, for example, in which case you can’t do your job from home. So those companies can’t even transition effectively to remote working. For those companies to be more effective in the future and actually get the benefits of remote working, they need to invest in training their staff from the bottom to the top, in how to adapt to this new way of working. A lot of this training, especially for senior managers is about loss; it’s about what behaviours they have lost by moving into remote work. They will no longer get to walk into the office and greet people – they lose that sense of comfort from having people around. Your traditional ways of management aren’t there anymore, so there’s a big sense of loss for managers, as well as employees, in this whole transition.
Songezo Mabece: This has me thinking about the Fourth Industrial Revolution; South Africa was talking about it quite a lot, leading up to COVID. Job threats, job security, the advent of technology; we now know we can, in many respects, continue running an economy working off-site. Does this not accelerate, or should it not accelerate, the Fourth Industrial Revolution agenda altogether?
Nevo Hadas: It 100% accelerates the Fourth Industrial Revolution agenda. Guaranteed. A lot of companies that we worked with were debating whether or not they should be allowing people to work from home, and discussing how to do that – and then COVID happened and they had to start working from home. A lot of those debates have ended and that’s bringing about the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
From a jobs perspective, there are two ways to look at it. If you have a high paying job or are fortunate enough to be in the IT sector, remote working sector or if you’re a knowledge worker, you don’t have to live in a big city anymore, you can live in a small city. This is a massive trend now. This is happening at the top global companies like Facebook. Even in our own business, we’ve had some of our team members saying, “I’m going to go live on a farm for three months.” Which is fine, it doesn’t make a difference. What’s interesting for me, is that it allows South African companies to compete globally without needing to have offices all around the world. Suddenly, it’s acceptable for you to not be there face-to-face with the customer to provide services and products. Suddenly, you don’t need offices in Europe, London, New Zealand or wherever to be a global business. This will hopefully help a lot of companies shift – to realize that you don’t need those big capital costs to expand. That could boost South African jobs and would also hopefully bring a lot of employment demand to South Africa, where we still have lower costs of employees when compared globally, but we also have very strong talent and very smart people. So yes, there is the risk, but I think there are also lots of opportunities if people are willing to grasp them and to see the glass as half full.
In a digital world, remote working provides businesses with tangible, cost-saving advantages; from reduced overheads to a larger employee talent pool and greater workforce diversity. When done right, remote working evidently boosts productivity and employee wellbeing and is proven to drive profitability.
A digitally transformed workplace may naturally have the tools, processes and systems to support a remote workforce. However, while technology makes digital transformation possible, it’s the ability of an organisation to embrace this way of working that will be key to success.
Research shows that while 30% of organisations provide training for virtual working, the training focuses on how to use the software and on understanding policies. The real skills gap lies in enabling employees to work productively beyond the tools. Only an effective remote workforce will be set to exploit digital transformation to gain a competitive edge.
How do you measure your remote team’s effectiveness?
Through our digital transformation practise and experience in leading and working with remote teams around the world, we identified 6 stages that teams go through on their way to remote working effectiveness. Each stage carries with it various levels of organisational risk and advantage.
We designed a 10-minute Remote Working Maturity assessment to measure what stage your team is at. The assessment is based on reported behaviours so results get richer as more team members complete the assessment. Share the assessment with your team to quantify your team’s effectiveness.
The first crack of breaking chocolate. The scent of a roasted cocoa bean. And then pinning the flavours you taste on a flavour wheel with 18 other people… is not what most people are expecting when they join an online event.
The global shutdown has most businesses and event organisers scrambling to make their events ‘virtual’. Every meeting is a Zoom call and conferences all converted to a plethora of free webinars. But simply recreating what we used to do in the physical world is a recipe for boredom.
We couldn’t meet our favourite clients face-to-face over dinner and we couldn’t stroll down to Honest Chocolate for an after-lunch hot chocolate. So, we brought the two together. Partnering with Honest Chocolate, a Cape Town-based artisanal Bean-to-Bar chocolate factory, we invented the Honest Chocolate Virtual Tasting!
Boxes of chocolates were hand-delivered to everyone’s front door with strict instructions to keep their hands off them until the event – which 70% of them managed to do.
After introductions and agreeing the etiquette for the session, we kicked off with an icebreaker exercise. Everyone logged into a shared online doc and dragged their flags onto a world map to show where they thought the most cacao beans are produced.
West Africa: (Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire) is correct by the way.
This is the same mechanic we use for online brainstorming and interactive learning workshops. We learn by doing, not by sitting back and listening – and being remote, sitting back includes answering email, helping kids with homework and shouting at the dog.
With a Zoom Poll, everyone answered a few questions about personal flavour preference proving that we experience tastes differently. Through the rest of the experience the co-founder of Honest Chocolate, Anthony, took us through a journey of different experiences – a live video tour through their factory, a bit of history about cocoa, the Bean-to-Bar chocolate-making process, and tasting nine of their chocolates in between.
Tastings were also mic-on, camera-on, interactive moments when we chatted and pinned what we tasted on the flavour wheels. In many cases, this showed again how we could all interpret the same flavour in different ways.
This was a fun experience that involved a lot of chocolate so not a lot could go wrong; but 5 years of working for clients all over Africa, Europe and India with a distributed and diverse team prepared us well for the remote working. Forced by lockdown to cancel client workshops and group training sessions, we converted easily into shared online whiteboards and immersive, interactive ideation sessions.
Part of a ten-week Design Thinking course with Red&Yellow we adapted a full day workshop into two three-hour online sessions. By switching modality between talks, slides and interactive boards—with sticky notes and voting mechanisms—and applying tight time constraints, the workshops feel quick, energetic and highly productive.
One of the biggest learnings from this is that all of the tools you need are readily available, taking advantage of what simple tech can do and changing what’s perceived as acceptable and normal is where teams and companies need help.
And don’t be afraid to experiment!
Remote Working resources:
To support newly remote teams, we published a free ebook and a Remote Team Maturity Assessment:
We have been working remotely with international clients for the last 5 years. Lockdown for me (personally) has meant less travel, more time to exercise (zoom HIIT classes) and hang out with my kids. Unlike many other businesses that have suddenly had their world transformed and are struggling to adapt to a “no office” environment, our business hasn’t really been impacted too much.
The biggest business issue has been one delayed project, but we have grown during this period with new projects kicking off. The team at the moment is around 32 people, spread out between Cape Town, Johannesburg, UK and Netherlands. We have added 3 new “interns” (one is a reforming lawyer, one is a re-emerging educationalist, and one is a surf instructor/musician/organization psychology major) during this period.
Our systems are built for a digital-first organisation. We have very little email (which is a sign of digital maturity) and most of our communication is focused on projects in slack channels. There are almost no “meetings”. We don’t use video calls. Our work is done in collaborative workshops, and they are either really short (dealing with blockers in projects i.e. less than 30 min) or long workshops – where we collaborate as a team and complete key tasks. We have specific formulas for meetings and tools that we use which make our organization very efficient and ensure that nobody is dead-weight in the meeting.
This doesn’t mean that the period has not had its challenges and hasn’t created new opportunities. For example: In our design thinking and service design projects we normally facilitate physical workshops; day-long events requiring teams to work together in one room. That clearly could not happen.
As part of a 10-week certification course we co-developed with Red & Yellow, we had to deliver a full-day workshop for a group of 22 from Dimension Data. There were four teams, each working on different projects – challenging enough in a face-to-face workshop and even harder virtually.
We had to rethink and redesign the workshop process, delivering two fast-paced, highly collaborative workshops. Each was three hours long but because of the time pressure and interactivity, they felt energetic and engaging.
Similarly for Mediamark, in a Future Ways of Working workshop, usually delivered as a half-day physical event for leadership teams, we had to move it all online. We reimagined processes using Zoom, Miro boards and Google Docs, changed the agenda and had a successful outcome.
What has been interesting as a commonality for us, is even though organisations have all the tools (office365/ Gsuiite/ slack/ teams/ zoom, etc.), they haven’t explored how to use them. The organisations are hampered by a belief system anchored in the technology of eight years ago that influences how they see teams working together.
Four years ago we worked on a project with the Dutch government to develop and promote distributed remote teams. I expected a new-fangled intranet incorporating Slack and Asana, what we got was something very different. The realisation was that technology does not create successful teams, behaviour does.
This project, The Culture Canvas, was released as an ebook, downloaded thousands of times and led to us building our Culture and Future of Work Practice. In this lockdown, we decided to release another free eBook “me.we.us” to help team managers improve how they manage remote teams. We have seen it spread quite quickly already with some organisations downloading the ebook hundreds of times. We have also developed a 10-minute “Remote Team Maturity” assessment designed to quickly measure remote working capabilities and quantify team effectiveness.
This has led us to develop a new training program that we expect to release at the end of May (it’s currently in beta with test organisations in SA and UK). So that is an opportunity that emerged from the lockdown.
My message to the industry and agencies is that this is a golden opportunity. You are thrust into change but it is beneficial pain. We have undertaken successful digital transformation projects with corporate marketing teams (such as Vodacom) and have spent a considerable amount of time in change management processes.
Agencies are sometimes arrogant and assume they know everything from a blog they read. The default approach is to get a new tool, come up with a new process and all will be well. This is not how it works! Don’t be fooled into thinking that this is easy. It just doesn’t work that way. Many are “too busy” to invest the time in transforming. Many great companies were too busy… until they weren’t busy at all.
MIT has released research (conducted between 1 April and 5 April) showing that nearly half of the US workforce is now working from home, and this number is set to increase. This is a massive jump from the usual 14%-16% range that report working from home or partially working from home. Whether to work remotely or not is no longer a debate, while how to manage and benefit from remote work have become key conversations.
With a global recession looming and cost-cutting a prerequisite, many CEOs are using the learnings from the global lockdown to ask why they need so much office space, and more importantly, parking space. Even if companies don’t reduce their headcount, having a remote and distributed workforce provides many cost savings not limited to physical space and facilities. Even on a social impact and environmental level, there is any number of civil society organisations who are closely monitoring the impact on infrastructure of a reduced commuting workforce, looking at carbon emissions, improved accessibility.
Cost savings aside, remote working allows companies to recruit talent globally removing the geographic talent pool limits of “head office”. If location is not an issue then it is as feasible to hire a knowledge worker in Parys as it is in Paris.
However, companies need to be willing to adopt this change, which, until forced into it via the lockdown, they have been slow (or loathe) to do. This is generally due to nothing more than fear of change, inertia and the concern of unproductive staff working in their pyjamas.
The tools have existed for over a decade that enable remote working and are getting better at an increasing rate. While there are IT and other complexities involved, which can be overcome, for many businesses their “culture” is the key item that keeps them office-bound. There is a fear that their teams won’t be productive if they are out of the office (i.e. out of sight), or that there won’t be enough communication or they will lose the spirit that binds them together.
Speaking to many executives over the last two weeks, the key feedback received is that they have never been busier or felt more productive. That their days are filled with zoom calls, that the company has miraculously adopted group messaging tools, like Microsoft Teams or Slack, but they are now inundated with messages and emails. They are so busy speaking to people that it is hard to fit in all of the work they need to get done. It appears the cultural benefits of communication are not limited to the office, in fact, when working remotely over communication appears to be the problem. The challenge, however, has undoubtedly been one of effectiveness due to busyness.
Fundamentally, culture is the primary issue that makes remote working succeed or fail. Managers have not been trained or equipped to lead or enable remote teams. The systems and processes that are followed in physical environments do not translate well into remote ones. Meetings, which are not everybody’s favourite pastime at the office, become a far too easy norm as a video call and as diaries fill up, decision making slows down. More meetings mean the days feel busier, but there is less time for work.
The big cultural shift that we see accelerating post lockdown is the move from a physical/information age context into a digital context. This isn’t meant in a technological way, but rather in how the management approach has changed. Where in the information age it was hard to keep track of productivity and activity in employees therefore you wanted them in the office, in the digital age, the tools and systems make this easy. Managers no longer need to worry about whether people are working, but rather whether their output is meeting expectations.
Leading a remote team is much more challenging and requires more effort. Where the default in the office is to call a meeting, remote working offers more tools and ways to resolve problems/make decisions/share information than offices do. Moving out of the “call a meeting” paradigm unlocks new productivity and effectiveness levels not experienced before by most organisations.
Upskilling managers to lead effectively can make the difference between an organization realising the benefits of remote working or sending everyone back to their desks reverting back to the way things were.
Managers, and their teams, need to master the new collaboration tools to really unlock the power they provide. This is more challenging than expected as people generally choose to stop learning a new tool when they can replicate what they did before. This is similar to buying a fancy new cement mixer, only to mix cement by hand in its bowl. While technology plays a key role in enabling remote working, it is a blank canvas. The company’s culture and behaviours are reflected in the rules created upon it. Too often “we trust our people” cultures are shown up by draconian IT rules and regulations that limit collaboration.
What the last weeks have taught the nation is that a segment of the workforce is at least a little malleable – and that even through a period of great disruption the business of business kept on going, although with great effort and at a significant cost for some.
The challenge for South African managers of large and small enterprises will be to understand how to flourish in this new space. Some of the changes will be forced onto business through necessity, others, who still have the luxury of a strong balance sheet, can be more measured in their implementation. Whatever the approach, the dinosaur of the “office” has hit a significant existential threat and wearing pyjamas will never be the same again.
Nevo Hadas led the development of “The Culture Canvas”, an open-source framework that makes work culture actionable for businesses to shape their team’s behaviours. The latest ebook on managing remote teams, “me.we.us” is available as a free download and a 10-minute “Remote Team Maturity” assessment, designed to help companies measure the effectiveness of their remote teams.
Through our experience working with remote, distributed teams across Europe, the Middle East, Africa and India, we have learned that there are 7 aspects to creating a Team Working Agreement that most teams face.
Toolkit: What tools will you use and for which purpose? From work reviews to socialising, there are myriad online tools to support day-to-day work. What activities do you need to support with online tools and how will you champion the use of those tools within your team?
Etiquette: How do you create a respectful environment when you’re in a remote team?
Etiquette in business is about providing basic social guidelines and creating an environment where others feel comfortable and secure. It’s much easier to read intentions, emotions, and body language face-to-face; so consider how etiquette can help smooth over communication when the regular sensory cues aren’t available.
Rituals: What can you all do together (online) to feel like a team? Maybe you have a ‘coffee break’ chat channel open to everybody for one hour every morning dedicated to casual chats. A large part of any company culture is built on routines. Think about what activities you can regularly do with your team to foster connection and belonging.
Decision Making: How do you make decisions when you can’t be in the same room?If you’re not in the same location, it’s important that you’re able to clearly communicate the complexity of a problem or the decision that needs to be made. Whether you need a quick decision on the fly or group consensus from your team, decide upfront on what format to use for your various decision-making types.
Task Management: How do you know if your team is being productive?
Using digital task and project management tools are great, but there needs to be a clear understanding of how they will be used. You can’t pop past somebody’s desk to get a status on their work or use a whiteboard to track tasks, so consider how you will clearly communicate your expectations and create visibility of work remotely.
Information Sharing: How do you make sure everybody has access to the right information at the right time?It can impede your work if you don’t have access to important documents or information. Consider details such as naming conventions, file structures and being clear on where to store shared information to ensure your team always has the means to do their work.
Stop Doing: What’s holding you and your team back from being more efficient? Consciously or unconsciously, we are all prone to distractions and picking up bad habits. What’s on your team’s to-don’t list? This list could include things like: don’t speak over one another in calls, don’t call someone out on a public forum or don’t hit ‘reply all’ on emails.
If we resolve the obvious but often overlooked challenges from the start, it saves time, energy and frustration further down the line. This enables the team to function better, allowing them to get better results.
We published an ebook available for download called me.we.us – Remote Team Management, where we provide recipes and formulas on creating an effective Team Working Agreement with your remote team.
Governments around the world have responded with great strategies to meet the COVID-19 threat. The culture that each leader has fostered and abided by has shaped their responses to the global pandemic—evidenced, for instance, by Donald Trump’s response compared to the response of Taiwan’s Tsai Ing-wen. And while every nation has responded to the pandemic in some way, all have struggled to execute their plans effectively within a short time period.
We have often been told that culture is the aligning force which makes change happen. That just aligning people to a true north and starting some corporate programs will create this. This myth has been spread by consultancies and ego-driven executives who spend a fortune in “building culture” to emulate nimble start-ups or case studies that may (or may not) be true for that company in that instance.
Google, a company often touted for its great culture, has identified team behaviours (also known as norms) as the key difference between highly effective teams and ones that are not. However, most managers are not trained in creating behaviours. While EQ training has increased, it’s not a tool that helps managers craft good behaviours in their teams even though it is critical for interpersonal relationships.
The top-down approach of enforcing company “behaviours” also does not work, as it means managers need to enforce compliance in behaviours that may not be right for their team and what they do, with the behaviours quickly losing adoption or superseded by the next idea.
Actions and behaviours are closely related to each other, often creating a virtuous cycle. Actions stem, from and reinforce behaviours; so if we promote the right behaviours we will get the right actions. How can you promote and foster the right behaviours within your team?
Through our experience in Culture and the Future of Work, we have worked with remote, distributed teams across Europe, the Middle East, Africa and India. We fervently believe that we can make the future of work, better than today.
When done right, remote working boosts overall effectiveness and provides businesses with tangible cost-saving advantages. However, if teams fail to adapt, companies run the risk of loss of productivity and revenue, and the collapse of company culture and employee engagement. It is evermore important to understand where your team is along their remote working journey, and to take the necessary steps to accomplish remote team maturity.
We have created a 10-minute “Remote Team Maturity” assessment designed to benchmark remote working capabilities and quantify remote team effectiveness. Also available are our free guides to building team culture, The Culture Canvas and me.we.us – Remote Team Management, where we provide overviews on how to promote better behaviours within teams as well as toolkits to support doing so.
We would love to hear your feedback and how we can help you strengthen your remote teams.
While we all stumble into remote working and somehow manage to get by, building and managing a distributed team is a daunting exercise. Misunderstandings and miscommunication can quickly damage team morale, and the workdays can feel like an endless stream of calls and messages.
Few people have been trained on how to lead distributed teams. It’s a new discipline that many of our natural human senses aren’t attuned to. All social shifts require adjustment (think of office space and office dynamics over the last 30 years), especially as new technology is incorporated into everyday life.
Making remote teams successful, isn’t just about mastering new tools. Whatreally makes a team successful is how the team works together. When understanding how to lead remote teams much can be gained from insights into behavioural science (from great minds like Thaler, Kahneman & Eyal), team psychology and effectiveness research (from powerhouses like Google), and change management processes (like ADKAR)—valuable resources for creating effective Team Working Agreements.
Team Working Agreements help team members understand how to work together to increase team effectiveness. In a distributed team’s world, a good working agreement covers a range of topics—from online etiquette to technology and decision making. However, they not only set expectations for how the team works together, but it’s also built around and promotes psychological safety.
Google went on a quest to build the perfect team (Project Aristotle) and found psychological safety to have the highest impact on team effectiveness. In fact, much research points to it being the greatest indicator of high-performing teams.
Developing psychological safety in a team requires clarity of decision-making processes, how information is shared, and the development of good behaviours between team members. By allowing teams to co-create these agreements, and by making “behaviour experiments” rather than “laws”, the team safely evolves its own rule-set that naturally gains consensus. This is done within a larger corporate culture, so the team leaders role is always to ensure alignment within the organisation.
While all of the theory and research is great, where do you actually start?
We have created a 10-minute “Remote Team Maturity” assessment designed to show how developed your team is along their remote working path. The assessment covers various different areas of work, is based on reported behaviours from each team member, and helps to quantify remote team effectiveness.
We also have a practical guide—called Me We Us—written by our practice experts who lead, manage and work with distributed teams daily. It’s a collection of actionable insights and tools to help you thrive while working with, and leading, remote teams.
In the book, we unpack 7 aspects all teams face in settling on a Team Working Agreement and the tools you can use to promote psychological safety—from etiquette and rituals to decision making and task management. Download your free copy of the book and use our templates and formulas designed to help you create effective working agreements for your remote team.
We would love to hear your feedback and how we can help you strengthen your remote teams.
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