More than 70% of companies do not have adequate remote working policies and it’s a multi-billion dollar issue.
100 days ago, the debate was whether you could work from home on some days. Now the debate is whether you should work from the office on some days or at all. This monumental shift has happened so rapidly that businesses have yet to really deal with the ramifications and opportunities.
Recently Fujitsu announced that it would be reducing its office space by 50%. With 140 000 employees globally, this global 500 powerhouse is no small IT firm. The aimed cost reduction will save them around $800 Million in lease obligations (based on their latest financial reports). What is more important is that they have undertaken it as a “work-life programme” with clear aspirations and goals of what remote working will achieve for their people. They have set out that work locations can be chosen between home, corporate hub or satellite offices. Their overarching statement was, “FUJITSU will introduce a new way of working that promises a more empowering, productive, and creative experience for employees that will boost innovation and deliver new value to its customers and society.”
We conducted a study with over 250 respondents to evaluate how well teams were performing with regards to their work from home strategies and policies.
The results showed that while employees felt they were coping, and engagement was equal to or better than the office (76%), more than 67% felt that their companies did not have adequate policies to manage remote working, even though 73% found working at home more productive than at the office. More than 40% of respondents said they had more work than at the office, and over 55% said they felt overwhelmed by the volume of calls, emails and other communication.
Nevo Hadas, Partner at dY/dX, says setting a remote working policy is not an IT task, “It is a strategic task that is a combination of HR and executive leadership. Its purpose is to enable the company to benefit from the big changes occurring in society while enhancing staff engagement, productivity and retention.”
The remote working policy will become a cornerstone digital transformation document for the company. It will impact almost every aspect of work, just like the physical office did, and in many ways define the future of the company’s culture, employee base and customer base.
Some questions to consider when forming a remote working policy
What percentage of your workforce are able to be remote and how do you reduce office space to meet that?
What limitations do your employees face at home and do you assist them to overcome that (i.e. home office allowance) or provide offices just for them?
How do you coordinate a work from home company, what tools and, more importantly, what standards for those tools, do you use to align communication and tasking?
How do you move your employment contracts away from time-based (9-5) to output-based (agree on tasks to be completed within a time frame) effectively and maintain team communication?
How do you keep employee engagement and culture strong, while not leading to burnout as employees stay connected at their desks for too many hours?
Do you change your recruitment policy to hire from other countries/locations or do you keep your employee base closer to an HQ.
Do you need physical offices to expand globally?
“Remote policies aren’t about whether you use Zoom or Microsoft Teams for meetings, but core strategic issues,” says Hadas. Done well, it can boost companies bottom lines dramatically. Done badly, it can make them uncompetitive. “As the dust settles post lockdown, executives will need to focus their vision on thinking through how the future of work impacts their business’s evolution into the future.”
Created in partnership with Smollan, dY/dX has recently built a smart dispenser which could change the future of retail – reducing plastic usage and improving our consumption habits. Nevo Hadas, partner at dY/dX, recently spoke on Radio Helderberg to explain more. Listen to the interview below.
Annelia Preis: Today we are speaking to Nevo Hadas, he is a partner at the digital transformation company dY/dX. What does dY/dX stand for?
Nevo Hadas: dY/dX is an abbreviation for ‘dY’ over ‘dX’ which is a mathematical formula for the rate of change. It comes from differentiation – the change in Y over the change in X – which is very critical to what we do. We help companies deal with the changing world and find their way through digital transformation; helping them to create new products for customers and change their working processes. For example, now during COVID, we’ve been doing a lot of work with companies to help them master remote working.
Annelia Preis: We won’t ever get rid of plastic completely but we can reduce our use of single-use plastics – such as encouraging people to use cloth or paper bags [as opposed to plastic ones]. What is your suggestion around reducing single-use plastics?
Nevo Hadas: So we started a project with a company called Smollan where we looked at the informal market – such as spaza shops – and the amount of single-use plastics that are being used there. What we noticed was that, as affordability takes a hit – so, for example, people can’t afford to buy a 20 Rand bag of rice – brands are making packaging smaller and smaller. That leads to the production of more single-use plastics. We’re also seeing that the value for customers is decreasing because they are still paying for the cost of packaging while receiving a small quantity of product.
We asked ourselves, what if we could get rid of packaging completely and allow people to buy as much as they need without any restrictions in terms of packaging size? This is taking us back to the old market process, where you can go to a market and buy according to the weight or amount of the product that you want.
Obviously today there is a bigger requirement for data and people also want to know what product they’re buying – for example, what kind of rice they’re buying. We created smart dispensers which allow the distribution companies and retailers to ship 10kgs of rice to the spaza shop; the spaza shop then has 10kgs of rice in the dispenser, and if the customer wants to buy 2 Rands worth of rice, they can come with their own container or bag, select 2 Rand on the machine and the dispenser calculates how much rice that is. We find really good uptake in informal markets.
Most recently we did a project with Nude Foods in Cape Town which is a zero-waste store – which exists in the more formal and more upmarket environment where people really understand the concept of zero-waste. So, using technology, if, for example, you wanted to buy 100 Rands worth of nuts, you can pour into your own bag and it will show you how many nuts you are getting. Then you can go and pay!
Annelia Preis: This makes me think of buying petrol and how you can tell the attendant how much you want according to how much you have to spend.
Nevo Hadas: Yes, it’s exactly the same model. So, with that as an example, you don’t have to buy multiple containers of petrol, there’s just a big pump house. It’s an interesting model for retailers, the brands and the consumers because consumers can save money doing this. It increases affordability so it increases food security. They also know that they’re getting the quality of food that they paid for. Retailers often measure their store’s profitability on a per square meter basis and because you won’t really be using shelves, you’ll be using dispensers which are longer and narrower – so you’re getting more vertical value out of it – they can actually increase their yield and make more money out of less shelf and storage space. From a Brand point of view, they will be receiving all the live data; so every time someone buys something, they will know exactly what it is that the person purchased and they will be able to see the transaction volume. So the brands actually get a much better idea of how their product is doing.
Annelia Preis: With COVID-19 now, everybody is afraid to touch things. Would this reduce that problem?
Nevo Hadas: We have been playing with a zero-touch model where you can just put your hand in front of the machine and it will dispense. You won’t have to touch the device at all, so that is also a possibility.
Annelia Preis: I’m sure you’ve seen the pictures in the media of what happens in our oceans and how the dolphins and whales are swallowing plastic. Hopefully, we can get rid of that!
Nevo Hadas: Even though recycling does a lot, if you look at the challenges we face, particularly in South Africa with service delivery, recycling doesn’t help if no one is picking up and taking that plastic away. We have to think of creative ways to eliminate plastic from the system because we are just creating more plastic as we go. Recycling is not going to fix that problem. The only way to keep our oceans clean is to eliminate plastic packaging completely rather than trying to make it more refinable.
Annelia Preis: There’s a lot of plastic going into our landfills. How long does it take to decompose?
Nevo Hadas: If you look at most of the studies, it can take hundreds of years to decompose. It’s not a viable solution. Which is why a lot of people are looking at compostable plastics, but even that takes about fifty years or so to break down, so it’s not a quick process. Those plastics also become very expensive to produce, which means it still has a big [carbon] footprint. We’ve built so much of our retail models and thinking around packaging; it’s how the things are shipped and sold – the entire system is based around packaging. If you can ask yourself why packaging exists like this and get your head out of that mode, then you can start seeing that there’s a world where you can eliminate this plastic problem completely.
I’m a big believer that this is going to be a key part of the future of retail – that we will move to a world where we are only consuming what we need and we are consuming in smaller quantities. There are benefits for the entire value chain in moving towards a package-free solution.
Half of the global plastic waste is from packaging. Since only 9% of plastic is recycled, our landfills are overflowing and our ecosystems are being damaged. Retailers can no longer ignore the demands of a quickly growing market of environmentally-conscious consumers. To tackle this problem, dY/dX partnered with Smollan and Nude Foods to test a new smart dispenser which could change the future of retail by removing the need for plastic packaging altogether. Nevo Hadas, a dY/dX partner, spoke on Africa Midday on Channel Africa to explain how the concept was born and why it is important.
Lebogang Mabange: For the entire month of July, people all over the world took part in ‘Plastic Free July’ – a global challenge to reduce personal consumption of single-use plastic. In line with the growing demand for more environmentally-conscious retail, dY/dX, a digital transformation practice in South Africa, partnered with Nude Food, South Africa’s zero-waste retailer, to create a solution which would address the issue of single-use plastic packaging in the form of digitally-operated smart dispensers. Nevo Hadas, partner at dY/dX, now joins us to further discuss this. Let’s start with what single-use plastic is and how it impacts the environment.
Nevo Hadas: Single-use plastic is used in packaging for foodstuffs or cleaning materials. It’s generally plastic that cannot be recycled and is not easily disposed of. There has been a massive increase in single-use plastics over the last few years mainly because as consumer affordability decreases, manufacturers have been trying to get their products into smaller packaging sizes to make it more affordable. This means that there is more packaging being produced than ever before. The challenge is that a lot of this non-recyclable plastic ends up in landfills, oceans, rivers and all our ecosystems.
Lebogang Mabange: How did dY/dX go about finding a solution to this plastic waste problem?
Nevo Hadas: So the project we did started out by looking at the informal sector. With our client, Smollan, we looked at how we could change the behaviours and social impacts in informal retail – from spaza shops to people who sell items on the side of the road. One of the things we realized was that the solution to reducing plastic packaging wasn’t to make it more recyclable but to actually eradicate it.
Following a design-thinking process, we tried to understand what it was that consumers are looking for in those markets. From the research and the interviews we did, we could see that affordability was a key component from those customers. So we asked, what if we could create a smart dispenser that dealt with a lot of the challenges that people in that value system face?
If we look at it from a brand perspective, what they’re really worried about is that their product is presented well – that’s why they like the packaging. It helps them to identify themselves, for example, Tastic Rice. It also helps them understand how much volume they’re selling into the market. From a consumer’s perspective, when they buy a bag of Tastic Rice, it helps because they know what they’re getting. From a retailer’s perspective, they want to have products that are affordable enough for their clients so they’re looking for a range of sizes and prices of Tastic Rice.
By moving towards a smart dispenser, we get rid of that plastic packaging completely. The consumer can come with their own container or paper bag and they can choose how much they want to buy. So, for example, if they want to buy 5 Rand’s worth of rice. The machine automatically calculates how much rice that is and keeps the rice fresh in an air-tight environment. So to reduce the impact of plastic, we eradicated the use of plastic as much as possible. In doing that, we are able to rethink pricing and affordability for a lot of products in that market.
Lebogang Mabange: People are becoming more aware of the environment and the need to find sustainable solutions. Is environmentally-conscious retail something that we are going to see more of?
Nevo Hadas: I think it’s a definite trend. We’ve done a few of these prototypes in different kinds of environments. What was interesting for us when we were doing the research is the different needs and levels of awareness. In the spaza shop or informal environment – it’s driven more by price than packaging. There’s a stronger need for low-cost items. There is a growing awareness of the importance of recycling because people can see the trash around them and service delivery doesn’t always deal with waste effectively.
If you’re moving into the upper end of the market, into the formal market, there is an emergence of package-free retailers which have no packaging at all. They use dispensers. The latest prototype we built was actually based in one of those shops. If you look at how much growth there is in that sector, not just in South Africa but globally, you can see that it is a massive trend and all retailers are looking at it. I think it makes financial sense for manufacturers and retailers to cut out all this plastic which no one really wants. From a consumer point of view, I think it simplifies their lives and helps them to know that they are not damaging the earth with their consumption.
Lebogang Mabange: The smart dispenser looks after the environment on a macro-level. How can we start implementing it in our daily lives so that each one of us can help make a difference to the environment beyond ‘Plastic Free July’?
Nevo Hadas: It’s the way that we choose to purchase and consume. It’s a tricky thing, depending on where you are in the market because there aren’t necessarily options for everyone. For example, in Cape Town, there are shops like Nude Foods, which we partnered with to test the latest prototype, who are purely focused on this type of thing. You can go there with your own containers and fill them up and that’s one way to reduce your impact. Another way is to buy in bulk because then you’re purchasing fewer packets. A third option, which I think is really relevant, is eco-bricks. You take an old plastic bottle, like a milk bottle, and instead of throwing your plastic packaging away, you put them into that bottle. You cram the bottle full of plastic packaging and then the bricks are used for building or ecologically-friendly construction. It also reduces the space required in landfills which is also really critical.
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.
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.
While many businesses have opened up to the world of remote working, the burning question is: are they doing so effectively? We have noticed a growing desire for expert advice from business leaders who’ve been mastering remote work. We spoke to Guillaume de Smedt, VP of Community for Silicon Valley-based Startup Grind, for his insights on successfully managing a remote workforce.
Startup Grind is the world’s largest community of startups, founders, innovators, and creators. They bring like-minded and diverse individuals together to connect, learn, teach, help, build, and belong. They do this daily through local events, flagship conferences, startup programs, online events, partnerships, and online media and content ‒ collectively reaching over 2.5 million individuals worldwide.
Guillaume oversees the global community for Startup Grind across more than 600 cities around the world, ensuring those cities are hosting events and doing what they do best. Currently managing a team of 6 full-time staff and 600 volunteers based in global corners from Beijing to the USA. Guillaume has years of experience in leading, and working with, virtual teams around the world.
Q: You’ve been working remotely for quite some time, what’s your secret?
A: It isn’t really a secret but I would say it’s that I am constantly learning. At Startup Grind, we also use technology to automate a lot of our processes, and we use processes to ensure the work gets done on time. But really I think success will come from these three things:
Hire the right people: I usually hire people from within the global Startup Grind community; but if you don’t have access to a talent pool like I do, I would say it’s important to look for certain attributes in the people you hire for remote work: Are they willing to learn? Are they willing to work together in a team, and across different time-zones? Are they self-motivated or self-disciplined and can manage time effectively? Do they have a positive disposition? Are they able to handle working remotely and the solitude that can come with that? Because remote working is not for everyone.
Onboard them correctly: Give new starters clear tasks, clear training on systems, and have a repository (like Google Sites or Suite) where people can find information quickly. When new people come on board or join our team, we assign them a digital buddy ‒ someone in the same time zone ‒ to help get the new person set up.
Use a project management system that works for your specific team: Take advice from all sources, but then distil the information and use what is suitable for your own team – don’t feel pressured into doing what others do, but do what is best for your circumstances. Whatever you choose to use, it’s preferable that the entire company is using the same system (from a budget, transparency and simplicity standpoint).
Q: Do you have an agreement in place ‒ for your team or company ‒ around working together remotely?
A: Yes, we have a company document that is sent as part of our onboarding process which has things like when you’re expected to work or to be online for international team calls, how to get set up for remote work in your home office, how to access data and set up a Google Site, and so on. It could be more detailed but the document actually took us years to put together through our experience and trial and error. That’s one cool thing about DYDX’s remote work ebook is that it has templates and formulas which are a really great start for a team or company just starting out.
Q: What’s your top tip for remote team managers?
A: It’s not about the time behind the keyboard, but rather the output of the job. If a team member wants to watch a movie on Netflix or go for a surf half-way through the day, we don’t discourage them. It doesn’t matter how a team member manages their time, as long as the work is delivered on time and we’re happy with the quality. The second bit of important advice would be: delegate your tasks properly and make sure the correct people are doing the right tasks.
Q: How do you make sure the correct people are doing the right tasks?
A: Many teams use productivity tools like Monday.com, Trello.com or Airtable.com, and there are so many suitable tools out there. But as amazing as these tools are, you have to spend time updating the data on them. Unless the whole team is consistently doing this, the tool just won’t work for you. That’s why we predominantly only update our tools (and tasks) in meetings.
Every Monday we have a team call and we spend the first 15 minutes going through the points the team has raised. Each team member puts on the project list what they want to talk about before the weekly stand-up. We then look at the tasks for that week and delegate and update them right there and then on our project management tool (we use Airtable (due to api’s), however notion.so is another good one to look at). Then we look at last week’s tasks: if anything from last week is incomplete, we move it to this week’s task list.
This way we can see last week and what was achieved, as well as this week’s upcoming tasks.
And not only do I know what my team is working on, but everyone else in the company knows, too.
Q: How do you effectively manage your time?
A:I also use WorkFlowy, it’s my favourite tool for keeping my personal to-dos up to date. Regarding emails, I will only mark it as read if I can action it.. This also shapes how other people in my team send me emails ‒ they put the action point right upfront.
Q: Is there anything that your team regularly does together online to make you all feel part of the same team?
A. I think human interaction is so important ‒ especially in remote teams. Because our team is so spread out all over the world with different time-zones, we don’t do a lot together socially in person, but we do make sure we regularly check in with each other in either stand-ups or one-on-one calls so everyone feels connected. We do little exercises like “about me” sessions so that people can learn about their team members in a personal capacity. We meet in person at our annual team retreat and at our major annual conferences.
Q: What’s the best advice you’ve received about leading and managing a remote workforce?
A: As a leader of a remote team, try to understand the subtext, nuances or undertones of what people on your team are saying. Each individual handles stress differently. What is the root of it? A team member could be asking for a raise but what they’re really trying to tell you is they’re unhappy about a completely different issue. Being on the pulse of your team is so important ‒ if you’re not, your team members may not come to you with small stuff and this can cause issues down the line. The team lead must work really hard to extract this read from their teammates and make time to truly understand what’s going on inside their team.
As a digital transformation practice dY/dX, helps businesses adapt and grow in rapidly changing environments. 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.
We have created a 10-minute “Remote Team Maturity” assessment designed to quickly measure 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.
As we rapidly move towards remote and distributed teams, too much information is based on tricks and hacks, with very little focusing on the fundamentals of what makes teams great – whether remote or in the office.
You aren’t as great as you think
The first hurdle in building better teams is getting over your own self-view. Most managers believe they are great at leading teams and very few invest the time and energy required to master it because it feels awkward or inauthentic.
Management Science has moved on
If you studied management science or organisational psychology in the last five years you will see a significant shift in the team theories as compared to the previous decade and century. New research and insights have changed how we understand teams and performance. These new insights have changed how we understand teams and teamwork, enabling businesses to become far more effective than ever before.
Summary of the New Studies
First published in 2010, Anita Williams Wooley and her team created a battery of tasks that together tested four different kinds of thinking in teams: generating new ideas; choosing a solution based on sound judgement; negotiating to reach compromise; and finally, general ability at task execution (such as coordinating movements and activities). The participants were also asked to perform some verbal or abstract reasoning tasks that might be included in a traditional IQ test – but they answered as a group, rather than individually. The findings that some teams perform better across all tests (with no correlation to the highest IQ in the team but actually more regarding gender and ethnic diversity) than others has been corroborated in many tests and contexts since then.
In a different study called the Aristotle Project, Google observed 180 of their teams (across all their disciplines) in pursuit of a recipe for high-performing teams. One common theme came up among their highest performing teams: good Psychological Safety.
What is Psychological Safety?
Simply put, it’s when each member of your team feels confident within the team to share ideas with no fear of judgement.
When employees have lowered confidence in their ability, they tend to contribute less and feel distanced from the team. Amy Edmondson, Novartis Professor of Leadership at Harvard Business School believes we live in a knowledge economy—where it is ideas that have true value in the marketplace. The more ideas contributed, the richer the pool of resources. One way to measure Psychological Safety is through the equality of distribution or input from each member during a team’s conversation.
Team IQ is higher than individual IQ
Teams that function with good psychological safety inevitably do better as they collaborate more.
When everyone is getting an equal opportunity to share, there is a larger pool of information to draw from—and a greater opportunity to learn something new. This not only fosters information but also allows the rest of the team to learn from each other and fosters support for one another. Collaborative efforts have also been known to bring out the best from team members as unseen ideas and connections are made known.
(Kinda) humble leadership
Malcolm Gladwell praised Steve Jobs’ innovations based on how he built upon others’ ideas (he may have been sarcastic). In this same way, within a team meeting, one idea brings about a conversation; giving way to potential new ideas, methods or results. This also allows the team to feel more essential to the decision-making process as they have now contributed to something larger and will start to take more initiative in sharing ideas.
The greater room created for risk-taking encourages innovation and increased communication, allowing for greater teamwork and dependability.
While team performance can be boosted through psychological safety, it is important to also promote social sensitivity, Perceiving how others feel can better inform how to act around them. A team member may make a comment that they think is lighthearted to another but it is not received well based on their mood or cultural background. This can further distract and alienate team members, decreasing their effectiveness. These challenges increase dramatically in remote teams where there are fewer visual and perceptual cues to use.
In their research, Google found that a common vocabulary of expected behaviour, a group forum on dynamics (and leaders actively reinforcing and improving on these), could better enhance these efforts.
Aristotle said, “The whole is the sum of its parts”. A team is more effective when everyone is involved and they feel secure within a team. Being able to contribute to discussions without fear of judgement, understanding their tasks and their overall contribution, as well as other teammates being aware of their fellow team members, all contribute well to an effective team.
Our ebook “me.we.us – Remote Team Management” provides a practical guide to enabling teams to develop psychological safety. We have also developed a 10-minute “Remote Team Maturity” assessment designed to quickly measure remote working capabilities and quantify team effectiveness. If you want to supercharge your teams, or find out more about our Culture and Future Of Work practice, get in touch at email@example.com.
Vodacom, a subsidiary of Vodafone, has been undergoing an agile transformation, accelerating not only the impact and innovation in its business but also on its agencies. As one of the largest advertisers on the African continent, the volume of work generated by it is immense. Co-ordination across multiple agency partners, internal approvers, and marketing specialists became a key factor in the smooth running of the system.
Vodacom marketing needed to prepare its marketing suppliers to increase both the pace and volume of work while staying within the existing budgetary constraints. With over 300 people involved in the ecosystem between internal stakeholders and suppliers, this was no small task.
People, Process, Systems
For any new system to take hold, people need to buy into it. This means that before you can re-engineer the processes, you have to create a behavioural change within the teams that enables the new to replace the old. While many leaders speak about change, few are willing to change. Vodacom’s leadership team drove the change and championed the initiatives.
Creating Agile Processes – “Agile Marketing”
Agile, was not developed with marketing in mind. The first phase of the project required understanding how we implement agile with the different agencies and Vodacom through a series of workshops and immersions. Using service design methodologies, we mapped out the existing process flows to identify points of friction and emotional distress both at the agencies and at Vodacom.
It quickly became apparent that there were challenges on both sides of the table and the teams came together to identify process solutions to improve their ability to work together. A hybrid KANBAN process was developed clearly identifying handover and quality requirements to simplify interactions.
Service Design – from interviews to prototypes
With this understanding, the processes were mapped and revisions made to ways of working. The volume of work however quickly outstripped any physical board and a digital platform was required to support this volume of work. Choosing between a series of vendors by prototyping the process. Pipefy was selected as a technology platform due to its functionality and ease of deployment.
Prototyping Change – Unique-unique but the same
From working with one agency, we moved into all of the agencies. All we had learned by working with Ogilvy (the lead agency), was transferred into an onboarding program. This took all of the agency teams through an agile marketing immersion, service design to reimagine processes and systems customisation, enabling each agency to work in their preferred way to meet their objective but still provide a unified overview for Vodacom.
Systems Development – “It looks great on paper”
The challenge with process development is that it often looks great on paper but doesn’t work as expected in the real world. Working closely with the Pipefy teams in Brazil and the agencies, the system development followed an agile methodology with weekly iterations being developed, tested by users and modified based on their feedback.
Support and Change Management
A support and change management process was put in place to make rapid changes as issues were discovered in the process and new ideas were developed. A steering committee of users was identified to give ongoing feedback on new changes to ensure that fixes did not create new challenges.
Outcomes – From inception to live in 6 months.
From inception to live, the project encompassed 6 months. While implementing new systems is never easy, the results have been impressive. The number of active jobs managed by the system rapidly grew to almost 100% of the total jobs delivered, over the first 3 months, and as the teams settled into the new ways of working, the increased visibility has benefited all the parties.
Learnings – You cannot change systems without changing behaviours
Behaviour change is an adaptive problem (i.e. has no obvious solution) vs a technical problem (i.e. known solution) because each team and its leadership dynamics are different. Without allowing the users to feel a sense of mastery and control over the new systems, you won’t get adoption – so having an inclusive process is key.
Inclusion, however, does not mean death by committee and facilitating a strong plan of action with short term momentum (i.e. weekly reviews, decisions and changes based on decisions) drives the project to completion. The ability to prototype and test the process on the new system quickly was critical to the success of the project. Post-implementation support and change management ensure ongoing utilisation.
Over the last decade, digital transformation projects have had less than a 30% success rate, with 2018 showing the lowest success to date, 16% – according to McKinsey’s latest research. With technology improving and a growing body of experience, why are results going backwards?
When it comes to digital transformation, change is often harder than normal change programs. Executives are unsure how to start as their organisations get stuck between choosing what to change first. Do they choose projects that will deliver the biggest potential return, lowest risk of failure or meet the largest competitive threat?
Because digital transformation is associated with technology, it’s often led by the technology teams. This means that the objectives are skewed towards big impact (i.e. ROI) tech platform implementations and updates. However, the research shows that the results from these projects are poor and most fail. This means that businesses are getting worse at transformation as the technology gets better.
Even more interesting is that 7% of those whose projects that were previously successful feel that the improvement from their transformation projects was not sustained as time went on. The initiatives struggle to get support in the organization, especially as people fear the loss of their jobs. The “corporate death yes” when everyone agrees in meetings but nobody adopts or changes any behaviours, is a common outcome.
A potential strategy is to approach digital transformation from an HR perspective first. Rather than a Big Bang platform change, you plan your transformation around the adoption rate of your people. You should look for the small wins, the confidence building automations that give people back a little more time each day. This could be a small bot that simplifies getting a report that you need every day or improving the expense claim process so it doesn’t take up so much time. Once one automation has helped your team save time and reduce frustration, they start seeking the next one, making the transformation conversation much easier. Why? They provide the feeling of change, crossing the boundary of fear that keeps people in their present state. These automations free up peoples’ time and start them on a journey of “what else am I doing that does not require so much effort, but actually doesn’t threaten my job”.
Internal Digital transformation is more about culture and changing how people work together to solve problems versus what the IT system does. Without the culture change, the benefits either don’t occur or don’t stick.
Through our experience in Culture and the Future of Work, we created a 10-minute “Remote Team Maturity” assessment designed to quickly measure 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. If you want to supercharge your remote team, reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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