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.”
Every workforce is neurodiverse; in fact, about 1 in 5 people in your workplace live with Dyslexia, Autism, ADHD, Dyspraxia and other neurological conditions. This means they might have different communication forms, strengths and characteristics to everyone else. However, it is increasingly accepted that having a neurodiverse workforce provides increased capacity for innovation, productivity and overall employee wellbeing.
How can your organisation capitalise on the benefits of remote neurodiverse employees? To find out, DY/DX has partnered with Dr Amanda Kirby, CEO of Do-IT Solutions; a tech-for-good company, who have developed tools and apps to support neurodiverse children and adults. Recently retired as a professor at the University of South Wales, Dr Amanda Kirby has lectured to more than 100,000 individuals worldwide, written over 100 research papers and 9 books which have been translated into more than 5 languages.
What does working remotely mean for a neurodiverse individual?
Working remotely for neurodiverse individuals can be advantageous because it often provides the opportunity for the neurodiverse employee to choose the best environment for them to work in. For some neurodiverse people, this might mean working with music in the background, while for others it might mean having sound off and headphones on. It may be that in a virtual meeting one can walk around, or use text-to-speech tools and technology if needed. It allows the neurodiverse employee to have the environment that is best conducive for them to work optimally.
What are the characteristics of a supportive neurodiverse work environment?
A supportive neurodiverse environment is one that is inclusive – the hiring, onboarding and line management is done in an inclusive manner and one which optimises the performance of the whole team. It means that the workplace is also accessible; that neurodiversity is not an add-on but rather built into the fabric of the organisation.
You know you are moving toward a supportive environment once you are able to ask the questions: “how can I support you?”, “are there any barriers to you being successful?”, “what are your needs and skills gaps?” to all your team members – but you’d do it in a way that uses effective communication methods learned through awareness training. Then you’re actually being truly inclusive and it isn’t a mere tick-box or once-off exercise.
Is there anything remote teams or remote team managers should avoid doing?
One key thing for remote team managers to avoid is making assumptions based on an individual’s label. For instance, assuming that people who are autistic are good at IT, or people who are ADHD are very creative. This means you limit your understanding of that individual and it can lead to incorrect biases. The second key point is for managers to measure and check on their own conscious and unconscious biases. Assumptions can be avoided by being person-centred. Understanding your team as a whole and embracing diversity within your team, means you will naturally have better productivity and employee wellbeing.
It’s also important for organisations to be wary of one-off exercises such as “this year we’re doing inclusion, next year we’re doing LGBTQ+ and the year after that we’re doing diversity.” Neurodiversity is everyone and should be ingrained in your whole processes because that’s when improved productivity and wellbeing take place.
What should be included in a working agreement to support neurodiverse employees?
Nothing that shouldn’t be included in a comprehensive working agreement for all employees. However, the way the agreement is formed, the way information is gathered and the way the questions are asked will make all the difference.
We often communicate in the way that we prefer because that’s our style. If you have become a successful manager, you might continue to use your set style of communication, unaware that some people find that method difficult to understand, comprehend or engage with. So, we need to question our own communication style in order to lead better.
By crafting a working agreement in an inclusive manner and understanding the different forms of communication, you can create a supportive environment for everyone, including those neurodiverse employees. Reviewing this regularly is also important.
What is the biggest barrier to support for neurodiverse employees?
The biggest barrier is understanding and awareness. I think there is still the idea in some camps that neurodiversity means autism – which it doesn’t. There is sometimes an oversimplsitc approach to awareness; and organisations believe if they understand what autism is and what ADHD is that they understand the strategy or approach to neurodiversity. However, this isn’t the case and often means organisations move away from the fundamental goal of understanding the person in the context of their work and home life.
Another barrier is the term ‘disclosure’. Sometimes employers say “why didn’t they tell me?”. First of all, many adults don’t have a diagnosis. They may have grown up recognising that they have differences in the way they communicate, be it written or oral forms, or they find certain tasks more challenging; but they may not have the words or the confidence to say “I am dyslexic” or “I am autistic”.
Secondly, the term disclosure has the connotation of ‘revealing’, like revealing secrets. Some people may feel shame; and when they have revealed this information before they have not had positive experiences. If someone has to tick a box to reveal themselves, they might be reticent or apprehensive to give this information.
At the heart of neurodiversity is everyone; so if you’re asking everyone “how can we best support you” then you are more likely to get the appropriate answer without those biases.
Specifically regarding remote communication, what are some of the considerations employers and teams should have for neurodiverse colleagues?
We have to have the same recommendations for someone who is neurodivergent that we do for the team as a whole. Because actually, the most important thing is that the whole team communicates effectively together. It requires an understanding of how each member communicates and this may differ from task to task or project to project to project.
High performing teams take into consideration the neurodiversity of the whole team. Offering a range of ways of communicating, without saying “this way is right or wrong” means the whole team works and communicates in an effective manner. And it’s when teams don’t do this that problems and misunderstandings arise.
How does neurodiversity give organisations an edge?
There are a number of ways neurodiversity can benefit an organisation. First of all, you have neurodiverse people in your organisation already; and you may be losing talent because their wellbeing and productivity are not supported appropriately. They may feel misunderstood or not heard or listened to.
By embracing neurodiversity, you’ll be seen as a ‘good’ organisation and enviable place to work, and you are going to attract new talent that you wouldn’t otherwise attract without inclusive processes and procedures. You will also likely see an uptick in productivity. We know that people who are neurodivergent take less sick days, that they are often very reliable employees.
You also don’t know who isn’t applying for your jobs. By having your hiring, recruitment and management approaches be inclusive, you might attract new and innovative talent.
Where does one start to become inclusive?
Some basic awareness which needs to be driven from the top down. There also needs to be buy-in from all levels of the business that this is worth it, something which is good for business, employees and customers.
Once you have that, you can put in a D and I policy that becomes ingrained in everything you do. And then you need to look at your recruitment, retention policies and provide line managers with training – not to become experts in Dyslexia, ADHD and Autism because otherwise they need to be experts in epilepsy, Diabetes, Rheumatoid arthritis, too. Sometimes this is a barrier because a manager can feel like they’re not expert enough to handle a sensitive situation.
It’s important your employees know where to go for this supporting information. In large businesses it means having someone in your business that is a little more informed and that person might be in HR or in Diversity and Inclusion.
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.
SABC Reporter: Researchers, businesses and innovators around the world are putting technology to work to alleviate the effects of the global COVID-19 health crisis. Advancements in technology and social media apps are playing an important part in limiting the loss of life caused by this pandemic.
Templar Wales is an expert on improving meetings, interactions and workspaces using technology. Templar now joins me via skype for more on this discussion. As a start, I read an article this week that was saying that productivity is actually on the rise while people are working from home and using technology to enable them to work from home. What do you make of that? Is that surprising? I know people like myself need an actual office to work from – I’m definitely not as productive when I’m at home.
Templar: There’s definitely mixed feedback. A lot of people are becoming more productive because they aren’t sitting in traffic for two hours a day, they are at their desks for a lot longer and there are fewer interruptions – so for a lot of people, they are more productive. The opposite is also true – a lot of people are finding that they are having too many Skype and Zoom calls. There’s a thing called Zoom Fatigue, which is very real – it’s draining and exhausting and they might not be as productive as they usually would be.
SABC Reporter: It’s great to have all this technology and the fact that you and I can interact like this, instead of you being here in the studio, sitting here in front of me. But I wonder about human interaction – there is always a pro and con to everything, and I tend to worry about the fact that this isn’t very personal. It’s so impersonal to be having these kinds of interactions and not physically seeing people.
Templar: It’s true to a certain degree. For a lot of people, they may feel more comfortable not having to go out and physically be in front of a room full of people. If you’re having a meeting with 25 or 30 people, in a way, a lot of introverts might feel more comfortable this way. But you definitely lose the non-verbal communication – the ability to pick up on people’s body language.
SABC Reporter: Do you think companies will see this, moving forward, as a cost-cutting measure – in terms of not having to rent out office space; not having to pay big prices to have corner offices in some peak area in Johannesburg, for example, because you’re going to have less people coming into the office. Do you think that some companies are sitting back and going, “Hey – we might be able to cut costs with these Skype meetings and MS Teams platform that we’re now getting used to.”
Templar: Absolutely, I think that there’s a bit of both. I think we are going to go through a transition phase, where you do have people saving on rent and travel costs. But, for a while, those costs will be moved into paying for people’s bandwidth at home, paying for additional equipment and slowly getting out of rental agreements – perhaps they will only be needing space for 50% or 75% of their workforce, rather than their full workforce. There has been a growing trend of remote working, and this is a pushback trend moving forward – I think that a lot of the work of the future behaviour has been accelerated and will not go back. From an economic point of view, a lot of people are being pushed out of their secure work and are entering the gig economy and working from home so that they’re working for 2 or 3 different clients as well.
SABC Reporter: You mentioned the fact that for introverts this might be a great thing, but how can companies use technology to strengthen company culture? Usually you would have something like team building… How do you enforce that kind of thing when we’re social distancing and aren’t really seeing each other. Is it possible for companies to use technology in some ways and how?
Templar: So that’s a very interesting thing that we talk about internally quite a lot. For a long time, culture has been this thing that CEOs are driving for, but in reality, culture is built on behaviour. So it’s actually a behaviour that we are trying to instil. So if you’ve got a team, it’s important to agree, as a team, what that behaviour is, what is your common purpose, what are you aiming towards, what are the outcomes going to be – plan with the team what the tools and behaviours are going to be. You’ve got diverse people within a team, so how do you make sure that all of their cultures, history and behaviour is included in that team culture that is then formed? Then build your tools around that; build your technology around what you’re trying to achieve as a team and what you’ve agreed upon as your team norms – that will govern your behaviour which will build your culture.
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.
To improve their effectiveness and profitability, all marketing campaigns should be continuously optimised; taking into account new changes to your business environment and target audience behaviour. Using the power of collaboration, this meeting formula is designed to help your team supercharge your marketing campaigns.
What is the goal of this meeting?
Develop clear and prioritised actions – agreed upon by our remote team – to drive marketing campaign optimisation.
What tools will I need for this meeting?
Web conferencing tool and a collaboration platform that supports stickies and voting.
How much time should I set aside?
You will need about 1–1.5 hours to complete this session.
5 min | Check-in – The meeting facilitator sets the scene for what will be done in the session. This includes:
Define the problem – where do we want to be?
Define the constraints – what do we have to work within?
10 min | Current stats and Performance – using a dashboard snapshot, team members share ideas on stickies to define areas of improvement.
10 min | Brainstorm – team brainstorms optimisation ideas on the collaborative platform, adding multiple ideas to stickies silently.
15 min | Affinity Sorting – cluster ideas into prefered strategies and discuss as a group.
10 min | Best Actions – prioritise within resources, budget, timeline and other defined constraints. Scoring will take place within the collaboration tool silently.
15 min | Delegation – using a tasking platform or a table, define who does what and by when.
5 min | Closing
It’s a good idea to share information ahead of time; such as the meeting agenda, any pre-reading material, and the link to the collaboration tools you will be using in your session. For this example, we have used Google Slides as our collaboration tool.
PROBLEM + CONSTRAINTS | 5 minutes
As the meeting facilitator, welcome everyone, thank them for participating and then briefly discuss the intended outcomes for this meeting. At the start of your meeting, provide a brief overview of the campaign’s ‘problem’ as well as the constraints you have to work within. In this example, the challenge to be solved is how to increase email conversion rates. The constraints are limited budget and design resources. This should be covered in the check-in phase and should not take longer than 5minutes cover.
CURRENT STATS & PERFORMANCE | 10 minutes
Once your team understands your campaign optimisation goal, the next step is to look at current campaign performance. No matter your campaign type, it is likely you will have a digital dashboard displaying your campaign’s performance statistics.
Include a screenshot of your campaign dashboard in your meeting presentation; however, if you do not have a dashboard, you can simply list your current campaign metrics in a table, or share your analytics dashboard.
This information should ideally be shared with your team ahead of time so they are familiar with the data and can spend this time in the meeting asking questions and adding insights to the raw data.
BRAINSTORM IDEAS | 10 minutes (silence)
Now the team is familiar with the campaign challenge and the team’s constraints, you can brainstorm together to find new ways for improving or optimising your campaign. Prepare a slide with blank “stickies” or text-box shapes people can type in. Your team will use these stickies to input their ideas.
At this point, it’s a good idea to ask your team to go on mute and allow 10minutes of silence while they populate the slide’s stickies with their ideas. The first time your team brainstorm their ideas like this, it is natural for them to be hesitant. Even if the first few minutes are an awkward silence, keep it going while your team warms up to the concept.
AFFINITY SORTING | 15 minutes
The next step is to cluster your team’s ideas into prefered strategies. It’s likely your team will have ideas which overlap. It is also likely some ideas need a bit more explaining. Commit 15 minutes for a discussion aimed at sorting all the ideas into clusters of similar concepts or similar actions. It’s also helpful to provide a brief concept description once your team has grouped their ideas together.
BEST ACTIONS | 10 minutes (silence) The idea clusters now need to be evaluated for 1) their strength and 2) against your constraints. A simple voting mechanism in Google Sheets works well for this. Set up the voting sheet ahead of the meeting so all you need to do is input the names of the ideas. Share the link to the sheet in your meeting chat so everyone can score the ideas at once. The process should be silent and not take longer than 10minutes to score.
First, the team first votes on their preferred idea based on the strength of the idea and how well it meets the challenge. Next, the team scores the ideas based on the constraints discussed at the start of the meeting.
The highest scoring idea takes priority, and the others follow. It is also likely some ideas will not make it past this slide phase as very low scoring ideas should possibly not be acted on.
Once your whole team has voted, you can easily work out which idea scored the highest and then sort the ideas by their priority.
DELEGATE | 15 minutes
Your team should have a clear idea of where to start so it’s time to assign actions to your team members. This should be done directly into your task management system. If your team is not using one, you can use a simple table to assign the actions to your team. Be sure to include who does what and by when.
CLOSING | 5 minutes Confirm team commitments by making sure each next step is clear, assigned to a
committed owner, and has a reasonable due date. Ask if anyone has final questions or comments. And finally, acknowledge your team’s participation and express gratitude for special contributions.
When done right, remote working boosts overall effectiveness and provides businesses with tangible cost-saving advantages. If teams fail to adapt, companies run the risk of losing productivity and revenue, and the collapse of company culture and employee engagement. It is ever more important to understand where your team is in their remote working journey and to take the necessary steps to support a remote workforce.
If It Can Be Measured, It Can Be Managed
Change can be overwhelming, but adapting your company policies to reflect the demands of the modern workforce is necessary to keep up with the future world of work. Through our experience in Culture and the Future of Work, we have learned that it’s not as simple as being remote-ready or not; and there’s a chance your team is not as effective remotely as it needs to be.
Experience has shown us that companies go through various stages on route to remote working effectiveness. If you are able to identify and measure what stage your team is at, you can take the necessary course-corrective actions to shift your team toward remote working maturity.
Working remotely can hold greater value and business benefits than a typical office environment. We’re driven to be a change agent in the workplace and an ally in amplifying remote team strengths.
That’s why we created the Remote Team Maturity assessment. Built on years of experience and research in the future world of work, it evaluates your team around 6 areas of work and against traits and actions found among the most effective remote teams. The assessment takes no longer than 10 minutes and is a simple, yet powerful way to benchmark your team’s remote maturity and effectiveness. Discover how your team measures up and gain the insight you need to take immediate action to help your remote team thrive.
We have also developed “The Culture Canvas”—an open-source framework that makes work culture actionable for businesses to shape their team’s behaviours—as well as our latest ebook “me.we.us – Remote Team Management”, which is available for free download.
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.
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