How do leaders create the ultimate post-pandemic organisation?
First, focus on how to maximise the benefits of virtual working rather than how to replicate the benefits of face-to-face. When we collaborate more widely and with greater reach, we can realise more of our individual and collective potential. And when we fuse diverse perspectives in an environment of constraint, we can be enormously innovative.
There are several benefits in delivering virtual programs and working. Geographical barriers become progressively insignificant, allowing teams to connect more freely with a reduced carbon footprint. Platforms such as Zoom, Teams, WhatsApp and others create more inclusive and diverse idea generation, and this improves decision-making and removes typical barriers such as role, experience or flexible work arrangements.
Because the delivery of traditionally face-to-face activities such as leadership development, strategic planning and culture initiatives can be adapted easily to specific needs, development can be scaled up for groups of thousands or down for groups of 15. There is also a greater possibility for speed and responsiveness, with the added benefit of immediate, real-time data capture and feedback.
Once you have an idea of how virtual working can enhance your face-to-face business activities (rather than just replicate them), focus on the following to move your team to virtual working.
Get the mechanics right
First, get the mechanics right. Choose technologies and tools that work for your organisation, context and objectives. Platforms such as Zoom and Teams are well regarded, but every business has different needs and constraints. The platform, though, is just the start. You may wish to overlay other tools (which may not come with the platform), such as live polling and virtual whiteboards. For this to work, you’ll also need to equip your people to work and engage remotely by providing technology, home office essentials, WHS (work, health and safety) support and remote working training.
Change your mindset
You’ll then need to change your mindset and stop relying on physical proximity. You can check in remotely only every so often, so micromanagement (already a bad practice) becomes untenable. You have to move to managing based around outcomes and value creation. Employees have to change too. In the past, you might have joined a VC (video conference) or TC (telephone conference) and been barely engaged, as you focus more on your emails than the conversation. That’s no longer acceptable and, with visual connection being used much more, everyone must be mentally present, centred and listening well.
Consistently leverage strategies
This kind of team engagement won’t happen automatically, so you’ll need to consistently leverage strategies that grab and hold the attention of your team. Anchor challenges to real life, rather than theory, to not only improve attention but also increase the long-term retention of information. Alternate modalities when presenting or hosting a team meeting (for example, moving between slides, video and discussion) to give everyone a chance to play to their strengths, increase the level of attention and engagement, and reduce the number of breaks required (because the mode change itself acts as a cognitive break). Finally, alternate sources of knowledge, for example, between the team leader, group discussion and a technical expert. In doing this, you get more commitment, improved decision-making and better team morale.
Drive team spirit
Driving team spirit will also need to be prioritised. One of the ironies is that many teams become more cohesive when they work virtually, not less. This is because you are likelier to do a daily stand-up virtually and because you see more into someone’s life — you might see their kids, their pets and what’s on their wall. This in turn will drive more interest in each other as people. Leaders need to take full advantage of this to build trust and camaraderie.
Finally, promote action. The risk with virtual is that people become directionless, particularly if they aren’t busy. Virtual is great for creating and maintaining clear, disciplined cadences, but only if you stick to them. Make sure every meeting starts with accountability for previous commitments and ends with a strong call to action. That’s true for face-to-face meetings, but even more so when you may not see the person until the next event.
As business leaders, we have had to reinvent work as we know it, to innovate rapidly, and to trust our people intimately. If that is what is possible during such turbulent times, imagine what could be when our freedoms are reinstated, our current fears are lifted and our finances have recovered. Whatever we are not changing, we are choosing. And we can all choose to emerge from this better than we were before.