Teleworking: Do you really want new ways of working?

We all got a taste of mandatory and widespread teleworking during the pandemic. Few of us were happy with 100% teleworking for weeks on end because we are social beings, but we all discovered some benefits. About 10% of employees want everything back as it was before. Another 10% do not want to come back to the office. The rest dream of a world in which there is teleworking to a greater or lesser extent.

Currently, the approach is very administrative and mechanical: 1, 2, 3 or 4 days? Is this the right question to ask in a survey? Yes, if you consider teleworking as an “abnormality,” as the exception to the rule, or as a necessary evil to reduce commute time. In this case, do not read the rest of this section, your suffering will be for nothing!

Maybe the TRUE new ways of working (ecological transition, quality of life) impose teleworking as the new standard and in-person working as the exception. If you share this point of view, I propose an organic and managerial approach by simply answering this question: What is the value creation of in-person work? In other words, what is the value creation if you come back to the office to do almost the same thing as at home?

We propose 6 activities that can in theory be done remotely, but which are difficult to do efficiently in most organizations, especially large ones:

  1. Managing conflicts, from simple constructive criticism to a refocusing one-on-one meeting.
  2. Evaluating results, because evaluation can quickly become conflictual!
  3. Socializing to create the minimum level of mutual knowledge: You cannot collaborate effectively (collaborative intelligence, coordination, information sharing, juxtaposition) nor co-construct (collective intelligence, hybridization, solving complicated or complex problems) with people you do not know well. This means team-building activities (cohesion, sports, artistic activities) and regular informal discussions so that problem solving meetings are more effective when they are held remotely.
  4. Co-creating to innovate (creative intelligence): Design Thinking is not as effective in 100% remote mode, especially when there is no socialization upstream.
  5. Assessing and managing psychosocial risks: maintaining social contact with your team to ensure that they are doing well (especially individually).
  6. Integrating newcomers (onboarding) and those leaving (offboarding).

The issue of distance learning has been covered for 20 years in hundreds of books and articles on e-learning, blended learning, rapid learning, mobile learning, etc. I have therefore decided to focus on team management.

All of the activities that fall under the umbrella of operational excellence (process, coordination, task allocation, simple problem solving) can be done quite easily in teleworking if the 6 activities we listed above are done in person. What is important in remote collaboration is what precedes it in the face-to-face world!

We can collaborate remotely very effectively, but only if certain things are done in person and if the in-person is really dedicated to preparing for the remote collaboration. As we said, if we come to the office to do what we could do just as efficiently at home, we come to the office for nothing! You are simply adding hours of tiring and boring travel time. The cognitive bias of loss aversion (losing a little face-to-face time) slows some organizations down, but it cannot be stopped. The goal is to move away from the OR binary thinking to the AND thinking. Remote working combined with in-person working is becoming the new standard. Thus, it makes hybrid management essential.

How many in-person days are needed for your team to complete the 6 activities proposed above? If you decide on a number of days without connecting it to those activities, you choose a quantitative/administrative approach by averaging the survey of your team members. This is the same as playing the lottery. You may have too many days or not enough. Forget the soft consensus; organize a reflection with your team based on these 6 activities and opt for the Test & Learn mode. Set a duration, but with regular adjustments in the first months.

Coming to the office is essential, but your goal should not be to determine the quantity of days. We invite you to think about the nature of the activities. Do not forget the 3rd law of digital management (see The Digital Manager): “What does not exist in the real world does not exist in the virtual world.” If your team is dysfunctional in the real world (lack of cohesion, conflicts, incompetence, disorganization), it will also be dysfunctional in the virtual world. So you cannot hope to organize teleworking with your team until it is operational in person.

That said, when a team is born remotely or when it is difficult, if not impossible, to do in-person, we are able to adapt, to get out of our comfort zone (need to socialize) or to be resilient. We should also not forget intercultural differences: Latin culture (orality, contact) and Anglo-Saxon culture (written, more distance even when in person). I worked with an American for months, and on several occasions, he sent me an e-mail while he was sitting next to me, when all he had to do was turn his head to tell me what he had just written. So, the challenge is mainly for teams who will decrease their social interactions and work differently when they could continue as before!

In-person work can be done in the office or in third-party locations like Coworking spaces, which are sometimes closer to home (WeWork, etc.). It is an intermediate solution between the office and teleworking. These shared workspaces allow in-person meetings with your team as well as teleworking in a less isolated format.

Those who think that all activities can be done remotely without losing collective efficiency simplify reality and forget the diversity of contexts: intercultural differences, size of the organization, industries, complexity of the business (agriculture vs. nuclear industry), average age of employees, seniority (start-up with 20 employees vs. a 100,000-employee company), etc.

Whether you are operating in a 100% remote, 100% in-person or hybrid management mode, you will need as a manager to acquire the skills of digital management. With The Digital Manager, I will show you how to become a digital manager in these 3 management contexts!

Upcoming training: Decision-making excellence in your meetings. To register…

This training will allow you to discover the Digital Sprint technique which is also presented in my book The Chief Always Speaks Last:

Author: Olivier Zara

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