The Covid-19 pandemic compelled organisations across the world to shift to the work from home (WFH) model, and technology played an instrumental role in enabling it. Moreover, it provoked employers and employees to reset and adopt the mindset of remote working, in order to enable business continuity, and create a connected, engaged, and happy workforce, virtually.
Even as a few companies prepare to call employees to return to office as the Omicron surge waned, there are no two thoughts about the fact that remote work is here to stay.
A point to reckon now is then how do leaders remove the unproductive friction in the remote workplace and enhance productivity.
Trust your employees and increase flexibility
Remote working relies heavily on accountability and ownership of employees, and they both require an immense degree of trust.
Leaders can provide a competitive advantage by instating this trust in their employees, says Rajesh Rai, Vice President, People Team and Head of Human Resources, India, GlobalLogic.
“This happens when leaders do everything to create social cohesion among employees virtually, to seek outcomes and not necessarily emphasise where the employee is working from. They work towards binding people together, inspiring them to be their best at work, helping employees navigate challenges in their times of need, and creating safe spaces to learn from failures. This way, they build a shared culture that eventually leads towards building a sense of belonging. This is key to building productivity and eliminating unproductive friction of any kind,” he contends.
As per Satyajit Mohanty, Vice President, HR, Crompton Greaves Consumer Electricals Limited, setting clear objectives (short- and medium-term) and “broad boundaries” of behaviour can help drive productivity among employees in a remote work set up include. “Let the employees choose where, how and when they work within those boundaries,” he says.
“Look at 'islands of excellence' – with things moving so fast, it may not be possible to define the desired ideal outcome, but pick these 'islands of excellence', borne out of employee creativity, and make those the beacons,” he adds.
Additionally, says Mohanty, a constant connect – within work and out-of-work and review processes with the customer in mind – Crompton has re-designed several processes using Design Thinking and other approaches - helps too.
Greater visibility between senior leaders and junior members
Navraj Singh Makkar, Partner and specialist in Org Design and the Future of Work at Korn Ferry, says one thing they are seeing is greater visibility between senior leaders and the most junior members of the team.
Organisations are flatter: it’s easier to get everyone together on a Zoom call to hear from the CEO than get everyone into the CEO’s office, he says.
“But the ad hoc interactions with senior staff that shape a graduate’s career are less likely to happen. Hence for a leader it is important to make non-work-related conversations and mentoring a conscious part of their daily accountability,” he adds.
Driving employee motivation
The other thing leaders need to recognise is that everyone has deep rooted preferences, – such as a need for a high degree of group involvement, guidance or structure.
“As one executive told us, his people fall into two camps: 'Those who can motivate themselves and those I have to call every hour.' The key to managing productivity is thereby the leadership's emotional astuteness to dive into each individuals’ motivations and drive them,” says Makkar.
Need for empathetic leadership
While the pandemic and WFH have brought an evolution in the ways of working and engaging with people, they also brought the real meaning of ‘empathy’ to the forefront.
“Empathy is seen as one of the ultimate leadership traits, and it has added a great deal to the collective Emotional Quotient (EQ) of a leader. The pandemic has blurred the line between personal and professional lives so much that leaders are able to appreciate their team’s constraints first-hand,” says Rai.
Practices and technology that can eliminate unproductive friction
Makkar says there are other small things that organisations are doing to engage their workforce during remote work.
- Making information seeking easier - Employees would ask around where to look for things, broadening their perspectives and also making connections. It is, therefore, imperative that organisations must create informational resources which contain the information they need at all times. No time should be wasted on searching.
- Company-wide no-meetings block out times - Many organisations are now cancelling a large number of meetings because of meeting fatigue, and making it easy for people to decline meeting invites on, say Friday afternoon or Monday morning.
- Keeping open zoom hours - Many leaders we know keep an hour on their calendars marked every week as open hours, where anyone and everyone is welcome. People find it a lot easier to hop in when they don’t need to setup a meeting and an agenda in advance
- Agenda-less recurring meetings - Allowing people a chance to connect even when there's no specific agenda, driving greater connection and engagement
- Use of tools like 'Mentimeter' - which enables a large number of discussions to take place very quickly, making an hour-long meeting feel a lot more productive
- Sharepoint - Those using offline files are akin to a 'digital dinosaur' in today's work context.