We are living in unprecedented times, and the world’s health, society and economy has been shaken by this virus. Many businesses and people are feeling anxious at the moment at the prospect of income and job losses, and I feel for all of them – I am a small business owner too. But if there is one silver lining to all this, it is that perhaps it will accelerate the movement of a more human, meaningful, purposeful and connected way of working.
A lot of CEOs and leaders are asking themselves how to maintain the productivity of their workforces and teams while working remotely. The answer may require a paradigm shift in the way we think and design work. What I am saying here is nothing new for many organisations, especially the ones that were born in the fourth revolution era, have had the right mindset since their inception or have been able to transform in the last 10 years. The reality is that there are still many organisations out there that operate using methods that were effective and successful in the 20th century, like Taylorism and work efficiency models. The world has changed, and the world of work needs to change with it too.
So if you are a leader, how can you ensure your teams remain or become
even more productive through these times?
1. Tools and Technologies
If you haven’t invested in the right tools and technologies, you probably are suffering the consequences as we speak. The good news is that getting started with the right tools and technology is not hard or expensive. There are many tools out there that are free or affordable to get teams communicating, connecting, sharing and visualising work: Zoom, Trello, Slack, Miro and Microsoft Teams, to name a few.
Having the right tools and technology is just the basics. Think about it the way you thought about having an office a month ago. You want people to be comfortable; you invested in nice desks, ergonomic chairs and bean bags. The virtual world is your office now, and having the right suite of technology options will recreate a similarly comfortable working environment.
2. The System of Work
Think about “the system of work” as the way work works: the culture, DNA and values of an organisation. This is going to have to shift if you want your teams to be more productive. We are now in an environment where the old 9 to 5 is not possible anymore. You are going to have to shift from outputs like time to outcomes like work done; you are going to rethink your policies, your processes, your guidelines and you will need to redesign them with trust in the people that work for you.
The way your people work will change, and you need to allow them to find the best way for them. Be clear and aligned with your teams about what needs to be accomplished and be flexible and fluid about how and when it gets done.
Many organisations work this way already. They have discovered that by trusting and empowering their people, they attract and retain better talent who are more engaged, loyal, productive and innovative. This second element takes more time to change, but the sooner you start, the sooner you will catch up with the leading pack.
The most important change that needs to happen is in leadership approach and style. The old top-down, micromanagement and control style does not work in these environments of high uncertainty. Leaders must show a great deal of vulnerability to build trust with their teams. They are going to have to be very present and communicative, and they are going to have to protect and serve their people even more. Now more than ever, enterprise and business leaders need to have a clear vision and a vague plan. No leader has the answers right now. We don’t know what’s going to happen – if this is going to last for two weeks or six months, and how much it is going to affect us. Think about vulnerability as a leader, not as a sign of weakness or a winning or losing game. Have the courage to show up and be seen when we have no control over the outcome.
My final thought is that this represents an incredible opportunity to create shared, meaningful moments and work for your teams and organisations. The way you respond now will be remembered in years to come. I am sadly seeing already how some organisations are panicking and cutting costs, and firing people because the share price is going down. Of course, share prices are going down, but if we look at history, we see that very likely it will come back up in the future. Maybe this year companies won’t yield as many profits as in previous years, and that should be ok. Use this time not to think about how can you cut costs, but how can you provide meaningful work and moments that your people will remember well past this crisis.