Coronavirus – is working from home an opportunity to improve?
Leif Arild Åsheim
Like many of you, I find myself working from home these days. In my case, this is workday number 15 at the “home office” and counting. However,it has been almost 10 years since Promineo started working in split location teams, so in many ways this is not a change to me. Currently we have team members in Bangladesh, Lithuania, Norway, Denmark, the United Kingdom and the United States. To succeed we have had to develop culture, management techniques and adapt technology that overcome the challenges of not sharing an office, or even working hours. For sometime, it has intrigued me that on the occasions when we do have a project undertaken by a co-located team, they act as they were not. I have come to understand that the practices of a split location team are being used - simply because they are better: The sharing of information is better, the transparency across the team is better and also people are more prepared when they interact.
A great example is how our meeting culture has changed. In the past when a proposal, an opinion, or an observation was put forward, we had a culture of expressing consent,usually by some repetition of what was said, then adding our own perspective and explaining that this was why we agreed. To allow everybody around the table this opportunity could easily take 20 minutes. In our online meetings we only express dissent, if we agree we stay quiet. We also find that people are less likely to“wing it” during online meetings. The level of preparation is better, perhaps because we have learnt that it is easier to convey something if some visuals are prepared and shared on screen.
Managing a workforce “all over the place” poses its own set of challenges. Each employee becomes more autonomous, more independent and must be self-reliant, and compared to a traditional management hierarchy this is an opportunity to replace middle management with technology. My conclusion is: Do not underestimate the ability of a university educated workforce to manage themselves. What we need as senior management is transparency into the decisions they are making, and the ability to measure and impact how it relates to our own strategic decisions.
Right now we are all scrambling to manage the unexpected situation the Coronavirus has thrust us into and at Promineo we are working overtime to help customers convert existing project staffing data into information that can support sound decision making for the immediate future.
However, it is also time to start thinking about the opportunity this represents. The fact is that we are almost all at home for an undisclosed period of time, with worries and children and social distancing and what not. We can use something to rally around, like developing a new culture, based on a shared experience - a way to turn something negative into a positive, a new trajectory, added responsibility for how we perform in this situation. The foundation on which to build is technology, without technology the concept of a home office or any other type of split location is a nonstarter.
Reach out to your providers for collaborative and staff management technology and have this conversation - weather it is Promineo or someone else. Put together a work group, create a mission statement and fast track a cultural revolution, or evolution, whichever is right for you. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity so please turn it into a competitive advantage.
As the old saying goes, every cloud has a silver lining.