Remote Working: The Challenge For Leaders In A Post-Covid World

On the 30th of July, we kicked off our first digital webinar in a series geared towards helping senior leaders navigate the changing business landscape in light of the pandemic.

The topic of our first session was centred around the challenges that business leaders face regarding remote working, particularly in the UK  where many businesses had a rather negative view of employees working from home.

We were joined by several members of our network and of course, our speaker for the session: seasoned Operations Director, Andy Moffitt. Andy brought with him a wealth of experience from his several years at well-known IT services firm Computacenter, where working long-distance with multi-national teams was just part and parcel of day to day life.

Together we took a deep dive into what remote working was like 20 years ago, how it’s evolved, what the pain points are and where we need to take it post-Covid in order to reap the benefits. Watch the video roundup below, or keep reading to delve into the key takeways.

 

Strapline vs practice

During the session it became apparent that many businesses think they’re pro-remote working, but in actual fact culturally, they aren’t quite there yet. The group noted several experiences of organisations championing a “work is a thing you do, not a place you attend” mantra, but with opposing behaviour towards flexible working styles.

As a result, many leaders unwittingly choose to adopt remote working practices but end up lacing them with guilt as they’re still operating against the backdrop of older management styles, drawing unfair comparisons to a time we’re no longer living in.

This was apparent during the discussion portion of the webinar when questions were raised around KPIs and whether there is a distinction between tracking remotely or while working in the office. Andy questioned why any measures would need to change at all, underlining that the automatic implication already was that working remotely would be the cause for KPIs not being met as opposed to any other reason had they been office-based at the time.

He stresses that this ingrained distrust of working remotely could be our downfall - especially when the pandemic has thrust this way of working upon many of us who weren’t culturally ready.

Cultural differences

It was suggested that one of the reasons the UK is battling with the move to a more permanent remote working structure is because it simply isn’t well adopted here yet. Andy drew comparisons between his German colleagues at Computacenter where working from home was standard, and so the scenario we’re currently in with working through the pandemic isn’t such a stark contrast for them.

He referenced that in the UK in particular we have some of the old “clock in, clock out” culture lingering on in many businesses where the approach is that if you aren’t present in the office then you aren’t working. Despite many organisations adopting a results-tracking metric for success as opposed to basing it on timekeeping – the culture still hasn’t necessarily moved on from that.

The turning point for Andy at Computacenter was when the company adopted a global model, where management teams from different countries were fully integrated rather than operating as standalone operations. Having direct reports in Germany and France, he noticed that not only were they incredibly productive but working from home was just a given.

It highlighted that remote working really was a moot point when it came to success, and while the UK was working longer hours it actually wasn’t working as smart as its European colleagues.

Culture first, technology second

Andy suggests that what’s happening right now during this coronavirus induced remote working period, is that many organisations have been incredibly quick to roll out modern workspace technology but haven’t had the time to catch up culturally.

While it’s fantastic that businesses have been able to adopt the mechanism so rapidly, and a true testament to IT service provider capabilities, there’s a larger piece of work to be done underneath the surface. He says that while covid has been the accelerant, there’s still this idea that being able to work from home is a treat and that there should be a pay off somewhere.

He brought up the notion that travel time should be worked back now that people aren’t commuting and that some employers want to track log on, log off times to keep an eye on workloads – but advises that this is counter-intuitive.

Discretionary effort, known as going above and beyond what is expected, is something your employees do of their own free will. To police them too heavily when working remotely is to risk losing that organic desire to work harder for you. Andy highlights that trust is the key that links this amazing technology to the cultural change that must come with it, technology is just the enabler of a new working style.

The benefit to employers

Aside from the lower risk in terms of health and safety, remote working has the potential to be a major cost-saving opportunity. With many opting to reduce or diminish office spaces entirely, looking at Google and Siemens as examples of this. While Siemens has opted to cut down days in the office to 2 days a week with employees able to choose where they work the rest of the time, Google has closed its doors entirely until 2021.

This comes with massive benefits by saving budget on premises, utilities, car allowance or subsidised travel. That being said, leaders should tread carefully here as there’s also a reputation angle to consider when deploying remote working. If it comes across as a cost-saver rather than a genuine cultural shift, the employees may see through it and it could have adverse effects on that discretionary effort piece.

Flexible and remote working have always been considered perks to a job, but the pandemic has forced the workforce to examine their roles and where they can actually be fulfilled. As a result, employees are now keenly aware of their organisation’s stance on working from home and as such, having remote working provisions can serve as a big attraction and retention tactic for your business.

With many so many variables to consider when implementing a remote working process, it’s clear that the office isn’t being replaced entirely any time soon. Andy stresses that the office has its place and affirms that some colleagues actually need the office environment to thrive. The bottom line is that whatever changes you decide to implement in your organisation going forwards, it needs to be cultural before it’s a technology, cost or operational change.

Next up, we’ll be examining the intricacies of selling during a pandemic with senior sales leader, Matt Griffin. It’s going to be a really in-depth look at the science behind motivation and the effects of stress on your sales function.

If you’d like to join us for our next webinar on Thursday the 27th of August between 8AM and 8:30 AM, just head to our events page to sign up.

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Rob Taylor

10th August

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