We speak to business leaders about the challenges they’ve overcome as they’ve grappled with the new reality of work.
Keeping Distributed Teams Together
For Telia, one of the world's biggest telecommunications and internet service providers, their transition to full-scale homeworking will come with lessons for all of us.
Shahryar Khan is the Head of Automation & Systems, Transport at Telia Group. His team, which looks after end-to-end automation and provision of critical systems solutions for transport, is composed of network engineers and software developers with IP and network backgrounds.
Shahryar’s team is busy working on solutions for clients that keep them on the knife-edge of technological development while making significant strides towards ‘zero-touch operations’.
“We believe that everything that can be automated, should be automated.”
With a single-minded focus on creating a ‘closed-loop’ environment where minimal human input is needed, Shahryar has created a team with talent from all across the world. This structure presented unique challenges during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic for both clients and staff.
“We have a very diverse team with people primarily from the Nordics and contingent workers are also spread out in rest of Europe.”
For Shahryar, who used to travel internationally quite regularly, is used to bringing large numbers of talented people together to innovate.
“Whenever we used to approach product increment planning, we used to bring everyone together in one space and get the whiteboards out. It was great for creativity around solutions.”
While day-to-day operations for Shahryar’s distributed team hasn’t been disrupted, largely due to the fact that many were already used to working without a physical team, however, innovation is one key area which has had some consequences.
“Development on the fly. The spur of the moment ideas exchanges. Those are not happening. We’re down from 100% to 80% or so in innovation. I think we need to strike a balance of maybe trying to find a way to safely bring our minds together and get some of those innovation juices flowing.”
Shahryar isn’t alone. Companies across the globe are deploying solutions to tackle the innovation issue. From virtual check-in systems for offices that allow only a safe amount of people to use a space to virtual whiteboard software, technology is playing a central role in enabling employees to come together to innovate.
Meeting On Equal Terms
Camilla Fahlström is Head of Internet Access and Home Connectivity at Telia. Her responsibilities center around product and offering development for broadband across the consumer market in all six of Telia’s countries.
With more people working from home now than ever, Camilla’s function is playing an increasingly critical role.
“Not everyone has great internet or WiFi. We've seen a shift in demand from enterprises who are looking for home connectivity for their employees.”
From a team and collaboration perspective, Camilla has experience working with international and cross-functional teams spread across many different geographies. With one former management team, Camilla actually performed an exercise around effective distributed team management that prepared her well for working during the Pandemic.
The exercise studied the way that distributed teams would dial into one central location - perhaps a conference room in Stockholm, for example - and found that people who were dialling in were struggling to be heard.
“due to working from home we are meeting on equal terms with everybody calling in individually this brings the team closer together”
For Camilla, who has been building the Internet Access and Home Connectivity team from the ground up with talent from across the globe, this communication strategy has helped her team quickly and effectively align with the wider business objectives.
We Need to Be Observant Moving Forward
As the winter months draw in, many will be considering the psychological and emotional impact shorter, colder days will be having on the wellbeing of hardworking employees. For Camilla, the focus will be shifting onto making sure people are staying healthy and, as a result, productive over the challenging winter months.
“It creates a different mood. You feel more drained. So we need to be much more observant moving forwards.”
You May Need to Work Harder To Get Promotions
Andreas Svitzer is the Head of Development at national news bureau, TT Nyhetsbyrån. With a team of 8 developers, Andreas works towards the development of their news delivery systems that serves the largest news brands in Sweden.
“My role right now is pretty much product management and making sure that everyone has got what they need. This is especially important now that everyone is remote. I need to devise new strategies and schedules that work for everyone.”
TT has many different departments with each one being affected differently by the pandemic. For Andreas and his development team, working from home provides little disruption with 2 full-time members of the team who operate remotely driving policies.
As a result, Andreas’ team already had the infrastructure set up to ensure they stayed productive over the lockdown period.
“Hangouts and remote meetings were already part of our team culture. Now it’s more about working with people to figure out the puzzle of juggling home life with work life.”
Working within an agile framework, Andreas doesn’t believe in presenteeism. With lots of options for him to track his developer's progress and development, he believes that if people are working overtime then their processes have failed them.
For those working remotely who are looking for their promotion, problems occur in the less tangible elements.
In some organizations, promotions are governed by unwritten rules—the often fuzzy, intuitive, and poorly expressed feelings of senior executives regarding individuals’ ability to succeed in C-suite positions. Almost always intangible, those who strive for these positions will feel an increased sense of insecurity when they’re moved away from the office and out of the proximity of their decision-makers.
“Demonstrating that you can run and manage products, and you can talk to stakeholders, I think that's going to be a barrier when you're working at home, because now you have to work harder just to get time in with the right people.”
People Are Less Proactive About Asking Questions While Remote
Khan Sazzad is the Engineering Project Manager at leading machine learning and big data solution provider, Inovia AB. He has been also involved in a few startups in their product development. Currently, he is also working as the CTO for a fashion tech startup that is based on sustainability.
With a team of 12 Engineers, Sazzad has been responsible for the development of two of Invoia’s exciting new products. A virtual assistant that uses ML and AI to understand your intention and help you find the information you’re looking for and a voice-to-text transcription product for the healthcare industry.
“I take care of the agile way of product development. I align the product requirements according to the stakeholders needs while also making sure that the product is going to be delivered on time and at a high standard.”
For Sazzad, who believes the buzz of a joint workspace is an important factor in the levels of innovation a team can reach, remote working will impose barriers for those who are looking for quick answers to questions. He thinks that it creates communication latency in teamwork. Also, team synergy can not be induced in a traditional manner.
“You can’t just come over to my desk and ask me a question. You have to check i’m online, see if i'm available and then maybe book something in for the future if i’m not. This creates an extra layer of challenge”
But Sazzad also sees hope in the future as people form habits around a new standard of working from home. He thinks people will gradually adapt to this new normal and eventually find the most optimal way of working-from-home. He is grateful to different tools and technologies that were already available and got further tailoring to have a smooth work-from-home work culture. He is very optimistic to see more advancement in those types of technologies with AI, VR injected in it.
“If we continue to work like this, we’ll get more used to it and understand how to be more proactive in getting the right information and asking the right questions at the right time. Time will let the technologies and culture adapt to this. Importantly, Work location should not be a constraint for successful teamwork."