One thing is for sure: coronavirus has changed the way we work, perhaps forever. While some figure out how to arrange desks, others are using this as an opportunity to accelerate digital and remote working plans. Regardless, serious question marks are being raised about the future of the office.
We sat down with a few technology leaders to discuss presenteeism, promotions and finding talent in the new world of work.
Evolving Traditional Promotions
There are as many benefits to being in the office as there are problems. Having people all in one location made offices a dangerous place to be during COVID, but before that, it was a safe place to be sure that you could make an impression, be noticed and always be seen by management.
A big concern for many now working remotely is how they effectively climb the career ladder without being in the office. To some, this may seem a moot point. If you perform well, do your job and play your part you will surely be noticed and rewarded? If only that were the case.
In most 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.
For Rabi Afram, Engineering Manager at gaming giant King, the office was a great place to witness key soft-skills, like communication and mentorship skills, on display.
“We want to see seniority and someone who can mentor others. And that is really something that you can see firsthand like in the office.”
But there are alternative ways to develop systems that reward positive behaviours, one of which Rabi and his team at King are working on.
“So my plan is to work with my colleagues in the leadership team to create a more transparent way of doing promotions where peer recognition will be a lot more important than it has been before.”
Virtually everyone who has worked in a traditional workplace environment has participated in the obligatory formal annual review with their manager. Seems reasonable, right? Your manager assesses your performance annually and provides you formal feedback. Oftentimes, this process includes performance feedback. What it’s sorely missing, however, is input from the people you spend the most time working and growing with: your workplace peers - as Rabi explains:
“Because if I'm the only opinion that's going to get you promoted, and I cant see them work day-to-day, that's not fair for anyone. We really want to set up environments where it won't matter who's your manager is because we listen to everyone’s feedback.”
Trust Is Important, Now More Than Ever
The Dalai Lama famously said that you can’t buy trust in the supermarket. What he was referring to, of course, is trust as a force in society and not necessarily in the realms of business. Regardless, trust has always been one of the building blocks of the business world.
And now, as teams are working remotely on a larger scale, trust is once again at the top of mind for business leaders. But trust in the workplace can be harder to build and maintain during remote working. Positive leadership is more important than ever to ensure leaders remain credible and reliable when dealing with a remote workforce. If the coronavirus crisis has taught us anything, it’s that with childcare or home help removed, we all have the same personal issues to juggle.
For Mahyar Arjmand, Line Lead at online gaming and gambling company Kindred, trust is now more important than ever.
“We made the hires to fill the roles, the distance won’t change that. Once we trust completely we can focus on making sure we’re inspiring these individuals, challenging them and motivating them.”
The Office Will Be A Hub Not the Base
For most companies, rent is the second-biggest expense (understandably outdone by their biggest asset, their people). On average, office space costs employers $12,000 to $15,000 per employee annually. A large portion of money, which could be spent better equipping teams to tackle daily challenges, is instead spent on a location that isn’t always easily accessible. For Marcus Neuman, Head of IT at TUI and proponent of remote working, it’s a question of when not if.
“I actually read an article yesterday which proposed that offices may be better used as hubs where you have the possibility to come into work if you need to, if you need to have meetings for your startup new projects.”
What Marcus was referring to is commonly known as the Hub and Spoke model popularised by airport planners. In the world of commercial property, ‘hub and spoke’ refers to a more flexible workspace and working style. As opposed to the more traditional headquarters model - in which a business operates from a single, larger city centre head office - ‘hub and spoke’ offices allow employees to work from either their city hub or a dedicated, strategic spoke location, including more regional workspaces.
This model allows companies to make use of smaller, cheaper and better-placed locations that work for the staff, allowing them to make better use of their time. For Marcus, however, this model looks good in principle but still relies on the mindset change from senior leadership.
“You need to trust your people, don't you? You need to think that they are here to do their best. And if not, then it will be quite obvious if they're not delivering what's expected.”
Easier to Find Top Talent
Joakim Adolfson is a technology leader and experienced CTO. For Joakim, this shift away from the workplace spells opportunity for business leaders who are willing to fully embrace remote working - namely, in the newly expanded talent pool, remote minded leaders can access.
“there is an opportunity here. You can hire from anywhere, which means that it will be easier for you to find top talent.”
And while it’s true that the same applies to other companies, who may now be able to access the talent you thought weren’t accessible, it also spells an opportunity for business leaders to change the dynamic between the hiring manager and employee.
“We are borrowing the time from the individual who is helping us out and helping our cause. This change will help give the power back to the employee.”
When the best talent has the world at the touch of a button, the power will well and truly lie with them and For Joakim, this move away from the traditional workplace is a chance for managers to reassess their role and relationship with their employees.
“To me, a manager's job is to help its staff to become the best they can be, basically to remove all the hurdles, when a manager starts managing people, then they fail.”
Innovation Needs to Adapt
Making use of golden hours and erring on the side of overcommunication are well-documented examples of how you make collaboration across remote teams work - but what about the conceptualisation stage?
We’ve all been there. The team gathered in a room, hashing out a single idea. The sense of togetherness and inspiration that you get from these sessions is hard to replicate, especially when working remote. For Bojan Skrchevski, Tech Lead at SEB, this is one of the areas we need to think long and hard about adapting as people move away from the traditional workplace.
“Remote working will, it has already slowed down the part where you exchange ideas. We depend a lot on the people thinking of the solution being in the same room and pointing it out. Debating the facts and hearing your thoughts - that’s hard to do electronically and we need to work on adapting that.”
We Need to Get The Whole Team Involved in Onboarding
Onboarding new members of the team have always been fine art. You want to balance the right level of support and guidance with the right amount of opportunity for them to get stuck into the work.
Remote working throws in all kinds of challenges when it comes to onboarding. Challenges that, once overcome, are sure to take the levels of communication and collaboration within your team to the next level.
Jonas Högdahl, Engineering Manager at Klarna, believes in having an ‘always available’ approach to onboarding through collaboration software adopted into the team during COVID-19.
“There’s no team area to come back to, a safe place to ask questions. We’re encouraging our veterans to always have their Hangouts open and always be there for any newcomers who might need to ask a question.”
To make this strategy work, however, the culture around meetings needs to shift slightly. By cultivating a safe environment, you will find that there’s no such thing as a silly question - which is incredibly important if you’re looking to encourage this ‘always available’ working environment.
“When you're in a meeting you usually feel like you need to have something interesting to say to actually talk. That's a hurdle that we need to overcome.”