Out and about at work and in my workshops, one of the topics that comes up regularly is smart working. Nearly every company large or small is facing this challenge today. Businesses are facing unprecedented costs of overheads and at the same time seeing a proliferation of modern technology options encouraging them to get rid of high cost premises and move to virtual working. Virtual or smart working is an attractive option for business leaders seeking to drive down costs. For some reason though leaders seem to think this is a simple transition for employees. From my experience I would warn that the challenge should not be underestimated. It is true that some people will take to smart working like a duck to water, however for others it will be a stressful and confusing experience.  So how can leaders prepare their teams for this change? Here are five things to think about.

S – Self

M – Managers & Leaders

A – Alignment

R – Reality

T – Teaming

S – Self

Help employees get personally prepared for this change. The best place to start here is to consider what you can do to help your team members become more self-confident. The key to success is developing the right mind-set towards smart working. People need to be self-confident and learn how to work in a world that is more virtual and self-directed. In short how to get organised to deliver under less supervision. In addition to this people need to feel safe in the virtual world and confident that they are being heard and listened too.

Leaders will need to work harder to demonstrate they are dealing with concerns.  Team leaders should take some time out before they move to reflect on how they can help employees feel safe in the new work environment. Perhaps develop a Team Charter for the new ways of working. This should not only state the ways of working in the future, but also the values and behaviours to expect from each other e.g. when an email is sent to you, show respect and respond to requests for help.   Other key things to focus on to help build confidence are organising your workspace to work more online, thinking about how to work collaboratively, and really consider what does trust look like in the virtual team?

M – Managers & Leaders

The challenges facing leaders moving to smart working are endless. One hot topic is how do leaders create a culture of accountability? Lencioni, in his book the ‘Five Dysfunctions of a Team’ stated that poorly performing teams have 5 characteristics:

  1. Absence of trust
  2. Fear of conflict
  3. Lack of commitment
  4. Avoidance of accountability
  5. Inattention to results

My simple question to leaders today is – how will you overcome these dysfunctions if they appear when you are leading a smart working team? When preparing your team for smart working I would recommend engaging all team members in discussions around these subjects e.g.

  1. Trust – What does trust look like for you and your team?
  2. Conflict – How will you avoid/overcome conflict?
  3. Commitment – What does a lack of commitment look like and how will you deal with this?
  4. Accountability – discuss expectations, what is accountability and how important is it?
  5. Results – what are your goals? Are they realistic?  How will you monitor progress?

A – Alignment

Alignment is at the heart of smart working. In the virtual world, people are set goals and given objectives and targets. They are then left to set their own pace and figure out how to get there on their own. However, it is important that the teams they are part of are aligned and that they regularly come together (face-to-face or via a virtual call) to discuss progress, understand barriers, monitor progress, share knowledge and check they are aligned to the company objectives.  Too many agendas and too many people pursuing their own goals is a recipe for disaster. Teams need to establish what the military call the ‘battle rhythm’. When will teams meet, where, how and what will the agendas be for meetings, how will actions be recorded and taken forward? Virtual working is like a DNA helix – people come together and then work apart and come together and then work apart. When we come together it is critical that meetings are effective, efficient and worthwhile. Think ahead and enable effective, functional meetings by planning and designing your battle rhythm in advance.

R – Reality

‘What gets seen gets done’ – I don’t know how many times I have heard this at work. But just stop and think for a moment: if this is true then how are we going to get anything done in the virtual world where most things are unseen?  This is reality today.

‘What gets seen gets done’. If this is true, then how are we going to get anything done in the virtual world where most things are unseen?

It is easy for a workload to increase in a virtual world. People fire off actions and think they have delegated a task to someone else (who often promptly ignores the task to be done!). Control your workload, speak up if you cannot manage it and on a positive note discuss with your team leader how exceptional work will be recognised.  It is important to STOP regularly and take a stock check on all your tasks to be done. Project Management skills will help you plan better and become more organised. I recommend learning such skills as fast as you can to prepare yourself for living in a smart working world.

T – Teaming

I will end with ‘Teaming’. This is an important concept and one to learn more about. It is highly relevant to virtual working and working in a complex environment. I first came across the concept when reading ‘Teaming – how organizations learn, innovate and compete in the knowledge economy’ by Amy C Edmondson of Harvard Business School.

‘Teaming is a verb. It is a dynamic activity, not a bounded static entity’

Amy states that hierarchical ways of working are based on 1950’s approaches to management, where leaders operated in stable, slow developing workplaces.  Modern technology, matrix management and the proliferation of modern technology make this style of management less effective today. This is particularly relevant to working in virtual teams. Teaming is a different way of thinking about teams. ‘Teaming is a verb. It is a dynamic activity, not a bounded static entity’. Teaming is a critical skill required to overcome complexity and work in a fast-paced world.

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