Feature: Virtual working as a new company cultures

Positive conflicts in the workplace

The occurrence of the COVID pandemic may have turned a lot of things upside down. But on the bright side, it has revealed new possibilities by questioning existing structures and working cultures.

One of such new structures is “working from home”. Before COVID-19, there were few companies that practised this style of operations. Many were unenthused at the mention of the remote working concept. But when there was little to zero choices when the pandemic hit, over 80% of businesses embraced the idea. In Ghana, the situation is being managed fairly well and many businesses have resumed full operations. For some organizations, there is no option to work from home. But I am excited to see some others incorporate the option of remote working into their organizational structure.

Intelligent leadership recognizes the disruption of change and makes space to utilize it advantageously. Such leaders reorganized their teams to see remote working as part of their lifestyle, instead of a temporary solution.

Many leaders have challenged the efficiency of the system, arguing that it does not enable team working and divides workplaces.

But Allison Green (who also writes regularly for Inc.com) has a different opinion about the new workplace styles. Her perspective reveals that the value of remote working value is most strongly tied to the quality of the management of remote employees: “Without strong management in place, you can end up with managers who, lacking the ability or training to effectively oversee remote staff, resort to micromanagement or onerous restrictions on the practice – which  makes good workers feel distrusted and demoralized. Or, on the other end of the spectrum, you end up with people who say they’re “working from home” when in reality they’re utterly inaccessible or unproductive, while their managers either don’t notice or won’t address it.”

Leadership training is a necessity to manage remote workers effectively. If leaders are to get some training, it will change their perceptions and allay some fears. Management of remote workers requires skill; the kind of skill that pays attention to processes and communication and incorporation of accountability tools. It is pertinent for leaders to socialize their teams, approaching “working from home” as a new culture not a temporary solution for the short term. How have your teams worked in the traditional sense of work? Which of elements of that culture can you adopt in the sense of virtual working? What communication styles are your teams used to? Will the same apply virtually? Do you need to check in more often or less often? All these are very essential questions leaders should strive to find answers to in order to translate the company culture.

We can take a few queues from the tech giant, Google, who embarked on a two-year study to discover what makes remote teams successful. Google’s People Innovation Lab surveyed 5,000 employees to measure performance, connectedness, and well-being (among other things). This was the summary of their report at the end of their survey: “We were happy to find no difference in the effectiveness, performance ratings, or promotions for individuals and teams whose work requires collaboration with colleagues around the world versus Googlers who spend most of their day to day working with colleagues in the same office,” reported People Analytics Manager Veronica Gilrane, who conducted the survey.

It appears that some organizations have found key secrets to managing successful virtual teams. Forbes zones in on 3 focus areas; Trust. Connection and Performance standards.

One of the biggest pain points for leaders has been the issue of trust. Leaders have been asking an important question, “How will I know people are doing their work if I can’t see them at their desks?” I say, by their works you shall know them. It is safe to say that if an employee has been performing well in the office, it is then likely that they will perform equally well working from home. Obviously, both working conditions are not the same. And as leaders, we must expect one or two hitches. But in the grand scheme of things, we can trust that people who have been doing good work will continue to do so. Research suggests that teams perform better when they trust the organization. We can build trust by sharing information freely and fairly and by resourcing teams and individuals equitably.

Communication will always be at the top of my list when it comes to the soft skill set of people, especially leaders. When managing teams remotely, we must be mindful of how we communicate. We must not simply communicate to instruct. We must communicate to be understood; we must communicate to connect. “High quality connections (HCQs) happen when we have regular, short, positive interactions at work, no matter if those interactions happen over Slack, email, or Zoom. High quality connections give us a sense of positive energy in the moment, especially when we can tell the feeling is mutual. Researchers believe HQCs lead to higher performance because high quality relationships and the resulting psychological safety allow for greater learning in organizations and may contribute to innovation.

The manager of Google’s People Innovation Lab recommends that one of the keys to building strong teams with quality personal connections is to allow for easy-going non work-related interactions before meetings. For example, asking “What did you do for fun over the weekend?” is an easy way to establish a rapport and build connection. A mindset check-in at the beginning of a call, not only provides awareness of “What’s got your attention?” It helps us understand what everyone is going through.

Here are 4 skill-sets that leaders can practise and pass on to their teams to run a successful virtual work system.

  1. Mindfulness

Mindfulness is being mentally present and to have full awareness of our mindspace, our physical space and to read the thoughts of others beyond what they tell us. Mindfulness is a term popularly used in the mind wellness field when it comes to yoga and meditation. But my reference to mindfulness here is to get yourself into the frame of mind to feel, know and understand what is going on around us and inside of us. The truth is, we can never be fully prepared. So, what we can do is be present in the moment so we can make necessary adjustments depending on where we find ourselves, who we find ourselves with and what is required of us. This does not mean that we should not prepare. We must prepare and use our preparation as foundations to get ourselves ready for any and every situation. Sometimes, team members may feel overwhelmed by their environment. This may affect work in so many ways. As leaders, we must learn to be mindful of what is going on with our teams and prepare to offer practical solutions that will bring peace of mind and elevate work performance.

  1. Physical meetings are still important

Face-to-face communication is still very powerful. It will be necessary for leaders to meet regularly with their team members. Team retreats are an excellent opportunity to reflect on collaboration and improve how to work together. Leaders can take advantage of these meetings to foster team-building experiences, and team bonding.

  1. Foster shared leadership

“Defining deliverables and tracking commitments provides “push” to keep team members focused and productive; shared leadership provides crucial “pull.” Find ways to involve others in leading the team. Examples include: assigning responsibility for special projects, such as identifying and sharing best practices; or getting members to coach others in their areas of expertise; or assigning them as mentors to help on-board new team members; or asking them to run a virtual team-building exercise. By sharing leadership, you will not only increase engagement, but will also take some of the burden off your shoulders.” – Harvard Business Review.

  1. Engagement:

Meaningful conversations are not one-sided. They are engaging; a game of give and take. Can you tell the level of your engagement? How well do you connect with people? How much power do you have to reach people and to have people reach you? How many people can say that they are well connected to you and at any time, when they come to you, they are assured of your guidance, support, feedback and empathy. It is very difficult to read people when we are not with them physically. We can use our sense of hearing to detect the emotions of those we are communicating with. Once we can do that, we can always communicate to their core, choosing our words carefully to connect with them and influence them.

No matter where we are in the world, we can communicate, connect and influence people. We must be willing to listen, to learn and unlearn certain habits. Change is no doubt one of the most challenging things for human beings. But if we are willing to take one day at a time and take in all the exciting possibilities, we will be innovative in the way we collaborate with others. It is possible!

Are you ready for TRANSFORMATION?

Dzigbordi K. Dosoo: The H.E.L.P. Coach

Dzigbordi K. Dosoo is a Personal Impact, Professional Growth and Influence Expert specializing in Humanness, Entrepreneurship, Leadership and Power – H.E.L.P.

A career spanning over two decades, she has established herself as a Certified High Performance Coach, Speaker, Author, Wellness Expert and award-winning Entrepreneur with a clientele ranging from C-Suite Executives, Senior Management, Practitioners and Sales Leaders spanning 3 continents.

She is the Founder of Dzigbordi K. Dosoo (DKD) Holdings; a premier lifestyle business group with brand subsidiaries that include Dzigbordi Consulting Group& Allure Africa.

Dzigbordi has been featured on CNN for her entrepreneurial expertise. She is one of the most decorated female entrepreneurs in Ghana having being named “CIMG Marketing Woman of the Year” in 2009; “Top 10 most respected CEOs in Ghana, 2012; Global Heart of Leadership Award and, Women Rising “100 Most Influential Ghanaian Women”, 2017.

She can be reached on [email protected] and @dzigbordikwaku across all social media platforms.

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