Working Virtually - 10 Tips for Management
The Coronavirus has driven many organizations to work virtually – at least those considered non-essential services and for many firms this is the first time their employees have worked remotely. IIBA has been working virtually since its founding over 15 years ago, and has learned many key lessons in that time. Given the new situation for many managers having to remotely manage their teams for the first time I thought I would share some of the key learnings that I have experienced over the years.
Key Management Issues and Lessons Learned:
1. Not everyone in the organization works well from home. For a short term, most employees can perform well, but not all can collaborate effectively. Some staff will be challenged by reduced access to managerial support and may feel they have less support to help them get their work done. This can be addressed by ensuring you maintain regular touchpoints with staff through individual and team meetings via telephone and online meetings.
2. Management processes need to adapt. This is most important at the working team level, where frequent communications and interaction are important. Replacing the hallway and coffee break culture of an organization needs to have a virtual equivalent, so there is the casual conversation and not just the formal meeting conversations to form good working relationships.
3. Online teambuilding activities are important. The loneliness of working remotely may be difficult for some staff. Organize online activities and spaces so co-workers can feel more connected. Have a social committee organize virtual coffee chats with small, cross-functional groups for non-work-related conversations. Building a strong rapport with staff can lead to better engagement and productivity when it comes to work.
4. Cross-team interaction is the biggest challenge. Each situation needs to identify what are their needs from the other teams, how will they coordinate timing (hand-offs and deadlines) between teams to meet the project timelines. At IIBA, we have a very flat organizational model, with limited hierarchy. This puts the burden of cross-team communication onto the functional leadership team to keep their group informed and on-task.
5. The platform and the technology support for your virtual workforce matter. Some organizations staff are not mobile workers and are still using desktops. This limits their ability to be productive with limited access to data and internal systems. Another factor is ensuring the employees’ home offices meet the network bandwidth, security and operational needs of the job assignment. Afterall, how do you protect your organization’s data if you were not already set up to do so? This puts extra pressure on your IT team. IIBA has tried many different platforms over the years and have found that a platform which integrates your audio, video, messaging, and document capabilities is superior to ones that only serve a sub-set of these.
6. Work/Life balance seems like it should be easier in a virtual organization, but it in fact it is not. The ability to separate family and personal responsibilities from work can be challenging. Turning off work at the end of the day can also be challenging – the office is right there, and many employees end up working more hours than just the commuting time they save. Burn-out can be a risk in the virtual space, just as much as in an office building environment. It’s important to encourage staff to manage their work/life balance and not set up an expectation that employees need to respond to late night emails. Unless something is urgent it, adhering to established work hours is important for employees to avoid burnout.
7. Address virtual team problem solving and escalation. If your organization is global, it’s important to manage responses to global work hours and customer inquiries. Establishing workable problem escalation and team problem solving is different when the teammates are not in the same time zone. Outsourcing and offshoring have made this an issue for many organizations, and virtual collaboration is a core skill here, but requires setting guidelines to work effectively in a virtual team.
8. Management goals must be clear and detailed planning is important. Planning is best done in the short term, so the team can be agile to changes and new ideas, while still having important weekly target outcomes and dates.
9. Preparation and review of strategic issues and investment decisions can be done virtually, but so much is required for building shared vision that the finalization and focus on strategy does benefit from the leadership meeting in person - and may include board members. Now may be a time to look at a short-term strategy that takes you to June and revisit the end of year plan taking into account your data from March onwards and external factors affecting your business.
10. It takes extra effort to deal with strategic level efforts, as a good deal of time is spent on near term operational outcomes. Strategic planning is one function that needs more time, and more face-to-face meetings (or video time versus phone calls and email). In this new work environment, it may be prudent to consider committing to short-term strategic plans versus a a multi-year plan.
It has taken IIBA a concerted management effort over time to continually fine tune the virtual operations of the global organization. The bottom line is that virtual offices can be highly productive and reduce operational costs associated with having a physical location, but it takes planning and process adjustments to make it work efficiently and successfully.
Explore Online Tools and Resources
Online resources and tools are provided by many organizations to complement your ongoing learning. IIBA offers many valuable resources to members and non-members. Catch up on your webinar engagement, online certifications and reading – from articles to whitepapers to blogs to Quick Tips to BAM! Business Analysis Magazine, and our newly expanded Digital Online Library – with over 11,000 titles.
About the Author:
Ken Fulmer has been a long-time senior IT executive with several major corporations holding roles as CTO and CIO. His primary skill is the ability to blend technology with business (people, process, technology and data) and create strategic business outcomes.