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  • Writer's pictureCK Tan

Are we at the cusp of a new 'new workplace'?

Updated: Sep 7, 2020

Is the virtual workplace the new norm? How do you build a strong work culture with the virtual trend?

The empty downtown

“An emerging trend is taking place”

Within days, downtown offices in many cities around the world turned to ghost towns. Workers were asked to stay home to 'flatten the curve'. Most service-oriented businesses, serving the downtown office crowd, were either ordered to close their doors, or voluntarily shut down because there's no one to serve. Organizations that took many years to study the feasibility of allowing flexible workplaces and work-from-home options suddenly found themselves needing to make decisions overnight to keep the business running.

Even as offices start to open up, the temporary measures that are in place such as only two people being allowed in an elevator at one time, will mean loss productivity just waiting to get to one's desk.

To circumvent the potential risks and loss productivity, an emerging trend is now taking place. Some organizations have decided that its employees will either permanently work from home, or will have a 'remote-first' policy. Shopify, Upwork and Barclays are just some examples of companies that are embracing this trend.

Is remote working sustainable?

“This is a new era”

For many organizations, remote working has always been the modus operandi. Small firms, coaches, consultants and some high tech firms have always had the option for its employees or associates to work remotely and connect via phone or other technology options. However, it is a big shift for large corporations. A sudden shift in the workplace will have an impact on corporate culture that sometimes take years to cultivate. You can't build a culture without people! Perhaps a new 'digital' or 'hybrid' culture could emerge.

Yahoo! had experimented with remote working until 2013, when remote working was banned by its then CEO Marissa Mayer. There were many theories on why it didn't work for Yahoo!, ranging from reduced productivity to reduced collaboration among colleagues.

This is a new era. Perhaps it is time to revisit the idea of remote working as a permanent solution (at least for some). We are all in this now, whether or not we like it. The best way to do this is to look at the possibilities that exist, at the same time, understand how to mitigate the risks that come with it.

Building a strong team environment in a virtual (or semi-virtual) world

“Esprit de Corps: A shared, common set of principles, processes and tools that unites a diverse group of people towards a common goal”

Corporate culture is complex. There are cultures that are developed accidentally, and there are aspirational culture, according to Patrick Lencioni. Leaders must be intentional in building a culture that is aligned to the values and purpose for the organization and in turn, 'walk the talk'.

Working in a complex team environment and bringing a diverse group together requires everyone filtering the world in the same fashion. Individuals bring with them their values, perceptions, goals, processes, etc. By writing down organizational values and goals, you can assess alignment with this strategic direction.  

Individuals do not have the right to push their opinions on fellow team members. By establishing shared common principles, individuals and teams can speak to an agreed-upon filter, making conversation focused around principles, rather than people. By doing so we can ask: "How do your decisions or actions align with our principles?". We must seek to understand before being understood, and this gives us a framework to do exactly that.  

Beyond beliefs, values and principles, your Esprit de Corps should also speak to common processes. This is an agreed-upon way of working. The benefit is having a portability strategy - meaning anyone across your team will have an understanding of why and how something was done, regardless of who did the work. This lowers the level of effort to onboard new people and increases productivity in a shorter time frame. Ordinary people can create extraordinary results when given shared common processes and tools.  

The working world now sees Microsoft Teams, Zoom, Slack, GoTo as the de facto communication channel at the workplace, it is important to understand how teams work. Do you understand the concept of team before using these tools?

Microsoft Teams was designed to be the 'hub' by which all communications and collaboration take place. You can create teams, channels, chats, video/audio calls and integrate with other Microsoft products such as OneNote, Outlook and Planner, Skype for Business (which eventually will become part of Teams) to become the virtual office of the future. Microsoft acknowledges that Teams does not just do anything, it does everything! But not having a proper process in place could spell disaster. It will get out of control. Just think of the mess of the 'common shared drives' that are in many work places today.

Priority Management's WorkingSm@rt programs, particularly WorkingSm@rt using Teams show you how you can work well within your team before introducing you to Teams. This way, when you are using the tool, you understand how each of the features in the tool will support you in achieving the results that you want in your team, to build and enhance the culture that is ready for this ever-evolving world where remote working becomes a norm.

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