Managing the new era of flexible working

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Sep 10 2020 by Fred Krieger Print This Article

Despite multiple predictions that COVID-19 would put an end to offices, itís now clear the future of business wonít be fully digitised. Instead, physical and remote workspaces will coexist in a new era of flexible work.

While about half of UK employees are back at their desks, almost as many want to keep working remotely, with 80% hoping to do so more often. For companies, adapting to this blend of needs will create an increasingly hybrid working reality where people with different requirements dial in from many different environments.

But the question is: how can this fragmented set up be effectively managed?

As HR and business leaders know, sustaining workforce-wide performance and enthusiasm depends on mastering the right blend of processes. Deciding on these processes amid a tide of confusing advice is the challenging part. To find the ideal balance, they must hone the ability to tell genuinely useful and unhelpful productivity tips apart.

To help them on their way, here is a rundown of the top five best practices:

Ensure efficient delegation

Delegation isnít a new concept, but popularity has surged in recent months. As the crisis has driven sizeable challenges and busier schedules, suggestions to share the load have also increased. But while delegating tasks can be sensible to maintain focus on key projects and prevent burnout, companies must be wary of inefficient delegation that can actually reduce productivity.

Too frequently, work is passed on without enough explanation or consideration of how it will impact colleagues, which can leave the designated helper overwhelmed and unsure how theyíll manage their extra responsibilities.

If companies want to improve employee satisfaction and limit stress, they must delegate with greater care, recognising that personal productivity must be boosted to improve the output of the whole team. Each staff member must commit to finalising core priorities on time, and take a moment to check whether co-workers have sufficient capacity before passing over tasks.

This insight-based method of allocating and re-directing work can provide a highly effective foundation for further performance-enhancing tactics like positive micromanagement.

Donít dismiss micromanagement

Recent negative applications of micromanagement have only fuelled its pre-existing poor perception. Overzealous management methods have even extended to invasive remote monitoring with surveillance tools.

These uses represent a very narrow interpretation of micromanagement, which focuses on individual-level control. Looking beyond the typical definition reveals there is a more positive version that harnesses higher-level data and time measurement tools to assess and better manage overall performance and company-wide processes, rather than specific people.

By empowering employees to track their own progress, data can be collected and merged to produce a complete picture of business operations that offers valuable knowledge. Cohesive insight makes it easier for leaders to keep watch on performance and proactively address potential issues, such as providing support to inundated teams. In the long-term, leveraging granular insights can bolster incremental results, and ensure processes and objectives are based on accurate data rather than intuition.

Making the switch to data-assisted leadership can even play a part in resolving one of the most persistent problems facing businesses: the destructive effect of distraction.

Tackle interruption intelligently

Itís not news that interruption is the bane of efficient working. Past research has found rates of productivity can drop by up to 40% after employees are distracted and newer data reveals social media platforms ó such as instant messenger (IM) apps ó are now among the worst offenders. But going too far the other way, towards becoming radio silent, isnít likely to fix this problem.

Rather than taking the blunt route, leaders can implement a more nuanced, multi-pronged solution. Firstly, they can tap cross-organisational insight to identify where workers are being derailed by distraction and take helpful action. That could mean allowing teams to adapt their work schedules and hours, or set designated Ďdo not disturbí periods for higher concentration.

Secondly, by creating a new standard of asynchronous communication ó where interactions flow out of sync ó they can relieve the pressure to be Ďalways oní and instantly respond to new messages. In this way, firms can lessen the distractive power of IM bleeps, demonstrate real understanding of remote difficulties, and demonstrate a willingness to be flexible; an understanding that will also help tackle the especially current challenge of meeting overload.

Donít be tempted to avoid meetings

Virtual meetings have become a fact of life for almost every worker in the age of coronavirus; sparking tongue-in-cheek memes, alongside 340% user growth for video calling services such as Zoom. Itís not hard to see why calls to stop the tide of conferences are rising, but ducking out of meetings wherever possible is not the best way to remedy this situation.

Many teams are still separated by physical distance, which makes virtual meetings a crucial tool to sustain connection, minimise seclusion, and enable collaboration. Instead of simply hitting cancel, small organisational measures can make a significant difference. Meeting organisers could ask attendees to share their talking points in advance and set a clear agenda to eliminate the 10 minutes or so spent outlining the discussion. And they should only invite those that need to join, freeing up calendar space for other employees and helping to keep the meeting on track. In short, better coordination will boost value.

Itís also crucial to leave space for some moments of lower energy inside and outside of meetings. The need for occasional procrastination should never be underestimated.

Embrace moderate procrastination

In todayís high pressure-climate, there is an increasingly toxic expectation that intense focus must be constantly sustained, which is neither practical nor desirable. As pointed out by Stanford University professor and author of ĎThe Art of Procrastinationí, John Perry: there is such a thing as positive procrastination.

Before setting their sights on eliminating procrastination, businesses need to remember that taking a break is sometimes essential for employees to process decisions thoroughly, unleash their creativity, and innovate. Havenít we all experienced that moment when inspiration finally strikes while making a cup of tea, after puzzling over a problem for hours? Or as Perry reminds us: ďif you go back through history [Ö] and take away every invention that was made by someone who was supposed to be doing something else, Iím willing to bet there wouldnít be a lot left.Ē

The nuances of managing a team well are complex at any time, but even more so in the current situation. Juggling remote and physical teams is now the norm and itís likely to stay that way for the foreseeable future. For business leaders, this means they must aim to steer clear of blanket productivity tips. To retain strong teams and results, theyíll need to move away from the easy fixes and focus on building robust, tailored processes that are designed with diverse workforces in mind.


About The Author

Fred Krieger
Fred Krieger

Fred Krieger is the founder and CEO of Scoro, a business management platform which helps professional service companies manage their work more efficiently.