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Remote Workplace Success - What's needed?

Harbinger and Alavetta recently brought some smart folks together to discuss our perspectives as a group, including the implications of this shift, and how we might help our customers through this change.  We’ve helped leaders from companies large and small see their organizations through massive change. This has included helping organizations and their people through changes to work environments, business processes, job responsibilities and the introduction of game-changing technologies for the last 3 decades.

The Covid-19 crisis has impacted the workplace across Canada and around the world. For some organizations, that has meant going “remote” or “virtual” practically overnight. 

Although there is no indication when the crisis will be over, there are recent supporting studies that show: 

  • Many companies will choose to stay remote, or at least, develop a blended approach of in-person and remote

  • Many employees’ preferences have shifted to include more time working from home

We put our heads together to best describe the problem as we saw it, we developed the “Remote Workplace Success Map” & Assessment Tool. We believe that while many organizations have figured out how to operate remotely, they may not have adopted some of the cultural requirements of a successful business in a remote context. We believe a combination of Culture and Capabilities, that is aligned to this future of Remote Work, is required to have a fully thriving organization.

Click the diagram to expand.
Remote Workplace Success Map.png
If you take our informal Remote Workplace Assessment Tool through our Survey, you’ll see where your workplace lands, and where you should focus. The survey should only take 5-10 minutes and can be taken anonymously. We’ll be posting a follow-up article with the results.

Here are some of the highlights of our discussions:

Q: Many companies are up and operational remotely, and some have already decided (e.g. Twitter) to be permanently remote. Is this shift to a Remote Workplace truly still a challenge? What will the challenges be?
Greg Roth: The best metaphor I’ve heard as of late is “you can’t put the genie back in the bottle”. Here’s the thing. Genies are crafty little devils. While our wishes for shorter commute times, more flexibility in work schedule, and a level playing field across geographies have come true, I’ve still found myself saying “careful what you wish for”. Which brings me to the challenge. The pendulum has swung far and fast in a uniform direction. We were all forced to comply with a new reality. But what happens when we make it to the other side of COVID—six, 12 or 18 months from now? We will have realized the cost of our wishes. Some people will be nostalgic for the past, others will celebrate the even greater potential for the future, but most will demand choice. They will demand the choice to exercise a “work from anywhere” mindset. That might be home. That might be the office. It’s anywhere I choose where I can be the most productive and make the biggest contribution. Most organizations have now made the leap to enable remote work. Very few are ready to support the massive culture shift required to support our people’s individual desire to choose.
Nancy Marshall: For some, it is and will continue to be a challenge while others are ready to fully embrace it. A permanent remote workplace (home in this case) may not be productive nor viable due to personal circumstances. Or simply does not best suit an individual’s style to be their most creative, innovative or collaborative. These challenges can be overcome as leaders invest the time to fully listen to and understand individual needs relative to the organization’s priorities, then working hard to meet both.
Q: What do you think company executives or founders should focus on, in helping lead their people through this change?
Evan Hu: They bring people together by their words and their actions. They lead and model the change within the organization to ease the transition. They put the needs of their people before their own and bringing as much certainty and stability as is possible. They actively seek out and listen to the concerns of their staff, provide guidance or make space for others to act and thrive.
Krista Schaber-Chan: Company executives, founders and leaders are very busy people. But they are also looked to for guidance, support, and a clear path forward. For all these reasons these leaders need to focus on allowing mistakes to be made so that people can grow.  They need to build a culture of enablement and empowerment where individuals are developed as independent thinkers and doers instead of providing all the answers, give them the tools and knowledge and the space to help themselves.
Q: What about front line managers or supervisors? What do you suggest for them in managing their teams?
Andrea Graham: Putting people first is even more critical than ever. That means showing up as an authentic person who is ready to listen with empathy.  It’s about putting into practise that “people don’t care what you know until they know that you care". This requires planned spontaneity. You will need to be deliberate about scheduling one-on-one meetings where you consistently spend a few minutes getting a sense of where each individual is on a personal level. Don't be shy about sharing your own experiences as well. 
Barnaby Chan:
In any kind of transition front-line managers have the hardest time of it. They’re usually stuck between expectations of maintaining operations no matter what and finding the time and energy to help their people through change. They should recognize that helping people through change is different, that they can’t deal with it like they do everything else, and its absolutely their right to ask their leaders for help. Whether if it's budget, resources, training, coaching, they should take a breath and see what they need to be successful, for their people to be successful, and ask for it. And if they’re not sure what they need, ask for help with that too.
Krista Schaber-Chan: Front-line managers and supervisors are the meat of the sandwich, often with a lot of expectations on them from the people they manage and support as well as from the leaders who rely on them to get stuff done. First, it should be recognized that they too are going through change and are probably struggling just like their team members.  Second, to get the best out of the people they manage they should be actively seeking out and listening to them and leveraging those who can help them champion the change.
Q: We know some work styles and personalities lend better to working in person. What would you suggest for someone who has been very successful because of their ability to engage in person, directly?
Andrea Graham: Hold on to your strength in building connections and think about how you could leverage it in a different way. Consider a communication audit to see if emails have become a one-way conversation or if “face” time has been reduced. Ask yourself if your communication includes elements of “humanity” and have you or your employee become “invisible” to each other?  
Greg Roth: Contemplate what you have lost and take a moment to grieve. I know. That sounds a little dramatic. But it works. While my inner germaphobe won’t be upset, the death of the handshake will be a life-altering loss for some. Remember, every new beginning must start with an end—and most of us are still in the “neutral zone” right now. Curious to understand what that means? Read William Bridges to learn more.
Nancy Marshall: Stick to the basics by being present and engaged. Eye contact and listening is critical to observe the subtle facial expression and body language, along with nuanced comments. By being very aware, you create a safe space that allows others to engage at their pace.
Consider how you can recreate an atmosphere that matches the conversation - if more casual, set up in a comfortable chair, sit back or lean in, or stand if that is your usual chatting position. It will give an illusion of a conversation rather than a static peering into your camera.
Q: What would you suggest to someone new to remote working? 
Barnaby Chan: I would start with the basics, the immediate workspace. Ideas and practices around office space have evolved over the decades. Trying to cram that into some available nook in your home is never going to be ideal. That tank of gas you spent every week? Spend that on whatever you need if budget allows, whether its updated internet, the trouble of hardwiring internet if that helps, a better desk with the ability to sit/stand, a better microphone and camera, monitor. Even better stationary if that helps even a little bit. If you can reduce even a bunch of minor annoyances, that can really add up over a couple of hundred workdays a year to a different quality of experience.
Evan Hu: The transition from an office environment to a remote work environment will be disorienting. The disruption of your daily life can cause physical, mental, and financial stress. Create your own new cadence with new daily rituals, taking scheduled breaks and set clear boundaries for work.  Maintain your health and wellness. Schedule whitespace for yourself to have some breathing time. Stay connected with family, friends, and support systems using the same remote technologies and real-life when possible. Exercise and stay active. This a  journey of thousand leagues so starts with the first step and take your time.
Nancy Marshall: Build and maintain a healthy space. Assess then experiment, particularly if you share or have a small space. Once a week, reflect and tweak. Consider 1) which routines and boundaries are most effective and 2) health issues due to poor ergonomics, lack of timely breaks for healthy eating, physical movement & non-work connections. 
Home versus work-life can blur very quickly. Take the time to fully understand your organization's expectations and policies. Ask for clarity when unsure.

Once we have our results compiled, we will post the overall (aggregated and anonymous) results on social media / LinkedIn.  If you provided your email on the survey's consent form, we will send your specific results and where your organization lands (based on your perspective) to you when they become available. We will also notify you as soon as we have posted our overall results. 

Learn more about how we can help adapt your organization to a Remote Workplace here
Start a conversation with an Alavetta Executive Coach to begin exploring what is next. The first 60 minutes is on us!

Thanks to this group for participating. Here’s a little bit more about them:

Andrea Graham | LinkedIn | Bio

Andrea is an experienced leader who has managed high-performance teams in the communications and post-secondary sectors for 20+ years.  She has been responsible for the full employee life-cycle from hiring to retiring and leverages design thinking principles to build organizational capacity, culture and solutions.  Andrea is also a certified executive coach and change manager. 

Barnaby Chan | LinkedIn | Bio

Barnaby has led several consulting service organizations from digital media and marketing to ERP consulting and systems integration.  His decades-long pursuit of where technology brings both value and risk to the human side of the equation has led him to co-found Harbinger and recently complete a master’s degree in Artificial Intelligence.

Evan Hu | LinkedIn | Bio
A successful entrepreneur in the Canadian technology industry providing vision, leadership and experience to organizations ranging from start-ups to the Fortune 500. Presently an active angel investor, startup mentor and community volunteer sitting on the board of directors/advisors for several companies and organizations including Synthiam, ENTiD, Creative Destruction Labs and Platform Calgary.


Greg Roth | LinkedIn | Bio

Greg Roth, Managing Partner at Harbinger, brings more than two decades of global change management, executive coaching, learning and management consulting experience.  He began his career working with several top firms, including PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC) and IBM where he developed his deep expertise in the full ERP domain, including SAP, Oracle, Microsoft Dynamics, and JD Edwards. 

Krista Schaber-Chan | LinkedIn | Bio

Krista, a Co-Founder and Managing Partner at Harbinger, is an accomplished people and business change management and adult learning professional. Working with a variety of both local and global clients to help them thrive during disruptive change, her experience comprises large technology/ERP implementations, as well as process and organization re-designs across many industries.

Nancy Marshall | LinkedIn | Bio 
As an Executive Coach, Nancy works with professionals to generate their way forward as they face their toughest challenges by creating a safe space, using powerful questions and compassionate engagement. From start-ups to multinational firms, Nancy has led professional services teams, programs and projects on a local, national and global scale.

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