Loyalty, communication and trust – 3 fundamentals for building a successful remote working team culture 

Like most things in life the Covid-19 pandemic will end but, before it does it will go through number of several phases before we are out the other side. 

Phase 1 – Adjustment
Phase 2 – Reality Hits
Phase 3 – The end is nigh
Phase 4 – “Working 9 to 5” 

Each phase will require a different set of skills and a different set of activities to be navigated successfully. To navigate successfully at sea there’s many things you have to account for but to help you have charts and a compass. For Covid-19 there’s no such thing, it is literally uncharted territory.

Understanding the needs of your employees and your clients will be crucial and timing will be everything. Go too early and you may be profiteering, go too late and you’ll miss the boat. 

During this period there will be significant changes throughout our lives, both personally and professionally. We are all going to be affected by this thing, some horrendously so, but there are still benefits. 

 

Phase 1 – Adjusting to a life with Covid-19 

When I first started to understand the impact of Covid-19 I noticed ubiquitous disbelief, quickly followed by rising panic. In February 2020 Covid-19 was not a reality for most of us.  It was something happening to somebody else and many people still thought “It’s just a virus, I’ll shake hands, I’ll catch it and it’ll be over in a week”. But then reality hit (most of us anyway) and I saw panic.   Not just in the shops but in offices and businesses throughout the country. 

The number one priority was to protect people and it was nice to hear businesses say they put people first and it actually be true; right across the board from the smallest to the largest, people were at the heart of the response. Protect the vulnerable and add ‘social distancing’ to your everyday language. 

After people, it was technology. Now that lockdown had arrived, we focused on staying safe and working through it. For most of us technology was the answer but here was the second wave of panic. How? Was it Teams, WebEx, Monday.com, WhatsApp, Zoom? The options are expansive and unless the whole business was on board it was going to be difficult.  Time to turn to the Crisis Management page in the company handbook! Oh dear! Metaphorically most of us probably had to blow the dust off it first because although most businesses have a crisis management policy, few run tests and even fewer make sure employees are kept up to date, it’s just ‘in the handbook’. 

Crisis Management & Remote Working

So, here’s the first benefit, Crisis Management.  Most companies now know that when the chips are down their business can react and perform well under pressure.  One of the industries that will do well out of this is those that write Crisis Management processes. 

Here’s the second benefit: Remote Working. There are so many tasks that benefit from remote working and it didn’t take long for most companies to develop a reasonable Working From Home (WFH) policy. No ‘Can you just’ type interruptions, just the freedom to think deeply about complex subjects and stay pro-active throughout the day. My hope is that many more businesses will see the benefit of remote working, they’ll see their employees do better work and they’ll take that experience forward into a post-Covid-19 work place carefully analysing what worked well – and what didn’t – to create a better work environment for everyone. 

 

Phase 2: Reality’s (actually not) a bitch 

This week, as reality continues to get its feet under the table, I’m seeing something else. It started as acceptance but – as people have adjusted to WFH – has grown into enthusiasm and loyalty. In a few short weeks’ businesses have been able support workers in new ways, they’ve been able to give relative certainty at a time when most people were worried about their jobs, families and financial security. And this is benefit number 3: Loyalty. 

Loyalty, Communication and Trust

Loyalty sits with Communication and Trust as one of the 3 most important things in successfully developing a remote team culture.  It is an unintended consequence of an unprecedented situation. In my generation job swapping is fairly common around the 2-3 year mark, in my father’s generation it was a job for life and in my songeneration ‘Ghosting’ an employer is a real thing!  Right now, everyone that has employment, appreciates that employment so much more than 12 weeks ago.  January is one of the busiest times of the year on Reed.co.uk or Indeed.com.  Currently though, there’s no ‘Ghosting’ employers or thoughts of job swapping, no sense of ‘them’ and ‘us’ just concern about your colleagues next mortgage payment or your friend’s pregnant wife. 

The opportunity is to build on this, to act in a positive way to help and protect those you can and to support people having a hard time. Loyalty is vital to the success of any business and I think this pandemic has forced us to realise what we had it all along. 

What happens next is up to us. For some this experience will be life affirming, for others it will horrendous but as WFH becomes business as usual (BAU) it’s good to think about the positives of the experience. What lessons can we learn, what good can we do? 

 

Phase 3: The End is in sight 

When we go back to work – and we will go back to work – things will be different.  For a time at least we will have forgotten what makes us different and will focus on what makes us the same. The small siloed approach won’t be as prevalent, and people will push to work together more effectively. 

There is also danger.  We’ve learnt a lesson here.  People can work together and deliver across teams and functions. When you start to think like this you realise that there are no silos only 1 business that’s able to help everyone. So, for leaders, manager and employees alike I set a challenge – don’t let silos back into your business, don’t let miniature fiefdoms develop and slow a working business. To illustrate the point, I’ve included an email attributed to Elon Musk, one he reportedly sent round Tesla about communication, management and the chain of command: 

Subject: Communication Within Tesla 

There are two schools of thought about how information should flow within companies. By far the most common way is chain of command, which means that you always flow communication through your manager. The problem with this approach is that, while it serves to enhance the power of the manager, it fails to serve the company. 

Instead of a problem getting solved quickly, where a person in one dept talks to a person in another dept and makes the right thing happen, people are forced to talk to their manager who talks to their manager who talks to the manager in the other dept who talks to someone on his team. Then the info has to flow back the other way again. This is incredibly dumb. Any manager who allows this to happen, let alone encourages it, will soon find themselves working at another company. No kidding. 

Anyone at Tesla can and should email/talk to anyone else according to what they think is the fastest way to solve a problem for the benefit of the whole company. You can talk to your manager’s manager without his permission, you can talk directly to a VP in another dept, you can talk to me, you can talk to anyone without anyone else’s permission. Moreover, you should consider yourself obligated to do so until the right thing happens. The point here is not random chitchat, but rather ensuring that we execute ultra-fast and well. We obviously cannot compete with the big car companies in size, so we must do so with intelligence and agility. 

One final point is that managers should work hard to ensure that they are not creating silos within the company that create an Us vs. Them” mentality or impede communication in any way. This is unfortunately a natural tendency and needs to be actively fought. How can it possibly help Tesla for depts to erect barriers between themselves or see their success as relative within the company instead of collective? We are all in the same boat. Always view yourself as working for the good of the company and never your dept. 

Thanks, Elon” 

 

Phase 4 – Back to work 

Well this is a long way off but I’m looking forward to the new way of working and the benefits that we can all get from it.

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