To adapt to the current environment, the first thing business leaders need to do is ensure that their employees have the right tools to support remote working. Organisations must then implement new approaches to management, collaboration, and culture to create a supportive environment for their workforce. Since the world is unlikely to return completely to its pre-pandemic ways, the public sector should seek to rapidly change how it works, including improving its agility and productivity, in lasting ways.
Now that workforces have been dispersed and must interact online or by phone, organisations must have ground rules for how to engage in place. Adapted from McKinsey, a focus on these three areas can help organisations establish the structure, processes, and culture needed to succeed.
Traditionally, many organisations have had somewhat siloed structures and have included large numbers of people in meetings and review processes. This approach is less effective when a company wants to accelerate the pace of decision making and when teams are virtual. For remote working, leaders must implement a new team structure, one that is smaller and cross functional. Each team should have all of the areas of competence and expertise that are necessary to complete its tasks. A clear hierarchy and decision-making authority will support discussion within teams and collaboration among team leads. In addition to being more discerning about who attends meetings, team leads now need to adopt a more formal approach to meetings, including sending out agendas in advance.
Shifting from in-person collaboration and problem solving to remote engagement requires leaders to embrace new ways of working to ensure that remote teams are pursuing common goals. Department heads should keep their employees engaged and accelerate the pace of action. Likewise, they should communicate with remote teams frequently, to understand roadblocks and monitor progress, proactively offer assistance, and participate in problem solving when it would be valuable. By managing the interdependencies of each work stream, the most effective leaders ensure that the right teams are connected and can solve problems together.
To accelerate progress and decision making, teams should adopt tools from agile ways of working. For example, more regular and frequent meetings, well defined goals, and a digital team room or dashboard for tracking progress can ensure that the entire team is aligned on next steps and timelines. A virtual schedule should always be visible and accessible to all team members.
Many organisations reinforce culture – values, rules, norms, and structure – through interactions at the office, with leaders setting the tone. The shift to remote working requires organisations to make a sustained investment in culture in several ways.
First, leaders must make culture a high priority and establish team norms that provide the underpinnings of a healthy team culture. Second, employees must address how they can still feel like a team without interacting face-to-face at the office. They might, for example, carve out time in recurring meetings for social interactions and encourage their colleagues to connect with each other outside of business tasks.
To reach team agreement on its working hours and meeting times and frequency, leaders might explicitly ask team members about their obligations and preferred schedules. Teams must also agree on their collaboration and communication tools and on how to receive and provide feedback. From a process standpoint, each team should appoint a meeting “owner” to help focus the team members’ interaction and lay out a path for escalating issues when necessary.