02/12/2020 | Nicolas Odet, President of Hardis Group
This year’s successive lockdowns, and the associated switch to remote working, have provided revealing insights into organizations’ governance and management styles, and into industrial relations more generally. Alongside remote collaboration tools, transparency and trust remain by far the most important predictors of organizational agility and resilience.
2019 and 2020: A remote-working boom
At the time of writing, the 2020 pandemic is in full swing. Yet remote working had already experienced a massive boom in the Paris region in late 2019, when major strikes—especially by public-transportation workers—made it extremely difficult for commuters to get to work. That trend has only amplified under the effect of this year’s lockdowns.
With the wholesale shift to remote working, many organizations have equipped employees with a suite of tools allowing them to continue working effectively from home: everything from mobile workstations and secure remote access capabilities, to collaborative applications like Microsoft Office 365, and more. But those same organizations have had to negotiate new or amended remote-working agreements with employee representatives.
Crisis and management: Clear and informed decision-making
Despite this trend, many barriers to remote working remained—not least when it came to management approaches and the sheer logistical complexity of having staff working remotely for long periods. But the hard lockdown in the spring of 2020 left businesses and managers with no option: they had to adapt their management styles in the face of this unprecedented situation.
The lockdown gave organizations pause for thought—and they realized that, aside from working more closely with employee representatives (switching from monthly to weekly meetings, for instance), managers needed to strike the right balance between making clear, resolute decisions (especially amid such uncertainty) and the equally important imperative of listening to employees. In other words, combining top-down management (giving clear instructions and guidance) and bottom-up approaches (listening to staff, which is hard to achieve remotely) was even more important than in normal times, when employees were physically present.
What this meant, in practice, was a four-step management process: top management made a clear decision, the decision was shared with and explained to line managers, they then passed this information on to their teams, and feedback was sought (quickly, within 48 hours) to shed light on the decision, adapt it if necessary, or take individual concerns into account. Because this is one of the lessons from the first lockdown: when everyone is working remotely, it’s important that nobody gets left behind. This rule of thumb applies no matter what problems people are facing—whether they have children at home, experience connection issues, face loneliness, or live in a property that isn’t suited to home working.
More generally, in anxiety-inducing times like these, it’s vital for organizations to be transparent about their financial health and to keep an open ear to employees’ concerns, such as through in-house surveys. Following these rules will likewise leave businesses better prepared for employees to return to the workplace—when the time comes—and to offer training to staff members with a reduced workload.
Enterprise social networks: Maintaining (or building) social connections
Management concerns about remote working are nothing new. But many employees themselves remain equally unconvinced. After all, the office or factory floor is still a place where people build social connections. One of the effects of remote working is to deprive employees of these everyday interactions—something that many struggle to cope with.
One way to get around this problem and to keep employees connected is to deploy a communication and collaboration platform, or an enterprise social network (ESN), such as Workplace from Facebook. Alongside productivity tools, platforms like these also provide a way for staff to interact and provide mutual support in a wide range of areas. ESNs are informal spaces where managers need to stay involved and present on a day-to-day basis.
ESNs are, for instance, the places where employees ask questions—including about their individual circumstances—and expect personal answers. Likewise, and because sharing good-news stories is part and parcel of staying connected, ESNs can be used to celebrate highlights like new contracts, new arrivals, birthdays, and more. And last but not least, these platforms are a great way to embed new starters in the corporate culture—since onboarding employees is especially difficult during lockdown.
For multi-site organizations, ESNs can even help geographically distant employees get to know each other and talk about their hobbies and interests (sport, cooking, music, and more). And for managers, they’re a useful forum for testing the water, getting a sense of staff morale—and, if necessary, taking action to put things back on the right track.