In a 2015 TED Talk, Bill Gates mentioned that probably the world is more ready to deal with a nuclear war but not ready to deal with an outbreak of Epidemic.
Indeed, but unfortunately, Covid-19 is spreading almost like what Bill Gates predicted. It’s spreading worldwide as rapidly as like a software virus. Though much can be desired on hindsight, world response to the virus threat has been astonishingly fast – from the governments, businesses, societies, civilians. Of course, the fear has been much faster (e.g. the stock market crashes worldwide) than the pragmatic actions – raising the bar on responsiveness.
Agility is about Sensing & Responding swiftly. From a Software/Technology Industry perspective, I would like to delve upon one particular response to Covid threat – most of the Organizations in many parts of the world declared Work from Home (WFH) policy for the entire workforce for a prolonged period. This unprecedented action for the safety of their Associates and their Customers and to prevent spreading of the virus is truly well appreciated.
This large scale WFH brings several challenges for the Organization, Managers/Leaders as well as for the Associates.
- How to make the distributed collaboration work?
- How to keep the Associates well connected and engaged?
- How to ensure there is no impact on Service to Customers?
- How to ensure there is no productivity loss due to the remote individuals (instead of collocated Teams)?
- How to stay focused?
Advanced Collaboration platforms, Video/Audio Conferencing systems, Online messaging systems, high speed broadband communication links etc. greatly enable the distributed collaboration. These are necessary but not sufficient to have high performing Widely Distributed Teams.
Covid seems to be disrupting one of the Agile Values, ‘Individuals & Interactions over Processes & Tools’. Instead of getting drowned in this new unexpected wave, how can we surf the wave and ride ahead of the curve?
Beyond the Tools and Infrastructure, the key to distributed collaboration lies in the behaviour, attitude and mindset of Associates and Managers/Leaders. As we highlight in our Agile Leadership Canvas, the cornerstones for Agility lie in Self-Organized Teams, Cross-Functional Collaboration and Facilitative Leadership approaches.
Onus on Associates in increasing the effectiveness of distributed collaboration:
WFH brings a lot more self-discipline in Associates to manage their time, focus and engagement. While in a workplace, there is a collective environment and work rhythm which helps in this. But while at home, there is less mutual supervision of Team members or managerial supervision along with work-life blurring. Also, there can be more distractions at home and more multi-tasking tendencies. This requires the Associates to be more Self-Managed Professionals.
Developing Emotional Intelligence
Self-discipline is a combination of a few Emotional Intelligence components – Self-Awareness, Self-Regulation and Self-Motivation; Emotional Intelligence is the bedrock of Leadership. This is an opportunity for the Associates to develop/enhance their EQ and grow into more well-rounded Professionals with Leadership Qualities beyond just a Technical/Domain expert. Consciously practice managing oneself with awareness of one’s time & focus; self-regulate the work to have optimal engagement; drive with internal inspiration than external motivation. Certainly, such professionals will command higher market value and will be more successful in their endeavours.
If we observe keenly, we can notice that Software really happens in people’s minds – not in one mind, but in collective minds; Computer is a tool to facilitate and capture that thought process. WFM situation requires higher order of Self-Organized Teams to be ‘connected-minds’ – additional proactive effort to communicate, understand each other, collaborate through working agreements and take ownership for all these.
As demonstrated by Google’s ‘Search Inside Yourself’ program, in collaboration with Stanford University Neuroscience Research, Mindfulness practices are practical tools for developing Emotional Intelligence and on-demand Attention/Focus. This is the time to explore some of these deeper human potentials.
Onus on Managers/Leaders in increasing the effectiveness of Distributed Collaboration:
Fifth Principle of Agile says “Build projects around motivated individuals. Give them the environment and support they need and trust them to get the job done”. WFM context leaves the managers/leaders with no other alternative, but to strengthen this principle.
This is an opportunity for Managers/Leaders to hone their Facilitative Leadership skills. While Managers want to Monitor and Control, Leaders Sense and Inspire. In the absence of physical proximity, they need to sense the state of individuals and teams through short window of connect through the online channels and inspire them to be self-managed individuals and self-organizing Teams. They need to educate Associates & bring awareness of benefits of self-managing and developing EQ for their professional growth.
Leaders need to compensate Social Distancing by Psychological Proximity to get ‘connected-minds’. Beyond the Task & Goal orientation, they should consciously spend time & effort in getting the Team bonding on-line through informal interactions, lighter moments and personal touch.
Surf the Wave
The current forced WFH situation is an opportunity to further the Agile Mindset in the Associates and Leaders. Through the Open Source movement, we know how the inspired professionals, though in a highly globally distributed environment, produce world-class products & services.
Covid seems to be inducing an experimentation globally to explore different ways of working together, which has several other benefits like reduced traffic, reduced fuel consumption, reduced sound & noise pollution; reduced electricity consumption & better utilization of office spaces; more time availability due to reduced commute time and so on.
In the true Agile mindset, if the organizations, Leaders and Associates embrace the change and experiment different innovative possibilities, they can ride the wave with flow, instead of being overwhelmed by getting submerged in the water. Agile methods are a great scaffolding to build Knowledge Era Enterprises.