Month: March 2020
Virtual Engagement during Covid-19 – how can we redesign our ways of working to be better than before?
By Sally McNamara, Asia Pacific Director
Companies have been grappling with declining employee engagement for several decades. Research has suggested that up to 85% of people are not engaged or actively disengaged at work[i]. The interesting point is that the same research also suggests that it might not be the actual work that is the problem, but rather the outdated management styles that are still very much at play. In particular, the industrial era ‘command and control’ approach is proving a difficult habit to break at every level of organisational design: strategy, structure, processes, rewards and people.[ii]
Humans rarely adapt at scale unless there is a forced trigger to do so. Nobel prize winning economist Daniel Kahneman has explored this idea deeply in his work, demonstrating that in most cases, we would much rather avoid a loss than achieve a gain, unless the circumstances are very bad.[iii]
What if this pandemic is not just a test of survival and making do, but a greater call to much needed workplace adaptation? A chance to develop new principles that actually align with the challenges we face in this digital age? All too often we have been trying to implement new processes and practices without understanding the real issues, as anyone who has attempted to implement a new technology solution on top of an outdated structure and process will readily attest to.
As Professor Lynda Gratton reinforced in her recent webinar on “Working Virtually”[iv], one of the major blockers to the previous success of virtual working was due to the fact that leaders themselves were not working virtually. This promoted a lingering suspicion that people working virtually must surely be “Netflix and chilling” all day long, rather than working. Such an insidious lack of trust is a key factor in driving disengagement, and we know that organisations who are high-trust outperform those who are low-trust, with research suggesting by as much as 2.5 times.[v]
Now that the majority of our global population are synchronised in virtual working, it is an opportunity to build better ways of working that are based on trust, both for now and into the future. However, if we are not careful, we may simply replicate old principles and assumptions to bring our bad habits with us into the virtual world of work. Here are a few ideas for how we can avoid doing so:
1. Build a Narrative – A narrative provides a way to make sense of events and communicate experience, knowledge and emotions. Creating a strong narrative does not rely upon the leaders having all the answers (now more than ever – this is clearly impossible). However, it does rely on creating an ongoing thread of communication that recognises the deep uncertainty whilst also visioning the future, to help people connect with a sense of direction and purpose. This could be an opportunity to fundamentally shift some of the ways you work for the better. Why not involve your people in co-creating new ways of working? It could also be an opportunity to create new solutions for your clients and customers – as the saying goes, “necessity is the mother of invention”.
2. Be Outcomes Focused – What if we were to measure productivity by outcomes rather than hours or time online? As schools continue to shut down around the world and global teams need to shift their working patterns to fit current shifts in demand, we will need to think more creatively than ever about how well our concept of “standard days” actually work in practice, both now and into the future.
3. Examining Unwritten Rules – An example of an unwritten rule is that the official work start time is 09:00 but once you become part of the team, you realise your colleagues have all been there since 07:30 as standard. This is a chance to re-evaluate your unwritten rules and how they may be impacting wellbeing and engagement, rather than just replicating them in the virtual world. As Novartis CEO Vas Narasimhan recently said in relation to the Covid-19 pandemic, we need to “create clarity for teams and trust them without micromanaging”[vi]. We may need to be even more careful of where the lines between our personal and work lives become ever more blurred, and that the pressure to be “online” may actually increase.
4. Extending Empathy – The one thing we need now, more than ever, is empathy. The definition of empathy is being able to sit beside someone and feel with them. We need to accept and welcome that everyone will be having good days and bad days. If a team member has been in isolation or unable to see their family, it is unlikely they will be able to perform at their usual level. I have had more than one friend share with me that they are pretending their video function does not work because their anxiety levels are high, and they feel more comfortable with voice calls. An unintended consequence of our desire to communicate may be that in some cases, we are creating more stress through enforcing a one-size-fits-all approach.
If you would like to discuss this topic in greater depth, please reach out to me on email or comment below.
[i] “What is employee engagement and how to you improve it?”, Gallup, accessed March 20, 2020, https://www.gallup.com/workplace/285674/improve-employee-engagement-workplace.asp
[iii] “Thinking Fast and Slow”, Daniel Kahnemann, 2011
[iv] “Working Virtually”, London Business School, March 18 2020 – https://www.london.edu/campaigns/executive-education/pandemic-webinars#previouswebinars
[v] The Connection Between Employee Trust and Financial Performance, HBR, July 18 2016, https://hbr.org/2016/07/the-connection-between-employee-trust-and-financial-performance
[vi] “Strong Leadership for Uncertain Times”, Financial Times, March 22, 2020 https://www.ft.com/content/e4aec0cc-6849-11ea-a3c9-1fe6fedcca75
Globotics – how will the next stage in the evolution of globalisation impact the white collar middle class?
By James Boggan, Consultant
A term coined by Professor Richard Burton, globotics, is the slightly awkward sounding amalgamation of globalisation and robotics[i]. Professor Burton predicts that developed countries’ appetite for outsourcing work to developing countries will shift to include tasks previously undertaken by local, highly-skilled white-collar workers. This shift will be made possible by advancements in technology, which will allow easy communication between people speaking different languages. What would be the benefit of this? Quite simply, cost savings. Organisations in developed countries can pay highly-skilled telemigrants – people who are based in one country but work in another, a fraction of what they would pay people based in developed countries to do the same task.
Varian’s Law dictates that emerging concepts can become a reality very quickly when several enabling technologies work together[ii]. Applied to this context, this means that, to be fully realised, globotics will rely on the interaction of technologies, notably; ultra-fast connectivity, holographics, robotics, AI and machine learning – specifically translation technology. Some of these technologies are still in their nascent phase and some are just not widely commercially available – particularly in developing countries. Therefore, globotics will likely be a gradual process, its direction dictated by where the application of breakthrough technologies can lead to the greatest cost savings. It is also important to note that while the focus of globotics is on the white-collar middle class, it does not mean that people in lower-skilled jobs will not continue to be impacted.
What are the barriers?
In certain cases, the technology is already available for globotics to infiltrate industries and jobs – it is human nature and socialisation that are proving the barrier, particularly in industries where emotions play a bigger role. Take the role of a surgeon for example. As long ago as 2001, the first transatlantic patient was operated on in Paris by surgeons in New York[iii]. However, in the 19 years since then, despite the technology being available, remote operations still only account for a tiny fraction of overall operations. It is likely that this is because people are still not comfortable having surgery performed by a someone they have never met, operating from a completely different country. The same applies to driverless planes, despite the technology being available, the thought of being in an airborne plane while the pilot is on the ground is terrifying for many people[iv]. Research conducted by UBS in 2017 found only 17% of people surveyed would board a driverless plane. Interestingly though, that figure rose to 27% for those surveyed aged 18 – 24, suggesting socialisation is increasing for the use of AI and robotics among the younger population.[v]
As hypothetical examples, these examples of the surgeon and the pilot ignore some legal, regulatory and logistical issues that will arise with globotics. If the proliferation of telemigrancy does occur at the speed predicted by Professor Burton, developed countries’ governments may have to regulate and impose limits in order to protect their own economies. It will be fascinating to see how this plays out from both the economic and sociological perspective.
Future-proofing your career
Whether through automation, or outsourcing to telemigrants, tasks within low- to highly-skilled jobs may be irrevocably changed. It is impossible to say in what industries this will occur first, but it will likely be a gradual process and dictated by the socialisation of artificial intelligence and the rate of technological advancements. Although the change will be gradual, we can safely predict that the human-centric, face-to-face, relationship-focussed tasks will be the last to be impacted by globotics. The power of the reassuring smile of a surgeon and calming tone of a pilot, should not be underestimated.
If you are looking to future-proof your career, you may want to consider your job in terms of its individual tasks. Of these individual tasks, consider what ones require your specific human-centric skills and tacit knowledge. These are the tasks that are likely to be the most future-proofed, and so you should focus on developing your ability and performance in these tasks.
If you would like to discuss this in more depth, please comment below or reach out to me over email.
[ii] Varian, H., Farrell, J., & Shapiro, C. The Economics of Information Technology: An Introduction