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If you're one of the many executives wondering how to align your organization in the new working environment, you're not alone. Work has changed. COVID didn’t start the change, but there’s no doubt it accelerated it. Some companies have decided they will never go back to in-person work, others have said show up or you’re out, while still others are working in a hybrid environment.
Remote employees and virtual work are just a part of what “work” means now. It’s here. We know it. But how do we keep everyone on the same page? How do you align your organization when staff are spread out?
The first question we must ask ourselves is, “Were we really on the same page before remote work?” or did it just feel as though we ‘must be’ because we all worked in the same office or location?
The second question we must face is the argument over what we’re after exactly. Do we want work to be more productive or more effective? Which is more important? It’s like that line in the movie Moneyball where Brad Pitt’s character, Billy Beane, says, “I hate losing even more than I want to win…and there’s a difference.”
There is a difference. Simon Sinek’s metaphor fits nicely here: as leaders of organizations, we should not be trying to squeeze every possible drop of work out of our employees as if we’re wringing out a towel. Let’s make work more effective by creating engaged employees who actually feel like they are part of something greater, who want to contribute in meaningful ways and are fulfilled individually by their work.
No matter how your team is structured or where they're all located, this is the first step in determining how to align your organization. It’s critical that organizations define and share their reason for existence, their behavioral expectations of team members, their strategic differentiators, their most important short-term priority and team members’ roles and responsibilities. Doing so creates a sense of clarity that allows the entire team to focus on the same objectives for the same reason and show up in the same way to help achieve results.
In Patrick Lencioni’s book, "The Truth About Employee Engagement," he notes that leaders can kill job misery and create engaged employees. The first of three actions you need to take as a leader is to truly know your employees—as people. You must eliminate the sense of anonymity that employees may feel at work. When the boss “sees them”, asks about them personally and professionally and is genuinely interested, morale increases significantly.
The second tip is to let employees know that they work they do matters. You must eliminate the idea that their work is irrelevant. Why would someone give their all if they thought, even for a moment, that it did not matter. Connect people to purpose—ALL THE TIME.
The final tip to create engaged employees is to help them understand how they can be successful through some self-measurement. Their monthly numbers and other metrics are fine, and they do serve a purpose (productivity), but help them develop a tool that they can monitor to know with regularity (daily) that their work is good work. Get creative, have conversations with them, ask them what they think would be a good indicator. Stay away from numeric values and standard metrics. You want an employee that looks back on the day, and says, “yes…I advanced the cause today, and I feel really good about that.”
When a team is spread out, you as the leader need to be very intentional about connecting with everyone. In fact, you should build a culture where the expectation is that everyone on the team practices connecting with each other with intention. Relationships at work help make the process and results more effective in the same way relationships matter everywhere else.
Think about it—remote work must be the ONLY cited example wherein a large group of people would argue that the process and results are just as productive and effective (if not better) as a result of being away from the very people that share in the relationship. These work relationships are absolutely critical to your team’s effectiveness.
Remote work makes it incredibly easy to say, “they’re probably too busy”, or “I can do this myself without input”, or “I wonder if the team would want to hear this idea.” We must guard against the transactional nature of work that a virtual environment can cause by being proactive, nurturing relationships with intention, reaching out and connecting with one another. We have the tools—Zoom, Teams, Slack, etc.—get better every day at using them to connect. Create standing blocks of time to do so if it helps.
Like anything else, these things take time and discipline. Just do it. Start the habit. Practice intention. Lean into the vulnerability and courage this approach will take. Make mistakes. Learn from them. Move forward. Employees need to be fed. Find out what gives them joy and energy.
Then put them in those roles. They will be more fulfilled, experience the dignity of work, and be more effective—individually and as a member of the team. This is how you align your organization every day. And you must continue to move toward alignment every day; you will never finish the race.
And all these points won’t cost you a thing. You can start right now. The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago…and today. Plant your tree.