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Virtual is the New Reality

  • Zoom, Skype and Microsoft Teams usage up by huge percentages

  • 98% of Goldman Sachs employees working from home

  • Zoom and Skype cocktail parties and wine tastings

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a dramatic impact on how we all work and interact with each other. To maintain safety and health, millions of people are working virtually. (And, unfortunately, it’s had an even more dramatic impact on the millions of people who can’t work virtually.)

In just the last two weeks, clients have asked us to:

  1. Convert their Strategy Creation efforts from in-person meetings involving groups from across North America into virtual processes.

  2. Translate traditional classroom-based training programs into a blended learning approach combining elearning, webinars and virtual coaching.

  3. Develop custom leadership development programs that can be delivered virtually.

  4. Shift a series of “culture assessment” interviews to be completed virtually.

While we’ve worked virtually with clients for much of the last two decades, this is a sea change in the level of interest in moving work to a virtual environment.

The Next Normal

Once we get past the immediate crisis, the pendulum will certainly swing back at least somewhat. We are social beings. We want to see each other face to face, hang-out, enjoy each other’s company, drink a beer together rather than on a Zoom call! We’ll go back to the offices we’ve abandoned over the last few weeks. We’ll go back to meeting face-to-face at least some of the time.

But we’re also learning that we can be as productive, or even more productive, working virtually than we can meeting in real life. (Ignoring, of course, the truly inexplicable fascination with compelling TV like Tiger King!)

  • Traveling for meetings or learning events is expensive and time consuming.

  • Much information transfer can be handled as effectively and more efficiently in a virtual environment.

  • Traditional training and develop can often be delivered far more effectively remotely/virtually than in a traditional training/classroom session.

  • From a broad economic and societal perspective, the costs of physical space and the personal and environmental costs of commuting to and from offices to do work that can be done from home, is enormous.

So, the “next normal’ almost certainly includes a much greater level of virtual work and collaboration than the pre-COVID19 “old normal.”

Making Virtual Work Work

Being productive and working in a virtual environment will cause us to RETHINK…

1)… how work gets done

Working virtually allows us to organize work more effectively.

We facilitated a virtual strategy session for a client with 15 people in six different locations. The session was built around traditional thinking of a physical meeting for a full day session. The virtual session went great, far better than anyone expected. But it was clear…two hours into the 8-hour session…that holding 2 or 3 shorter sessions might have generated better analysis and conversation about the organization’s strategy than one 8-hour session.

If you assume that people need to physically meet, the “full-day” design makes sense. You’re not going to put 15 people from 6 different locations on planes for a 2-hour meeting, then do it again the next week, and then, again, a third week.

But, if you rethink how the work gets done, meeting virtually allows you to break the work into more logical chunks and generate better outcomes without the waste of time and energy spent traveling.

2) …the “logistics” of work

Check your technology – I was talking to a leader of her company’s information technology team last week. Her organization had re-deployed their team to work from home. They first hurdle they had to jump: many of the organization’s IT people didn’t have adequate cameras, microphones and/or speakers on their computers! If the IT folks don’t have the right technology, what are the odds that everyone else does?

Evolve your tools – In a virtual world, we can’t lose sight (pun intended) of the need to maintain human contact. Skype calls, Zoom or MS Teams conferences with the video turned on are far more engaging and build better connections than relying solely on emails, texts or even voice-only calls. Tools like Slack and MS Teams can help you better organize group work, make information available to the people who need them and allow instantaneous conversations that actually keep people better connected than they might be in a physical environment.

Maintain focus and minimize distractions – Yeah, we love the videos of your cats, dogs, kids, etc. wandering through during video conferences. Those are incredibly human and endearing moments but keeping them to a minimum is probably a pretty good idea! And, please, whatever else you take away from this post, remember to turn off your camera and MUTE YOUR PHONES when taking bio breaks!

3) …our thinking about people

Managers against #WFH arrangements often argue that they believe that people working from home will be “less productive.” That sounds like code for the Theory X assumptions about people outlined by Douglas McGregor in The Human Side of Enterprise (McGraw Hill, 1960)! Theory X leaders believe people are lazy, don’t like work and have to be coerced, controlled and directed to get anything done. In the manager’s view, people will only be productive if I can see them work!

Most people like work and want to make a contribution (McGregor’s Theory Y). But they often perform far below what’s possible, even when working in the same location with their leaders because we don’t effectively align people to the most critical outcomes.

When working virtually, it’s even more important to focus attention on what we call the “Performance Gears” in our forthcoming book, Get in Gear: The 7 Gears that Drive Strategy-to-Results. Leaders must proactively work to set Result-oriented Goals, Build Visible Scorecards, Identify the Performance Drivers (critical tasks and behaviors) and Establish a consistent Follow-up/Follow-through process.

We will get through the COVID crisis hopefully with everyone safe and healthy. On the other side of the crisis will be a next normal in which we will work differently, and almost certainly more virtually than we did before.

Get ready for “Virtual” being our new “Reality.”

Intrigued by what you’re reading? Download our white paper on converting strategy into execution and learn more about us by visiting our website. WhiteWater International Consulting, Inc. helps organizations understand the challenges they face and helps enterprises achieve and sustain outstanding performance through unleashing the passion and capabilities of its people. Because an organization is only as good at the people who power it.

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