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Why your business may need a director of remote work

8 Oct 2020 By John Blakey

Some companies have already created such a position, reports John Blakey, with leaders needing to make a firm ideological choice on dynamic working over the coming months 

“Dynamic working involves breaking down the remaining blocks of Taylorism.” This simple sentence, shared by one of my HR director coachees, captures the challenge organisations are facing in these uncertain times. Taylorism refers to the field of scientific management founded by FW Taylor in the late nineteenth century. A product of the industrial revolution, at its heart lay a mindset that viewed every business as a factory and all workers as rational, calculating, self-serving agents of GDP. 

Taylorism led to vast productivity improvements and laid the foundations for the automation and globalisation that fuelled 20th-century growth. However, for developed economies with a service sector focus and a reliance on scarce knowledge workers, Taylorism struggled as a viable model for motivating the 21st-century workforce. Before the pandemic, many leaders had already dismantled its building blocks. When lockdown came, it accelerated this trend by instantly creating a home-based workforce.

Post lockdown we have a choice. Organisations can either return to the office nest, or they can implement dynamic working whereby a percentage of the workforce works remotely for a significant portion of their time. Facebook, for example, has made its choice: its 10-year goal is to have 50 per cent of its workforce working remotely. It is advertising for a director of remote work as a board-level, strategic role whose responsibility will be to design its new world of dynamic working. 

Facebook will not be using 'digital Taylorism' to command and control its remote workforce via keystroke monitoring software. It will be motivating and engaging its remote talent by putting trust at the heart of its leadership culture – the sort of trust that neuroeconomist Dr Paul Zak discovered leads to a 74 per cent drop in stress, a 50 per cent increase in productivity and a 76 per cent rise in employee engagement. It trumps Taylorism every day of the week. 

Thankfully, there are models of trust that can help organisations build these new leadership habits. One of these is the Nine Habits of Trust model that came out of six years of research at Aston Business School. Over the past months, our team at The Trusted Executive Foundation has helped leaders use this model to adapt to the new world of work. We have found that all nine habits help build a dynamic working culture, but the following three are particularly critical to boosting motivation and productivity:

Habit 1 – choose to deliver

In the face of alarming uncertainty, many organisations have ripped up the 12-month business plan. What can we replace it with? For this challenge, there is a lot to learn from the agile delivery methods practised in software development. Two-week sprints, daily check-ins and monthly 'retros' create a new language and a new rhythm of work well suited to remote working. Agile delivery cultures create a ROWE – a ‘results-only work environment’, where the focus is on outputs and impact rather than inputs and activities. 

Habit 2 – choose to coach

The agile 'scrum master' is not a manager, she is a coach. She is there to motivate, educate and facilitate the team. She has been trained in specific skills and techniques to excel at that role. Similarly, our own managers will need to take their coaching skills to a new level if dynamic working is to be sustainable. It is one thing to manage a virtual meeting effectively, it is something else to lead a virtual team. Dedicated coaching space will need to be created in our weekly schedules to listen, encourage, motivate and support our colleagues. 

Habit 7 – choose to evangelise

It was author Guy Kawasaki who said: “In the social age, evangelism is everyone's job.” In other words, in the era of dynamic working, we are all responsible for ‘spreading the good news’. An inspiring vision that encompasses positive social impact, as well as financial returns, will be key to binding together remote teams. Such a mission helps remote workers stay motivated when the going gets tough and creates connection with colleagues that is heartfelt and passionate. Without this constant evangelising of the mission, there is a risk remote workers detach from the core organisational purpose and drift into a ‘business as usual’ lethargy.

So what is your choice? Do you want to get people back into the office or do you want to launch your organisation into the uncharted lands of dynamic working where trust is the currency of leadership? This is an ideological choice all leaders will face in the coming months. Don't find yourself in the middle-ground, caught between the rock of the office and the hard place of home working. When it comes to dynamic working, it has got to be a wholehearted 'no' or 'hell yeah'.

Dr John Blakey is CEO of The Trusted Executive Foundation and author of The Trusted Executive 

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