The Remote Working Dilemma - will it be a Game-Changer for IT?

Originally posted on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/remote-working-game-changer-david-stewart/

This article discusses why I think service team managers would usually have concern if their teams were to be substantially home-based forevermore.


Following this train of thought, it then questions whether the pandemic's forced workplace adjustment has triggered what will be a seismic change for IT because Enterprise Service Management projects now need sharp focus, not only for the benefits of a digital modus operanti, but because service teams need a robust managerial wrapper.

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I posted a LinkedIn poll this week with the question "You manage a distributed service team. Would you prefer to have visibility into all activity of each team member? "


Options:


“Yes”


“Yes & for office staff as well”


“No”


Firstly, a comment on context...


It's possible some contributors might have taken the question a little differently to how I intended. Most obvious perhaps is that comprehensive productivity information is a fair representation of individual contribution, something that would be great for performance reviews. So, some of the 26% of respondents who answered “Yes & for office staff as well” might recognise that having this data would be very useful regardless of it also serving to manage under-performers if ever needed for this purpose.


We can quite confidently state however that at least 75% of respondents haven't seen real issues in office team management, that they recall at least.

Additionally - with just over a third answering "No", we can be pretty sure that this cohort are doing/ have done/ feel they would do a very good job of closely managing their team, so to build strong ties and implicit trust with each and every team member, always.


Achieving this is a great thing and indeed I think few would disagree that building trust should be a primary objective for any team manager in any function.


Trust is a frequent thread of comment and discussion surrounding the “new normal”.

Healthy, trusted remote teams can quite easily be maintained in project based functions because they're always on Microsoft Teams (or similar), with a real need to have once or twice daily catch-up meetings.


Problem is, service teams are different. The essential ingredient for building trust between manager and team - close working relationships - just isn't possible in many situations, even when office based. It's likely for this reason (if it's not a leap to frame it in this way), that...

two thirds expect there would sometimes be concerns surrounding performance or attendance within a remote team.

I would suggest that really though, all office based service teams need thorough work activity information. This is because beyond motivational and performance review benefits, there might be a difficult-to-manage team member in the future.


Furthermore, service provision is very much (but not entirely of course) a quantitative endeavour, to keep service response and time-to-fulfil at an acceptable level. So why, therefore, would you not want this information anyway? If a team member is considerably weaker in their activity level, their manager ideally will work more closely with them.


But getting back to the main point...


Close working relationships build trust.
Trust on both sides is absolutely essential.
But in service teams, trust is often impossible to build and maintain.

As coincidence would have it, I found myself chatting with an ex-colleague just this week and when I asked why he had moved-on to a new employer, his answer was that trust with management had been lost.


I don't know any more about the reason in his case but I worked with his manager as well for a few months, so I can share the departmental situation and what I think probably happened.


His manager worked very long hours. Their scope of responsibilities was such that there really wasn’t time to work closely with the team. Despite the department having the market leading service management tool, it was used for little more than logging and closing service tickets. Their outsourced service provider - one of the biggest in the world - worked completely differently but hadn't (as far as I'm aware) been engaged to advise on how to improve the internal team's way of working.


What's more, there was a complete absence of meeting rooms - all had been taken over for other purposes. Then finally, to really exacerbate ingredients for a perfect storm, the affected colleague was out on site very often - pretty much a remote worker.


This is quite an extreme example, but it makes the point very well.

If management has no option but to leave their team alone with no visibility into activity and performance, when things aren't going well, behavioural suspicion might very easily come into play.

As we know, suspicion tends to weigh on the mind and manifest. I'm sure all diligent managers must have experienced this at one time or another. If it continues, suffering because of a lack of accurate, balanced facts that should come from sound data and discussions, suspicion can become dangerous.


It's a horrible thing. If nothing is done about it, it remains in the manager’s head, which is no good. To do something about it, the individual might be put on a performance review. If this is justified only with weak reasons/ a lack of good information, it will be felt to be unfair, probably because it is.


Well, most veterans of the workplace will know what usually happens from there. The team falls apart.


Managers who fall foul to this create bad culture and what feels like an unpleasant place to work.

I could go on, about the much touted "good people leave managers, not jobs" but how it's not (in my view) actually the manager's fault because they've just fallen foul of what might be called the "Vicious cycle of operational immaturity", and I will in a post coming soon. For the time being, I'll wrap this one up.


My ex-colleague worked in a small team.

Naturally, the larger a team, the more difficult (or impossible) it is to develop and maintain strong relationships and trust.

Then...

The challenge of working closely with your team will always be harder if physically remote, so the risk of disengagement and bad culture goes up.

So, how can we counter this major inadequacy wherever it exists?


With good metrics, of course.
Ideally, managers would "manage by exception", and team members would see precisely what they've been contributing, through useful activity and performance information at their fingertips.

For an IT department, to achieve this, a process and tool-based capability must be introduced that drives support team members to keep work records updated at all times.

This is, after all, primarily what IT service management tools are designed for.

Then, with a very flexible tool and good data querying/ Dashboard design, managers can know exactly what’s going on, always, across the board.

The result: peace of mind and manageability.

As a team manager myself, it's always been the thing I've sought, but nowadays, it must surely be what we're all after, including business leaders.

The majority of CEO's will no doubt realise that a permanent "new normal" just isn't sensible yet for service and ops teams, because their level of operational maturity isn't right.

It will be costly, disliked and potentially non-competitive for businesses to exclude service and ops teams from being home based, however, because it will limit the office downsize opportunity and it seems employees by-and-large prefer at least some home working, especially at the moment, so they might go elsewhere.

I expect, therefore, that operational maturity projects in a very large proportion of businesses will be brought forward quickly.

Big question is then, is this actually happening?

Are organisations already balancing their pandemic-related digital strategy rethink more around internal operational maturity, including Enterprise Service Management (ESM), alongside business transformation projects? Or will service and ops teams be left out, generally being in the office most of the time for years to come?

Answers on a postcard please.


If operational maturity projects are soon to boom, as provider of ESM capabilities, it will be a seismic game-changer for the IT industry.
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