June 16, 2020

How to seed a remote work culture that strengthens your company

This post is based on content from remotify.work’s self-paced course for remote teams and team-leaders. The course is delivered in bite-sized chunks by Intao’s digital mentor.

Click here to find out more.

Remote working is here to stay

Surveys of employees (like this one) and polls of managers (like this one and this one) show that there’s strong demand for remote working and widespread intention to continue to enable it as COVID restrictions are relaxed.  To retain talent, and especially to attract new talent, companies have to incorporate remote working into their tool kit.  The question is not whether to do it, but how to succeed with it.

COVID lockdown measures mean that there have been seismic shifts in the landscape for many businesses.  Not only have operating procedures been torn up, but the markets companies serve have been scrambled.  How should companies navigate their way to new practices in these circumstances?

Cynefin: accept the uncertainty and act

The Cynefin framework gives a useful perspective on the organisational shock that’s just occurred - and advises how to behave in response.  In the framework, situations are in one of five categories:

  • Obvious: cause-and-effect relationships are understood, options are clear.  Follow pre-determined best practice.
  • Complicated: cause-and-effect relationships are known, but not easy to see.  There are a lot of moving parts.  Apply expertise to decide on responses.
  • Complex: there are many unknowns. Predictions cannot be reliable, though analysis after an action is possible.  Conduct experiments that are safe to fail and react to what is learnt.
  • Chaotic: cause and effect are not clear and analysis doesn’t help.  Act fast and decisively to deal with emergencies. Establish order to transform the situation into a Complex one.
  • Disorder: none of the other categories applies.  Break down the situation into smaller parts that can be categorised.

One insight of Dave Snowden, Cynefin’s creator, is that learning about a situation generally yields progress from Disorder, through Chaotic, Complex and Complicated, to Obvious.  Much of what seems obvious now about how to lead and manage your organisation once seemed opaque and confusing.  Another insight is that, when there is a catastrophic failure in an Obvious context, the situation becomes Chaotic.

COVID plunged many organisations into Chaos.  As the need for decisive, urgent responses to the emergency tails off, the situation now moves to the Complex domain.  This calls for experimentation and a culture where it is safe to take risks and learn from failure.  And therein lies a fabulous opportunity: you can transform your processes to set them up for future success - as long as you have a culture that makes it possible.

Long before COVID, numerous companies - mainly in the software industry - have pioneered remote team working.  In these companies, employee engagement, retention and performance is reportedly higher than office-bound competitors.  Culture plays a huge part. 

Many of the pioneers documented their experiments, failures and successes in blogs, podcasts and articles.  Some go so far as to ‘open source’ their company handbooks.  By learning from these chronicles, experimentation to discover your organisation’s ‘new normal’ can be accelerated.

Remote work culture fundamentals

Every situation is different, so the focus of your experimentation will need to be tailored to your specific needs (remotify.work can help with that!).  That said, there are common themes in the success stories describing the cultures that support effective remote work:

  • Accept the situation as it is, without wishing it or forcing it to be what it’s not.  Only by acknowledging how things are now, which could be very different than 6 months ago, can you be free to experiment with radical changes and spot the largest opportunities.
  • Relationships between people are the bedrock of innovation and team-work.  Pay extra attention to forming and maintaining trusting, authentic relationships.  Set aside time, encourage and support team and relationship-building activities.
  • Share information as widely as possible - default to transparency.  Organise information so that anyone who has a use for it can find it.  Encourage and enable anyone to contribute updates and improvements to shared knowledge repositories.
  • Be clear about your organisation’s purpose and values.  Ensure that purpose and values shine through consistently in all words and deeds.
  • Enable autonomy and flexibility in work styles.  Command-and-control doesn’t work in a distributed team.  Provide information about context, strategies and goals.  Agree what results you’re looking for and how you will track progress, then trust and enable staff to their best work.

This post is based on content from remotify.work’s self-paced course for remote teams and team-leaders. The course is delivered in bite-sized chunks by Intao’s digital mentor.

Click here to find out more.

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