The right balance between tradition work structure and virtual work culture can unlock new potential for businesses.
Keara Dowd is a web editor for BizTech, joining the magazine after honing her journalism skills in local news. When not working, you can usually find her cheering on D.C.’s sports team, training for half marathons, or checking out the newest restaurants.
Ever since workforces were sent home to work remotely, there’s a phrase that has been making its way through boardrooms and among business leaders: “The new normal.” For weeks, managers have been trying out different workflows and implementations to find the right way to maintain productivity during a time of deep uncertainty and transition.
It’s a daunting task, according to organizational strategy consultant Crystal Kadakia. “This is a very complex challenge, I can’t overstate that,” Kadakia said while addressing the CDW Future of Work Virtual SummIT.
But on the other side of that complexity lies a great opportunity for businesses to take the best of both old school industrial work structures and the new virtual future, the The Millennial Myth author said.
“It’s the blend,” said Kadakia. “And it’s finding the best blend for your organization.”
This temporary glimpse into a 100 percent virtual workforce is pushing organizations to take steps they otherwise wouldn’t, she says. While a lot of business would resist this transformation in the past by dismissing it as a generational issue or problem for just one department to solve, they are now forced to adopt some aspects of virtual work culture to stay afloat.
And adopting three cultural changes in particular will prepare organizations to succeed in the world that this crisis leaves behind.
Businesses Should Break the Mindless Cycle of Doing
One of the pillars of the industrial workforce culture was structure, Kadakia says. Employees would show up at a certain time, complete tasks, and then go home where they would complete more tasks.
“It’s very much a culture of doing,” she said. “The issue with that is we get addicted to doing. We start doing the ‘whats’ over the ‘whys.’”
This stemmed from an emphasis placed on efficiency and, therefore, repetition. When employees are focused on completing specific tasks, they’re not always able to take a step back to think about whether those tasks are the right way to achieve the goal.
Giving employees the freedom to take that approach can lead to enhanced productivity, says Kadakia.
“How can you empower self-management, and release the controls of that structure?” she said.
This approach can be particularly useful now, as employees struggle with the balance between work and home lives. It is something that must be confronted for workers to be able to move through it.
“You can’t put a square peg in a round hole,” Kadakia said. “You are at home. Work and home are intertwined.”
Create a Culture That Fosters Deep, Boundless Connection
Another opportunity ripe for the taking is expanding community. Before this crisis, people often built their connections based on proximity, interacting only with the people they came in contact with at work or during other activities. But with those interactions taken away, many workers have been struggling.
“The idea of being isolated is really hard for people,” Kadakia said.
The result is that connection now has to be sought out, and because it’s all virtual, it’s no longer limited by geography.
“There’s more intentional connection-building than ever before,” Kadakia said. “You have greater relational energy, because you’re spending time building the relationships you choose.”
For the workplace, an important part of this is maintaining face-to-face interactions, even if that is virtual. Kadakia said that some organizations who don’t have videoconferencing in place have resorted to text messages for communication, something that’s been less than ideal for everyone.
“Even if you don’t have the culture of it, you need to build it,” she said.
Allow Diversity to Boost Productivity
A new way of working is allowing for new ways of thinking, Kadakia said, something that wasn’t as readily available in industrial work culture.
“When our goal of the organization’s culture is efficiency and repetition, one way is inherently preferred,” she said. “We still really struggle with inviting diversity of thought to the table, and then how to bring that together for a path forward.”
One side effect of employees working from home is that the lines between work and personal are blurred. One way this has been positive is that coworkers are able to see others’ lives firsthand, creating a sense of community and deeper empathy for their situation.
“Maybe in the old-school world you could segment out your work and home life, but in this virtual culture, that’s impossible,” said Kadakia. “Now, that’s everyone’s problem.”
Creating a culture where employees feel valued for their differences can help unlock new ideas, strategies and ways of thinking.
“We’re reorienting toward unleashing individuality in a large-scale way,” said Kadakia. “That’s where the innovation comes from. Innovation doesn’t come from everyone saying the same thing.”