Once upon a time in 2017
The ability to work remotely or work from home is a discussion that started before covid between HR and tech employees in many tech companies. The rise of fiber and high bandwidth networks associated with very powerful and simple to use new video conferencing systems like Zoom, Teams and Google Meet makes this a hot topic already in 2017.
Many of Tech and finances jobs can be done remotely since they mostly require a computer and a network access with a VPN to secure the access to company dat
And suddenly 2020 arrived
The world lockdown that started in 2020 dramatically accelerated the move to remote work by setting this as a new work standard in a night and for several months in many countries. This was in fact less challenging than having to define eighteen months later what will be the new work organization once lockdown ended.
The Work from Home for everyone after the quick adaptation of the employees brings several unexpected outcomes beyond the work life balance and time saved thanks to not moving from home to office.
For some companies that have teams across several geographies or offices it puts everyone in the same collaboration context. The side discussions at the coffee machine or in the open space are no longer possible and this makes everyone equally accessible whatever their initial office location. This surprisingly brings more communications between these geographically spread teams.
Another nice benefit is your ability to recruit talent without having to worry anymore about their geographical position as long as they are in the same country for legal and contractual purposes. This gives you a better chance to hire the right technical skills for your teams.
But in the meantime, all the direct unplanned discussions that people had on site almost disappeared, so as the belonging to a team/company feeling. This is a reason why companies try to make people come back to the office.
2022: managing tech teams in a new work organization
Most companies are now dealing with what we call Hybrid work organization mixing Work from home and onsite. It usually comes with a new physical organization of the workplace with Flex offices where people take a place that is available and no longer have a dedicated desk, but rather a dedicated locker.
This brings new challenges for the managers of tech teams.
First many IT individual contributors are very happy working remotely and don’t really see the point of coming back to the office especially if you can’t have the whole team in a same place because of the flex organization. Some peoples are re-located far from the office or have been hired in another region during the full remote period.
So first challenge for the manager is to make the company rules apply to anyone with fairness while avoiding churn of remote lovers or far from office ones.
Then team spirit in almost 18 months of remote work is weakened. People while they stay focus on their day-to-day activity and assigned tasks lose the contact with the company, other people and the social interactions on company events.
Challenge for the managers is to succeed in creating this team spirit while now roughly half of the work time is at home.
The individual management is harder too. Feeling when someone is not going well or has new expectations requires even more attention in hybrid mode. Having regular 1 to 1 with people is key, but they should not be only focused on operational/Backlog topics to have a chance to identify when people are no longer in line with the team or the company strategy.
The challenge for the manager is to adapt the interactions with each team member to manage their expectations and the objectives set to them with less face to face interactions.
Managing innovation in a remote organization
Another interesting point has been raised by some companies on spontaneous innovation lack when people are not in the same place. Some new ideas come out of unplanned discussions or white board sessions and when people are longer in the office this doesn’t happen. This is the reason why some tech companies are blunt on making people come back to the office to ensure that these innovation opportunities are not missed.
As a manager fostering this technical cooperation and discussions is key and will also illustrate the value of coming back on site beyond the social link it creates between team members.
A research director I met one day loved this quote: “None of us is smarter than all of us”. This is a nice way of reminding people that challenging our ideas and build together is faster, more efficient and in the end more satisfying because you share success.