“If you really want to know how someone handles frustration, put them in a long-distance relationship and give them a slow Internet connection.” – Source unknown
Quadrant charts (multidimensional scaling in two dimensions if you want to get all technical about it) are handy tools for visualizing patterns in data. They’re especially handy for oversimplifying complex situations, as several of you pointed out in response to last week’s column on determining which employee roles most and least lend themselves to remote work. Check out the comments: Where your desk should be – IS Survivor Publishing and scroll to the bottom.
And make no mistake about it. My quadrant-oriented analysis, based on the importance of process management and strong interpersonal relationships – was seriously oversimplified. To help de-over-simplify it, here are a few additional random thoughts and comments:
Pre-existing relationships: If relationship building drives the need for a role to be performed on-premises, why should teams that have already formed (and stormed, and normed) have to commute to their on-premises cubicles?
Answer: For pre-established teams, on-site face-to-face interactions might not matter, at least, not at first. But teams aren’t static entities. Over time, some members might “call in rich,” transfer to a different team, or be promoted to a different role. Meanwhile, new members might join and need integration into team functioning. Just my opinion: There isn’t yet a technological substitute for the chemistry of in-person team interaction for building the trust and shared understandings required for maximum team effectiveness.
We can’t be face-to-face anyway: In international enterprises, teams are often composed of members scattered across all latitudes and longitudes (well, maybe not all – few businesses employee Antarcticans or, for that matter, Guamians, but you get the idea). Bringing teams physically together can be too expensive, and the logistics too complicated to be practical.
It’s a key factor in the ability of SMBs (small-to-medium-size businesses) to compete with their larger competitors: They have the advantage of operating out of a single location, with no concerns about what, in an earlier column, I called the “soft bigotry of time zones” and the “softer bigotry of accents.” Cohesion is, in relative terms, easy.
It’s a competitive advantage because SMBs can, for the most part, bring team members together as needed, achieving alignment and trust more quickly and easily through proximity and similarity.
But this isn’t an unmixed blessing. SMBs often suffer from the disadvantage of excessive sameness. When everyone looks and largely thinks alike, “out-of-the-box thinking” and “not-in-the-company thinking” are the same.
Especially, SMB decision-makers are more prone than their larger competitors to assume their customers are just like them.
International or multinational/global businesses face the challenge of achieving the trust and alignment that happen naturally in an SMB, substituting sophistication in the use of collaboration technologies for the simplicity of physical presence.
SMBs face the obverse challenge.
Power: Employers are accustomed to having it; employees are accustomed to … well, to employers having it. But right now (nobody knows how long it will last), good employees are hard to find and know they have some leverage. So an employee’s preference for working remotely can’t just be written off as “That’s why they call it work.”
It’s akin to the early days of unionization. Employers then had to face the jarring realization that they couldn’t just call the shots anymore. Employees could and did negotiate with management from a position of significant strength.
Perhaps there are insights to be gleaned from this history.
Culture: Culture inflates the team-level characteristics of trust and alignment to enterprise scale.
Culture is far too big a subject to squeeze into a space this small. For today, consider that culture is, for the most part, a reflection of leader behavior. In on-premises SMBs the reflection is a high-fidelity image. The larger and more dispersed the organization, the more it’s like what you’d see in a fun-house mirror.
Bob’s last word: If achieving trust and alignment at a team level is hard when interactions are limited to what collaboration technologies allow, promoting a company-wide culture in a large, dispersed enterprise is orders of magnitude harder.
And yet, without a healthy and cohesive culture, leaders might as well relegate themselves to an operating model in which workgroups, departments, and divisions interact as if they’re all outsourcers, delivering their work products to their (gawd) “internal customers’” inputs while negotiating service level agreements that look a lot like arm’s length contracts.
Bob’s sales pitch: My ManagementSpeak cupboard is bare. Keep your ears open and send in your favorite euphemisms, obfuscations, and oxymorons. What you’ll get in return is the admiration of your fellow members of the KJR community (if I can attribute you as the source), or the secret satisfaction that comes from anonymity (if I can’t).