Back in graduate school, in my electric-fish-research phase, my advisor won a National Geographic grant that took the two of us to Gabon. One of the terms of the grant was that National Geographic had first right of refusal for any photographs we took.

At the time I fancied myself a professional-grade photographer, and so it was that we each sent in the best we’d taken while on the trip. My photos were crisp, well-composed, and attractive.

National Geo’s response: “While your photographs are technically well executed, here at National Geographic we like to have a bit of life in the ones we use.”

But you aren’t reading Keep the Joint Running for tips on taking better pictures, let alone getting the tips from someone whose photos earned a rejection slip.

So instead (drumroll) … here are some tips on IT management that are derived from parallels drawn from what I’ve learned about that subject. Some are more of a stretch than others, so I’m including some recent photos to keep your attention.

Tip#1: Know the current state

Green heron at rest

When shooting (for example) a green heron, capture it at rest while you can. Motion is harder; don’t miss the shot altogether.

When figuring out your IT management priorities, make sure you understand your department’s current state – “at rest,” so to speak – before you start making plans for motion … for change where change might be needed.

Tip#2: Notice motion

It’s doing something. Not sure what …

Capturing motion makes for better photos. Recognizing motion in your organization gives you a chance to reinforce that you value initiative right away, when it occurs. Even if what you’re seeing is just random movement, you can still take advantage of it as an object lesson in what you want to see.

Tip#3: Listen

It’s talking! Are you listening?

Observation is an important tool in your toolkit – so much so that for many managers one of their top priorities right now is figuring out how to engage in “management by calling around” with remote employees, for whom management by walking around doesn’t work.

But beyond observation, pay attention when employees take the initiative to vocalize in your general direction. When the sound is coming from a green heron it might be trying to let you know you’re getting on its nerves.

When your employees are making sounds in your general direction they just might let you know something important about what’s getting on their nerves, even if it isn’t you.

You just have to pay attention.

Tip#4: Give your subject some space

Wait! I didn’t get the shot yet!

When photographing an interesting subject (in this case a great blue heron) it’s tempting to go for the close up. But that can backfire – you get the motion National Geographic likes, but at the risk that what it you’re trying to capture in motion doesn’t want to stick around while you take more photos of it.

When managing IT you might be tempted to get the results you need by overseeing the work that’s getting done too closely. Not every IT professional will sit still for managers who get too close, either. They’ll call it micromanagement and even if they’re wrong they’re right, because there are no precise metrics for identifying micromanagement.

Only gripes when it’s perceived.

Bob’s last word: There’s a near-iron-clad law of avian photography – birds have a remarkably precise ability to know the exact focal length of the lens you’re shooting photos with, and the exasperating habit of perching just beyond what that focal length will support.

It isn’t all about the lens. But the right lens sure does help.

Great glass does make a big difference. But patience can make an even greater difference.

With your employees, providing the best tools of the trade is the parallel to shooting photos with the right equipment. It can make a big difference in employee performance.

But as with photography, when it comes to encouraging the best performance, patience counts for even more.

Bob’s sales pitch: It’s time for you to hop over to again to read the next article in my “IT 101” series. This time the subject is technical architecture. And if you don’t mind, take the time to let me know what you think of the series so far.

Oh, no, not another quadrant chart!

Sorryyyy. But quadrant charts do have their uses. In today we’ll use one to help clarify whether, in our rapidly emerging post-COVID-19 world, employees who were shifted to remote work as a result of the pandemic should shift back to working on premises.

Start with a typical scenario: Executive leadership wants employees back at their desks. Many of its employees, though, having grown accustomed to the flexibility working remotely provides, are unhappy with this direction and are pushing back.

Which brings us to Lewis’s Law #Beats me, I stopped counting a long time ago. The law states that if a decision hinges on personal preferences, everyone involved is engaged in the wrong conversation.

Possibly because I’m a founding member of Sarcastics Anonymous, whenever I hear someone start with the words “I want …” I have to restrain myself from answering, “Well, I want a pony. And a Robot Commando™, and a … ”

That the executives want employees back at their desks, just doesn’t, or at least shouldn’t matter, any more than it matters that employees will happily comply, so long as the desks they’re back at are comfortably located in their home office.

What does matter is the nature of the work each employee is responsible for. Which brings us to this week’s dreaded Quadrant o’ Doom.

In this quadrant, the vertical axis denotes the extent to which process management and oversight are important factors in what it takes for those in a given role to do their work. The horizontal axis represents the importance of relationships, trust, and team dynamics.

The chart suggests that:

  • When neither process oversight nor relationships are important for an employee to get work done, it’s a role for which working remotely is a particularly good fit.
  • When relationships aren’t particularly important but process oversight (and by implication, direct supervision) is important, working remotely still can make sense, but only to the extent that automated process monitoring is available so the responsible managers can make sure work is being done correctly and at speed.
  • In situations where relationships are important but process management isn’t, employees need to be physically present for at least part of most work weeks. Not all, but enough to interact face to face. That provides a foundation for building the trust and alignment that are the heart of healthy team dynamics. This quadrant is labeled hoteled because in this situation, employees aren’t assigned to permanent cubicle locations. They park in an available cubicle when they’re on premise; someone else parks in that cubicle on a different day.
  • And finally, when both process management and interpersonal relationships are essential to success, the employees who do this work are needed on premises.

Bob’s last word: Without a doubt, this Quadrant o’ Doom is oversimplified. It’s also entirely possible that its basic dimensions of analysis – process management and relationships – aren’t even the most important determinants.

But the underlying premise – that determining whether a given employee should be allowed to work remotely or required to work on premises must depend on the nature of the work, not the personal preferences of anyone involved in the decision – is fundamental.

As a fringe benefit, starting the decision process by building out a framework, whether it’s the one described here or something completely different, can de-escalate what can otherwise become dysfunctional conflicts between management and staff that can cripple the organization’s ability to function.

Bob’s sales pitch: Not really a sales pitch, but if you have a different framework for making decisions regarding remote vs on-premises employees and are willing to share it, please post it in the Comments so the KJR community can take it into account in their own workforce planning.