At ConvergenceCoaching®, we are huge proponents of remote and flexible work, or what we like to call Anytime, Anywhere Work™ (ATAWW). We’ve been working under an ATAWW paradigm ourselves for over 21 years, allowing us to hone our skills and develop the necessary philosophical mindsets to support this way of working.
Today, most firms are working toward a blended approach to work, with some working in the office, at client locations, from home or from “anywhere.” To embrace a blended workforce and create workability within teams, we must strive to be consistent, fair and transparent. In this post, we’ll explore what that means.
Consistency: When we’re being consistent, all departments and operational areas offer flexibility around the place that work gets completed. That flexibility will vary depending on the client situation or the nature of the work, but leaders must buy-in to the philosophical values of flexibility and strive to apply the principles with their team members.
As firms transition to a truly flexible workplace, they often encounter resistance and therefore inconsistencies. Here are a few common pitfalls to watch for and mitigate:
- “Not on my jobs” or “Not in our department.” Some Partners, Managers or Engagement Leaders will seem to buy-in to flex philosophies, while later they’ll individually follow different protocols or raise objections that block team members from participating in the firm’s blended culture. As an example, at a Leadership meeting, a Partner might nod and agree that remote and blended is a viable strategy to help build and strengthen the talent pipeline. Later, a manager serving as engagement leader of the XYZ company audit proposes a remote audit due to long team member commutes and poor working conditions at the XYZ company site. It isn’t uncommon for us to see the Partner react with resistance, something like “that will never work,” without stopping to explore the request fully. Remote and flex are not “all or nothing,” and certain (yet increasingly fewer) jobs will need to be completed in-person. That said, leaders should watch for instances where they are objecting instead of looking at ways to move to a truly blended culture.
- “Our people have to earn the right the work remotely, so we only allow managers and up to take advantage of remote work.” This is outdated thinking that doesn’t apply when there’s a tight talent pipeline. Firms across the country ARE allowing their staff and seniors to work remotely, even as interns or first-year hires. To stay competitive, firms must rise above this concern and look for ways to make it work for all levels. Set clear expectations for performance and check in with individuals regularly to ensure they stay on track.
- “Staff need to be onsite so they can learn from more senior team members.” With the technology nearly all firms have in place today, learning and development can happen no matter where people are working. More important than place of work is a commitment to learning and setting aside time intentionally to transfer skills. Additionally, as Partners and Managers work in a blended manner, they won’t necessarily be onsite or available in an in-person or 3-D manner. Instead, staff and leaders will connect over the phone and video to further projects and transfer skills.
- “Our admin team members can’t work remotely due to the nature of their work.” This is also outdated thinking based on old paradigms. Instead, group certain tasks that can be completed from anywhere and allow your admin or operational people to work from home to manage those specific tasks. With most phone systems, even incoming calls can be forwarded and answered from a non-office location. Challenge your admin team members to develop more digital processes to facilitate more remote or blended work.
Firms should encourage their team members to kindly point out when individual firm leaders are not consistently embracing the principles of flexibility and blended work. Work together to make incremental progress towards a consistent blended or “more remote” leadership approach.
Parity: Ideally, you’ll create an environment where onsite and remote employees have a similar experience and similar opportunities when working for the firm. Contrast that with the historical remote employee who might work hard “behind the scenes” but was not considered a viable option for progression into a leadership role. In a blended environment, these old ways of thinking must be discarded so firms can truly leverage all of their talents.
To put parity into practice, firms must look at how they offer opportunities to advance and ensure that remote talent are given fair consideration. For instance, are the firm’s “A” clients only managed by people working in the office? Are people in the office given preferential treatment when the firm is scheduling or assigning work? If so, why? When you create a new committee to implement a technology stack in the CAS department, are remote members of the team allowed to participate in the selection committee or the pilot of the new technology?
In addition to these philosophical refinements, there are tactical changes to make that will support a fair experience for those working remotely:
- Going forward, all meetings should be hosted with a video and dial-in option.
- Conference rooms must be updated with additional cameras and microphones to allow those connecting virtually to see who is talking and hear what is said. A larger screen may be required in the conference room so those onsite can see the remote meeting participants.
- When hosting firm-wide “fun” events, include a blend of in-person and remote activities.
Firm leaders should commit to working remotely on a regular basis to learn from the experience and gain empathy for those working outside the office. Some leaders might work a few days a week from elsewhere, while others may do so only once a month. Either way, it will help move leaders away from saying “I can’t work remotely” to “I’m trying out remote work and parts of it are working for me.” To be a firm that truly embraces a blended environment, it takes leaders who are shedding old stories and striving to understand and successfully employ team members no matter where they work.
Transparency: There are times when in-person work is required, like in-person, traditional networking events, an annual lunch with a client’s finance team, or when working with a key client whose documentation is highly paper-based. In these instances, firms may need to make assignments to team members who can be easily onsite. As firm leaders, we should be transparent about those in-person or proximity-based decisions and explain why in-person is being required. When leaders “talk straight” and disclose their thinking, it builds trust among team members. In addition, when the team understands the thought process behind a decision, they are better able to input to it or offer alternative suggestions for how to handle it. Transparency is critical to building a trusting blended team that works together toward successful client and team outcomes.
Change rarely occurs instantly like a light switch; instead, we make incremental progress through small adjustments in mindset and actions. What changes does your team need to make to support remote and blended teams? What old norms do you need to shed? Where can you be more consistent, fair and transparent? Tweak your approach and watch trust build, creating more engaged and motivated team members in the process.