CIO Paul Blowers describes the past 16 months at accounting firm Plante Moran as a “fantastic experience” getting work done. All the while, Blowers have bent, reconfigured, and stress-tested their 120-person IT team mostly remotely to determine how well their productivity, creativity, and culture can survive the pandemic.
The experience has proven successful, and the company is making hybrid work permanent. Blowers are now monitoring the long-term effects that permanent hybrid work will have on teamwork.
“Feeding relationships are very important. We expect to do thought jams, war rooms, and brainstorming meetings in person. I think they are very productive when you can use the board and read nonverbal cues around the room. But we are also investing in technology so that virtual participants can be a part of those sessions” . He adds that it is a work in progress.
Most CIOs face similar major experiences as hybrid work environments become permanent. They evaluate team structures that have worked remotely and look to replicate them, while balancing innovation, collaboration, mentorship and culture transfer, which have traditionally been done in person.
About 30% of IT leaders surveyed by IDC said they favor an “internet first” policy of collaboration, and practices initiated during the pandemic are likely to continue indefinitely. While many workers say they’ve been more productive working remotely, that doesn’t always mean better teamwork.
Says Aaron de Smet, Senior Partner at McKinsey and Co. , who spoke at the IDG Future of Work Summit in October.
“Companies are starting to turn their attention to a hybrid workforce, but I don’t think they’ve been able to break the shape of hybrid interactions. More work people are doing is now part of a cross-functional team. It’s part of a collaborative effort… where the big room might be And a whiteboard is useful, but not all of that,” says de Smet. He adds that few organizations have operated in fully hybrid mode so far, so IT teams should expect more cultural change and uncertainty in the future.
CIOs are studying this, and five topics appear in the new structure for mixed teamwork.
There are no written rules – but flexibility in developing guidelines
Most CIOs say that teamwork dynamics vary by role and the personal working styles of those on the team. Some roles are vertical geometry, while others focus on relationship. CIOs leave it to each team leader to decide how to get the work done most effectively.
Plante Moran’s new employment policy gives the division the flexibility to work with employees to make those day-to-day decisions about where employees work based on the type of work they do and where they will be most productive.
“We don’t have written rules, but employees need to ‘manage their mix’ and find time to stay in the office when it matters,” Blowers says. “Know the moments that matter and build your schedule around them.”
Owens Corning CIO Steve Zerby wanted to avoid delegations during the percentage of time an IT team of 200 people should be in the office each week, or what days of the week they should be present. He met with the top managers of his group and asked each of them how best to get the work done on their team. Each group came back in very similar ways.
The teams agreed that the best single procedure for performance reviews, promotions, and salary discussions is in person.
Meetings involving team members in different parts of the country are remote for everyone, even if some of the attendees are in the same office. “It was the right way to equalize participation in the meeting,” Zerbe says.
Meetings that are scheduled to be longer than half a day are held in person. “Everyone admits that this is probably better than sitting in front of the camera for four hours,” he says. He adds that there are exceptions to these rules as circumstances change.
Add technology to equalize opportunities and improve employee experience
Digital transformation technologies—many of which were already in place before the pandemic—help facilitate permanent mixed teamwork, but videoconferencing and communication tools still need fine-tuning.
For example, participants in group meetings with a near-equal mix of conference room attendees and others at a distance often describe the situation as awkward. To address this, companies like Sage Therapeutics are researching technologies that help create a fair meeting environment for both in-person and remote attendees.
The biotech company is testing video technology that gives everyone attending in a meeting room their own frame in a collaborative session, with those frames displayed in the same way as remote attendees. “This experience greatly improves for people on the far side of it,” says Matt Lasmanis, chief technology and innovation officer. “We figure out that if you can make it similar to a full remote meeting, then [participation] It’s actually getting better.”
Remote workers also hate long, back-to-back meetings, and technology vendors are developing ways to save workers time. Slack rolls out a video and audio messaging tool that enables workers to send short recordings to colleagues instead of scheduling lengthy meetings, another example of the growing trend toward “asynchronous” communication.
Simplify work in smaller teams
Some CIOs find that smaller groups are better when it comes to decision making and listening.
At real estate investment firm Waterton Associates, having a small IT group has made the company smarter during the pandemic, says Douglas Pierce, senior vice president of technology. While many workgroups tend to include as many stakeholders in video conferences as possible, “we try to determine who attends versus people who don’t need to be there,” says Pierce. “You just have to make sure you have the right people in the room to make decisions.”
To simplify productivity among IT groups, Sage has created a transformation desk, the “glue” that brings all of its initiatives together, Lasmanis says. “She has vision in all of the strategic projects we do. All of our professors of Project Management, Agile, Scrum sit within this shift office structure and act as a coordinating vehicle so that we have a radar screen for all the changes we’re trying to implement.”
Renew your mind in the office
Companies that let employees choose whether to come into the office are discovering that younger IT employees crave personal teamwork and direction.
A year after giving Owens Corning employees the option to return to their offices, Zerbee discovered that about 70% of IT employees who regularly work in the office had less than five years of experience, leaving a void of mentors and personal leaders.
For this early-career employee, “The whole mystery of how to get work done hasn’t been discovered, so they appreciate having a colleague on hand, or a manager who can teach. For more senior employees, managing to result is something they feel more comfortable with because they know How to get the work done.
The solution involved aligning the management team with a new, higher recall. “Right now, the ability to direct, listen and teach is more important than being able to manage,” he says.
Today, for every two to three people early in their careers in an IT group, that team manager is in the office a lot, he says.
This type of intentional leadership is gaining traction with IT leaders. It requires regular contact with individual employees and more time in the office.
“I used to be a big believer in management by walking around — stopping to chat, smiling in the hallway, checking on someone,” says Blunt Moran Blowers. “Now you have to be very intentional in a hybrid environment. You won’t have extra pitfalls, so you have to be intentional for quick video check-ins. And when you’re in the office, you have to make yourself more available – don’t attend that many meetings, make your door Open, get casual contact time.”
De Smet’s advice for leading a hybrid workplace: “Pay attention to the technological and human side of things. Technology makes more things possible, but at the same time the human side is more important than ever. We need to re-establish relationships and tap into the creative side of what they offer,” as he says. “Keep an open mind and an inquisitive mindset, and we will learn some new norms.”