This is the FIRST blog in our series discussing Effective IT Asset Management During COVID-19. This blog focuses on how to manage the productivity of your remote workforce. Over the next few weeks, we will outline the steps you should take to Secure Your Remote Workforce During and After the COVID Pandemic (posting on January 19, 2021) and then we will explain a few of the best-practices that you should follow to Position Your Company for Global Resilience (posting on January 26, 2021).
Most C-level executives can relate to the old saying, “it’s lonely at the top,” and almost every leader shares the same observation that Albert Einstein made: the higher you climb on a corporate ladder, the sparser your trusted relationships become. Sometimes, the isolation stems from the responsibilities weighing heavily on your shoulders, while other times it is caused by the overwhelming changes that are happening around you.
The loneliness that a C-level executive experiences may seem like a small price to pay for the rewards, recognition, and power that come with the job. After all, those who climbed all the way up the corporate ladder often joke, “It might be lonely at the top, but the view from up here is amazing.” Unfortunately, being isolated at the top of your own company can (and often does) compromise your decision-making abilities and reduce the effectiveness of your leadership skills. These same executives tend to be shielded from their organization’s real-world problems and lower-level executives do not grant their more senior counterparts access to the data they need to draw their own conclusions. Often, decision makers are routinely given filtered information about their business operations, employees, and customers. While time-constraints often justify the need for limiting the information that rises to the top, having subordinates decide what information should (and should not) be conveyed to you only worsens your isolation.
The goal of this blog post is to help you—decision makers and influencers alike—better understand two of the most significant driving forces behind your feelings of isolation: overwhelming responsibility and organizational change. Recognizing the differences between these two forces will help you lead your company through today’s catastrophes and position your organization to take advantage of tomorrow’s opportunities.
The Only Constant is Change
Despite the radical changes that have occurred over the past forty years—and, more recently, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic that began in 2020—the fundamentals of leadership have not changed. Leadership is still about mobilizing people in your organization around common goals to achieve targeted objectives. The tried-and-true principles that lifted you to the height of your career are the same ideals that will guide you through these turbulent times. COVID-19 did not suddenly invalidate your college education, years of experience, and knowledge of leadership, but what it did change is this:
- Employees are now working from different locations—many from home—and at different times.
- Supply chains have been disrupted.
- Customer buying habits have changed, making purchasing patterns unpredictable.
- Quarterly earnings and financial projections for 2020 were obliterated, leaving 2021 financial plans in disarray.
- “Contactless” delivery, drive-through windows, and curbside pickup have replaced many face-to-face transactions and customer interactions.
- And the list of changes goes on… but these changes have also paved the way for new (and often better) opportunities.
Around 500 B.C., a Greek philosopher named Heraclitus wrote, “Change is the only constant in life.” Since Heraclitus’ day, his words were slightly modified to say, “The only constant is change.” While the past two thousand years have certainly seen a lot of changes, the pace of change has increased exponentially over a much shorter period—the past forty years.
In the 1980s, for example, the number of executives who sent their own written correspondence was very low or non-existent. Oftentimes, they had their secretary type up a letter and they signed it before it was mailed out (via the U.S. Post Office). The concept of email did not exist for most people until America Online (AOL) launched its first instant messenger application in 1989. Just when you were dozing off at your desk, a perky and familiar voice announced, “You’ve got mail,” which immediately caught your attention and piqued the curiosity of everyone around you. Today, email is the most widely used form of written communication in businesses around the world.
Remember the first recognizable social media website, Six Degrees? No? Most people probably do not remember Six Degrees because it was created way back in 1997 and survived only a few years. It enabled users to upload a profile and make friends with other users. The first blogging sites became popular in 1999, but things really got interesting when Facebook launched in 2004. Like it or not, Mark Zuckerberg made social media platforms a commonly used tool for personal and business users alike.
While these examples of change were all positive (despite any personal “pet peeves” you may have against email and social media), the socio-economic climate in the United States during the time that these innovations happened was highly unstable. Severe economic downturns in the early 1980s through the early 1990s, as well as the collapse in real estate and energy prices during this period, were both outcomes and key precipitating factors in an increasingly unstable financial environment. Depending on your age, you may remember this situation as the Savings & Loan Crisis.
Think About Leadership First, Location Second
When you need to communicate an idea to your executive team, do you find yourself staring out at a sea of empty offices and cubicles (because you feel like you are the only person in the office)? Do you type out instructions on your computer or smart phone, wondering if your team will know how to implement (or even understand) your strategy?
The concept of remote teams does not necessarily mean that everyone is always working outside of the corporate office. Recent news articles report that most teams today are “hybrid” in structure, with a 50/50 split between teams that have full-time and part-time remote employees. However, companies are seeing a fast transition to totally remote or mostly remote structures. Since remote employees represent the fastest growing segment of the workforce, failure to address this paradigm shift now means having to deal with more stress in the future. Unfortunately, many leaders make the mistake of spending too much time worrying about what they do not know, or what might be happening outside of the office, rather than the work itself. Management team members often wonder:
- How do I know that my employees are actually working?
- How can we foster team building when there is no “real” social interaction via webcam?
- Can I be an effective leader when most of my workforce is out of sight?
- Why does it seem like we were more efficient when everyone met in the same conference room?
- Aside from the physical separation, is there a psychological division between the people working from home and those who work in the office? The people in the office seem to “forget” to invite remote workers to their meetings.
- What happened to innovation? We still “get things done,” but I do not see anything remarkable happening anymore.
- Why am I second guessing myself so often? It seems like I am never 100 percent certain about anything and I worry about things that should not affect me.
Decision makers are trusting their instincts and doing the best they can with the resources they have in their largely vacant offices, but they are not finding the support (and tools) they need to run a fully distributed organization. Organizational leadership needs to accept the fact that leading a remote workforce requires a different approach using different tools that focus on different things.
Stop Fearing Change—Embrace It
While many of us dream about “returning to normal,” the reality is that COVID-19 is unprecedented and on par with other major events of the 20th century such as the mass destruction and casualties of World War II, the creation of the European Union (EU), and the fall of the Berlin Wall. In all these cases, economies around the world underwent significant changes that caused some industries to die instantaneously while new ones rose from the ashes.
The shortage of personal protective equipment, for example, led to significant innovation in home-sewn face masks and 3D-printed plastic face shields. Social distancing gave rise to new customer engagement methods that reimagined sales and distribution channels. Work-from-home arrangements reshaped the use of private homes and apartments, turning them into “business” conference rooms. Slow moving industries like medical equipment manufacturers sat back and watched new competitors swoop into their marketspace to produce better ventilators at lower costs.
The point that we are trying to convey here is that change—no matter how cataclysmic it may be—causes (often with tremendous force) other changes (good ones) to happen. Remember the old saying, “Necessity is the mother of invention?” It means that the primary driving force for most new inventions and innovations is an underlying need. Perhaps that old saying should now be changed to something more reflective of the 21st century, such as: “Crisis forces innovation, while necessity breeds entrepreneurs.”
Executives and managers need to rethink how they can support the changes that COVID-19 created. As vaccines for the pandemic are starting to be distributed around the United States, many employees are pushing to continue their work-from-home (WFH) organizational change, hoping it becomes the “new norm” for them. Companies in industries that require hands-on work have already made significant investments in new technologies to keep workers safe, which is creating more financial pressure and putting overwhelming responsibility on C-levels to turn a profit or, at least, minimize losses. The combination of these two forces (i.e., overwhelming responsibility and organizational change) are major contributing factors to a C-level executive’s feeling of isolation—but there is a solution.
To overcome the unique challenges and succeed in today’s COVID world, budget owners and decision makers need quick and easy access to their own data portals to reassure themselves that lower-level executives are giving them the right information at the right time. C-levels need to know (with an acceptable percentage of certainty) that their organizations can stay afloat during times of crises and grow when opportunities arise. This is where having the right IT Asset Management system in place can contribute greatly.