The workplace of the future requires new styles of leadership to drive community and connection. Today’s business leaders must figure out how to create a engaged, mobile, and global workforce, otherwise they will fall behind their competitors.
The biggest challenge when leading a dispersed and mobile workforce is creating community and connection across your team. Business leaders need to build teams that work well together, even when they are not in the same physical location. Co-location makes teamwork and innovation much easier, so leaders must satisfy the needs of the workforce without sacrificing these fundamentals.
Is there a choice? No. This is the way the workforce is evolving. And every business leader must solve this problem otherwise she or he will not be able to tap into the global talent pool. With globalisation comes dispersion, and addressing this challenge should be viewed by every business leader as central to the success of the organisation.
Let’s dive specifically into innovation. We’ve always been taught that people need to be together to be creative (picture people huddling around a whiteboard coming up with a great new idea). But if business leaders have a decentralised workforce, have they now limited their employees’ ability to innovate? Can innovation occur without organic, opportunistic interactions between people?
This is a foundational challenge with dispersion and each business leader must ensure that, with the creative use of technology, these unstructured interactions can still happen, even if they are virtual instead of physical.
The skill-sets business leaders need to meet those challenges
First, communication must become a core competency of the business leader. This does not mean a once-a-quarter company all-hands meeting but rather ongoing, continuous, iterative communications that can reach and be easily absorbed by every employee in the organisation.
Every business leader knows communication is important but many view it as a necessary evil. They don’t truly enjoy it. Most directors will say they value communication, but those who truly love to connect will be more successful at leading dispersed teams.
“CEO as communication junkie” is a concept that reinforces the notion that communication is an inherent part of every action and constantly considered by the business leader. Communication “snacking,” i.e., a steady cadence of bite-sized, easy-to-absorb interactions, will be a much more effective engagement vehicle with the employee base than traditional “from-the-mountaintop” methods.
Second, modern communication requires advanced tools – blogging, social media and video. Business leaders must not only gain competency in these for their own communications, but also invest in providing these tools to their employees so every work team, no matter now big or small, can work together effectively. However, many managers make the mistake of assuming that the tools they like will also work for their staff.
This is wrong, more often than not, because of differences in age, technology mindset, and the nature of work. Solving this problem is not hard. Go spend time with the employee base and understand what mobile and cloud tools they’ve already discovered to address communication gaps. Don’t force old-school tools from your existing software vendors on them. Use what they tell you actually works.
Third, when physical proximity disappears, clear business processes become even more important. Leaders must be able to set direction and establish operations that function even when everyone is not in the same room. Many discount the importance of this and assume traditional work processes can migrate to new work styles. They usually don’t.
Let’s also remember that the world isn’t binary. Dispersed workforces can still have in-person interaction. MobileIron has 900+ employees spread over 20+ countries and 100+ locations. Employees use Slack and other forms of technology to communicate. But they also make sure to bring people together on a regular cadence. MobileIron’s engineers based in India come and spend a few weeks regularly in the Bay Area to establish personal connections.
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In Marketing, the company brings its field teams together once a quarter for interactive planning and strategy sessions. This isn’t rocket science, of course, but it does require business leaders to map out their organisations to figure out which people need to build in-person relationships to be able to work together more effectively even when remote.
Where can business leaders turn for help with this issue?
Turn to your peers. Ask other entrepreneurs and business leaders what they have done and learned and how they have adapted their own mindset and work styles.
But, even more importantly, ask your employees. They are already figuring out how to work together effectively and they are probably not using the corporate tools you gave them. Learn from them. Generalise those processes and tools for the entire organisation.
Klaus Schwab, the Founder of the World Economic Forum, said, “In the new world, it is not the big fish which eats the small fish. It is the fast fish which eats the slow fish.” Agility is the name of the game.
This requires not only looking to others for help but also looking inward and realising when you, yourself, are stuck in older, more traditional ways of doing things. Comfort in legacy approaches is the biggest danger to future success. The new generation of business leaders will see the challenges of a mobile workforce as an opportunity. Those who are fearful will fail Workforce mobility is not a choice. It’s an imperative.
Sourced by Ojas Rege, Chief Strategy Officer, MobileIron
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