Where IS The Office?

It’s a question that will be on many people’s minds right now. Working digitally and (often) remotely takes away the usual context for a workplace. There’s no fixed desk nor are there colleagues just over your shoulder.

Many folks working in the technology sector have got somewhat used to aspects of this. But what if you are trying to make significant changes across a dispersed workplace? That can be anything from a seat in the garden to the kitchen table or a more dedicated space in the spare bedrooms of those engaged. This poses a whole new raft of challenges for those who are trying to manage change.

Getting the Attention of Participants

This actually is one of the easier aspects, providing there are decent internet connections and everyone can log in to a conference call or video conference. However it does require some more preparation before going ahead.

For one thing, even using tools that allow screen sharing and drawing, there are difficulties in capturing bits of information that you might normally do using a standard whiteboard or flipchart. If you don’t have a stylus and drawing pad then using a standard mouse or pointing device is really tricky when it comes to doing quick diagrams. So it’s worth investing in that kind of kit at least for the facilitator(s) in the group.

Second you need to be clear about how and when you are going to start recording what goes on. Just in case there are sensitivities being discussed which in a normal face-2-face environment would be heard but not documented. You can’t just pause recording without some warning, so maybe you need to discuss with everyone how that should work. One idea is to allow people to put a hand up and call a timeout. Only once the recording is paused does that particular discussion proceed until the talk returns to topic. Nuanced meeting management but necessary if you are to keep everyone on-side and happy that things said in confidence aren’t going to come back and bite them.

There is an advantage in all of this. Those unable to attend can see recordings and get up to speed without needing separate briefings. It also takes account of the fact that those working from home may also have to deal with children or pets around. You only need to visit YouTube to see some of the interruptions they can cause!

Centralised Data

In a standard work environment there are networked PCs and physical filing cabinets. You simply need to replicate this with online cloud storage. Tools like Dropbox can work well for micro organisations and don’t actually cost anything to set up.

For the bigger organisation there are other tools that are appropriate. Go research them – here isn’t the place for recommendations as you need to take into account context and numbers of people/locations. Shared working environments can also be useful, especially when people are in different time zones, messages can be left and picked up at local times.

Doing the Problem Analysis

This can work extremely well in a video conference. For one thing the chat box can capture quick questions and asides. However it is useful to have someone other than the lead facilitator keeping an eye on that content so that key points don’t get lost in the scrolling.

Stick to the simple techniques. 5W’s and H (Who What Why Where When & How) and drill down on each one. By recording the material you are actually documenting the analysis as you go along and it is therefore easier to use as an aid when discussing with others who were not present the rationale involved in each part.

Don’t forget that business transformation is rooted in tackling a problem or series of interrelated problems in ways that will have a major impact. Working out a longer-term way of operating, even while simply “coping” with the COVID lockdown is no different in principle.

Once you’ve got the simple techniques nailed you may find others that you can adapt into the virtual environment. Some of those are also available online (see below for where to find some training).

Idea Generation

As you will know from other blogs on this site, getting creative with idea generation to lay out potential solutions to a well-defined problem is essential. So you really do need to get people used to running and using these techniques. Fortunately there is online help in the form of training that is both robust and comprehensive. Click HERE to go to a preview of what is available. This actually covers the problem analysis techniques as well.

Digital workplaces are great for using what are referred to as Nominal Group Techniques. These allow individuals to compose or submit their views but they don’t necessarily see what everyone else is doing or saying at the same time. Hence the work is nominal (or individual) but the outcome is a group activity. The results can be collated to provide a group view of what to do.

Mind mapping in such an environment may be a little more tricky than normal. Somebody has to draw the map but submissions of items will take a little longer. There isn’t really any group software tool that does this successfully but here’s an idea.

How about drawing the initial map and putting it up for view? Then ask every contributor to submit 2-3 words/ideas and indicate where they would link. This can be a quick text message to the coordinator. Add those to the map and go around again. Rinse and repeat.

The same applies to brainstorming – you need to make sure that everyone contributes and the ideas are captured. Word association is best done completely live via the chat box on a video conference and you will rapidly have a list that can be used to stimulate thinking.

We’re Not Running Transformation …

Even so, the need to run effective meetings and gather contributions are going to run up against similar constraints. As you and your team get your heads around working digitally you will find that these techniques become second nature. For those who are trying to teach or train, the same applies. Your classes need to be able to contribute and question as well as be on the receiving end of “talk and chalk”.

Once individuals know what they have to do on their own they will realise that these group connecting activities are no different to the usual round of meetings that take place in a workplace. You still need to have some discipline so that attendees aren’t trying to be in two or more different virtual workspaces at the same time.

Planning and Execution

These are likely to use the same tools that you had in the formal office. The question may arise about software licenses when people are operating from home – frankly that’s something you need to discuss within your organisation and with the providers. If people are able to login remotely to a workplace network then this problem likely doesn’t exist. However for those in smaller organisations that never had that set up and are now having to cope, the first step is to work out who has critical need for specialist tools and go from there.

Not everyone is going to have access to printing and scanning capabilities as would be the case in a normal office environment. However even mobile phone cameras are perfectly capable of copying the odd page here and there and then submitting these as images. We’ve been doing this on social media for long enough that most folks won’t even blink at the prospect.

Mention of social media also brings up the prospect of setting up closed groups on LinkedIn or Facebook to allow less formal discussion and provide forums for debate. Again these are free to use at the basic level and often that’s all you will need. Appoint a couple of admins to oversee them and then invite users into the group(s).

What Next?

It’s crystal clear that every situation is different but there are (as always) many similarities between them. We’re used to asking the right questions and helping clients to work out what those are so they don’t have to keep reinventing the wheels. So contact us to get the conversation started about how you can learn and get things right.

For more insights click here.

The author Rob Wherrett can be contacted at https://robwherrett.com/contact/

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