, September 27, 2021

We need to talk about Management...


  •   3 min reads
We need to talk about Management...

For some, WFH is not viable 100% of the time. However, it's going to be part of the mix for most companies moving forward and we need to stop thinking that being in an office is the way to be productive.

The idea that you jump on to a call every morning at 8am is not an issue with working remotely, it's a time management issue that needs to be better handled either by the individual or the employer. Points made about the time to listen to a podcast or read a book are not dependent on commuting, it's down to when you set time aside to do these things. We need to realise that being in an office or on a crowed train (a lot have no ability to relax on their commutes) is not a pre requisite for a balanced life.

We need to think differently, about management and about what management really means. People have experienced an alternative way to work over the past 18 months and we've had to give them the responsibility to get on with the job. Now we take it away because middle management is really presence management rather than people or developmental management? Many have realised that much of the office based mentality is actually treating adults a bit like they are small children, with no ability to just get on with it by themselves without the oversight of more responsible person.

For some people, especially younger people the social aspect of the office is lacking but that is a social interaction problem, not a work problem. If we are relying on the office for our entire social fix then we are spending too much time 'at work' anyway. Taking a step back from the discussion and looking at some of the facts can be quite enlightening. What is it that we really get from being in the office?

In the majority of stated cases it seems to largely be the social interactions, which subsequently spark innovations and creativity, those spontaneous 'water fountain' moments when we apparently discover the wheel. We've all heard this too many times to mention, even Malcom Gladwell is on on the action, although his recent stint with Goldman Sachs to promote his new book is somewhat suspect. The problem with this thinking is that it's way too simplistic.

Great ideas and cross company collaboration do not come from the office, they come from the social interactions around the office. The thinking that we all sit in a meeting and brainstorm is not where the ideas come from, it's where problems get solved but even then the solutions are brought the table and refined, they are seldom if ever the spontaneous sparks of genius that jump out at us while we all stare at another PowerPoint.

The reality is that the majority of people go to the office to do specific work focused tasks and being in the office to do that work does not add to their experience or the productivity of the individual. The majority of innovative thinking happens at the levels of management a few tiers above where most people sit in their working lives. Most people are there to work, not to think.

Change is never comfortable but it is consistently necessary. This is why management is the main issue with the WFH or remote working reality that we are now faced with. The large majority of managers have reached their positions through doing their jobs well, usually better than those around them, or through saying 'yes' a lot. Many act as conduits for the management above them, to disseminate the instructions and directions of those driving the direction and setting the goals.

Management needs a new set of skills, they need to learn how to develop people and not just direct them. There will be a need to create brand loyalty, and an opportunity to place people into working groups who have no reason to talk to each other in the current office set up. To do this management will need to step and lead in a very different way. The company's that get this right will be able to attract the leaders of the future and not the managers of the past. The firms leading the future will offer much more than performance or presence management, they'll offer springboards for careers that will drive up brand loyalty and set those who 'get it' far apart from those who don't.

As the workplace looks set to stay as a hybrid mix of remote and office based activity the role of the office needs to be focused on collaboration, not team or role based functions. Bringing the Finance team every Tuesday and the Marketing team in every Wednesday does absolutely nothing for collaboration, these teams speak daily on web meets and through project calls anyway. The real value comes from having the entire company in the office, to communicate about things that are outside of their job roles.

Great management will need to create an environment that has little to do with the office and more to do with inclusion, collaboration and creativity.

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