No one had anticipated that this year would turn out the way it has. A pandemic, an erratic weather, a desert locust invasion, Black Lives Matter protests to remote working.
The ubiquity of an “agile and nimble workplace” talk waned in the wake of Covid-19 as organisations scurried to put their houses in order following the realisation they might not have been as ready as they said, or at least thought they were.
The ambidexterity of organisations has been tested and stretched for the last five months, and for some, more than they have ever been.
Conversations about managing teams, individuals, work, clients, and productivity have featured prominently in management Zoom and Teams call meetings.
With about 90 percent of employees working remotely, organisations have been “gigified” — it feels to most that we have more of ‘contractual workers’ than employees, and with this, the need to focus on optimisation of labour and time. With the need to manage deliverables and time spent, in the case of professional service firms, time recording sheets have found a new lease of life.
Could we be seeing the renaissance of Theory X? For the learning minute, McGregor talked of two types of management: authoritarian (Theory X) and participative (Theory Y). What we are seeing now is a subtle need for management to employ a “hands-on” approach to work, especially when employees are not physically in one location.
If employees working remotely are allowed to self-manage against other competing demands for their time such as children at home, social temptations and side hustles, there is a possibility that some will go under the radar and this would affect their productivity and eventually that of business as a going concern.
So, what should be the new normal? It should be a hybrid between X and Y. Do not assume employees are self-led. At the same time, do not suffocate them with unending update calls and reports.
Managers should spend time crafting clear deliverables with timelines then give employees the psychological air to execute with minimal interruption, save for occasional check-ins.
Organisations will have to find a balance between wanting employees back to the office and having them continue to work remotely.
The inclination for having things get back to “the way they were before” will affect some organisations, and most will want their employees back to justify the people-centric investments like creches, sleeping pods, and cafeteria.
Nonetheless, those who will return to work fully will have missed the best opportunity to reengineer work and the workplace. For instance, overheads such as water, electricity and auxiliary support services like cleaning have reduced; employees have the opportunity to be physically present at home with their families, and there is a reduction in indirect costs such as learning and development, as online training has taken prominence.
It will be banal for organisations to throw away this circumstance-led opportunity to redefine work, and they ought to continue having a considerable workforce working remotely.
Collaborative platforms can be used by most and professional service organisations should see how they can do more, in less time, by employing artificial intelligence technology and predictive analytics.
This means that much of the grunt work which clocked countless billable hours in the past can now be achieved in a fraction of the time. This way, clients get more efficient services, and employees can spend time analysing data and providing better value.
The resolve for any organisation to be different might not be seen now, we are all in a crucible anyway. It will be seen when the tide has been contained.