Until now, the basics of managing employees have been fairly straight forward: a quick glance across the office should be able to tell the boss whether the team are earnestly tapping away on keyboards – or gathered around the coffee machine gossiping.
But as remote working, Twitter, Facebook and the millennial generation all reshape the workplace in different ways, so managers will need new skills to make sure they are able to keep their teams motivated and efficient. silicon.com runs through some of the issues facing the boss in the office of the future.
Managing – and trusting – remote workers
As technology to enable remote and home working becomes more widespread, daily face-to-face contact between managers and staff will become a less common occurrence. Managers therefore will need to adjust to dealing with workers who they might only meet up with occasionally.
On the plus side – for managers at least – remote workers could mean more productivity if they work longer hours with the daily commute being taken out of the equation. But Gartner analyst Steve Prentice warns the main challenge for managers will be working out how to monitor people when they’re working out of the office.
“A lot of current management practice and experience relates to face-to-face, in situ management – ‘I see you all working therefore you are working, you’re at home, you’re obviously not working’,” he said.
Managers need to work out how to encourage people to collaborate more effectively when working in different locations and motivate them to work as they would in the office.
“Management techniques and management recording methods need to be changed. Unfortunately a lot of management is still based on measuring the things we find easy to measure as opposed to those things that we actually want to measure to encourage the behaviour that we want,” Prentice said.
Vanessa Robinson, head of HR practice development at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), said managers will also need to be happy with managing people remotely. Part of this will be…
…trusting their reports to do the work that’s expected of them, rather than constantly requesting updates from them by phone or email.
Robinson said managers need to be clear when giving instructions: when a team is in the office together, the emphasis of what people say is clearer due to the tone of voice or facial expressions – when people aren’t in the same physical location, other methods will be needed to do this.
Barry Clark, of thinktank the Future Foundation, said one of the challenges with people working remotely will be how co-workers can pass on knowledge to one another. Insight or advice picked up on an informal basis from a colleague sitting nearby or over lunch will be lost, so there needs to be a way of replacing this.
“It’s the informal transfer of knowledge that really adds to people’s capital as workers. And because you’re at home, you’re not really picking up that at all,” Clark said.
Working away from the office also means it’s difficult to foster a corporate culture and spirit of community within a business according to Clark. These intangible elements provide motivation and direction to employees – something working from home could undermine.
“The way people are managed will have to become better – currently we’re not terribly good at it,” Clark said.
Dr Carsten Sorensen, senior lecturer in information systems and innovation at The London School of Economics and Political Science, believes the use of technology will need to balance the needs of managers and reports as the transition to more remote working takes place.
“What needs to happen is a proper discussion of the assemblage of technology and the working practices so we establish the practices that are good for everybody. And that’s a very difficult discussion,” he said.
But maybe the boss of the future won’t be sitting miserably surrounded by empty desks. The Future Foundation’s Clark points out working from home has been possible for a while – albeit without the tools that will appear in the future – but people continue to make the journey into an office on a daily basis.
“You would have thought that if it was possible and it was easy to have people working at home, then it would have happened already and why is it that office space is still short in major cities in the UK, why is it we’re still building large, landmark office buildings, why is it that…
…we’re still putting up with the grim experience of commuting in and moving people around? All these things are still happening even though the technology is there to have an impact on it and stop it happening,” Clark said.
Why Facebook and Twitter will flatten management
Social networking is likely to become a key technology for knowledge in the future and managing the use of this technology will become increasingly part of a manager’s remit.
“[Social networks are] asking people to change the way they work and they’re amplifying and extending the relationships that individuals have between themselves and other individuals, other organisations. And any change is very, very challenging,” Gartner’s Prentice said.
CIPD’s Robinson added that people are becoming comfortable operating more collaboratively and socially not only with social networks but other web 2.0-style technologies – such as real-time discussion boards – which allow individuals to absorb input from a variety of people.
Gartner predicts that in the future, individuals with the appropriate skills will increasingly come together to work on projects in teams – or ‘work swarms’ – that don’t necessarily work together very often.
This kind of approach will mean the links between individuals could be fairly weak. The use of social networking-style technology could allow these links to be cultivated and strengthened so that work swarms can be more effective.
Businesses and managers therefore need to look beyond the perceived downsides of social networking – such as time wasting or data leakage – and appreciate the positive outcomes that collaborating in this way could bring.
LSE’s Sorensen said the integration of social networking with business will be a “massive challenge” and added that the greater use of social networks at work as well as at home will blur the boundary between work and leisure, which may not be entirely productive.
Whether your staff are in the office or out of it, social media is likely to remake the management structure of organisations.
According to BT futurologist Nicola Millard businesses will become increasingly flat as the increased use of social networking sees people build their own networks across the organisation that cut across the traditional silos.
People with similar responsibilities in different departments will tap into each other’s expertise, relying less on the input of people above and below them in the hierarchy. In addition the chain of command may change as team structures alter depending on the projects that people are working on.
LSE’s Sorensen argued that the traditional top-down – or command and control – management model will partially give way to an approach where collaboration from the bottom-up will be fostered; an approach social networking technology will be well suited to. But this also means managers will have to come up with new ways of measuring performance.
“How do you assess people’s performance if they’re doing a lot of their work on these social networks and generating…
…their own projects and forming their own collaborative teams across the globe – all sorts of things? It’s very difficult,” Sorensen said.
A new role for HR?
Sorensen said HR departments will play a role in making sure that new ways of working don’t leave employees burnt out: “Because people who work at home and are online constantly, they tend to burn out more because they work harder and they find it more difficult to say stop,” he said.
And with more people working remotely, the use of technology for training will be another shift for HR according to the CIPD’s Robinson.
Greater use of online tools – such as interactive webinars and tutorials – to share knowledge will help the growing number of remote workers, while social technology could make e-learning more engaging and encourage greater – and more honest – feedback.
Robinson suggested that virtual worlds could also be used to improve the way people develop their skills as using these environments may encourage them to be more creative and experimental than if they were sitting in a room full of colleagues.
Rather than an email request for feedback following a course – which people never get around to replying to – HR could create a discussion group within the business network to encourage people to share their thoughts on the training. This feedback is likely to be much more useful for future training as it will be the result of more honest opinion.
Gartner’s Prentice said HR will also need to understand the benefits of social media and adjust rules around the use of external web resources to allow people to take advantage of the technology.
He added the view that social networking is used to waste time should be discouraged: the benefits of social networking outweigh this risk and the same rules…
…should apply to people wasting time on social networks as other disciplinary issues.
Recruiting the millennial generation
One of the major factors in driving all of these changes is the arrival of the ‘millennial generation’, the recruitment and subsequent retention of which will present challenges all of their own.
These young workers who have had access to high-speed internet for most of their lives will look for jobs in different ways and have different expectations of working life, which the businesses will need to address.
The CIPD’s Robinson told silicon.com that businesses will need to adjust their approach to recruitment as people increasingly use new channels to find out about employment opportunities.
Millennial workers will increasingly be looking for jobs on social networks so HR will need to think more creatively about the hiring process. For example businesses will also need to provide more content on their own recruitment websites.
“Increasingly they are looking on company websites particularly wanting [to know] what’s it really like to work there – the blogs, the stories – not the corporate sales pitch but the sort of insider view,” Robinson said.
An example of an organisation already doing this effectively is the Royal Opera House in London which recently started a recruitment campaign for back office staff on YouTube. The organisation wanted to tap into a younger audience by changing perceptions of the organisation.
It decided YouTube would provide a way to provide an insight into everyday working life at the Royal Opera House and a number of employees were successfully recruited after being attracted to jobs in this way.
As well as changing content on company websites, the intelligent use of LinkedIn and Facebook will be a useful and less formal way of attracting potential employees. By creating groups on these…
…networks and encouraging employees to discuss projects or events within the organisation, people will be able to get an insight into what it’s like to work there.
“Those sorts of sites help to inform decisions as much as anything else,” Robinson said.
Keeping hold of talent
Once these millennials have been persuaded to join, businesses then will need to make sure they get the best out of them and can retain them for long enough to have an impact.
LSE’s Sorensen said a greater degree of flexibility around the use of technology will be needed for businesses to get the most out of the latest generation of workers.
“You cannot imagine that you can generate extreme creative effort in organisations by highly skilled and highly motivated individuals without them using very advanced technological means to do so. It’s simply not possible,” he said.
Morale is another important area. If this new generation of workers feel they are being stifled by their employer’s lack of acceptance of emerging technology, they’ll complain. And they’ll complain on Facebook, where everyone will hear them.
Five ways to manage the team of the future:
- Don’t hassle remote workers – trust them to do what you’ve asked
- Make instructions as clear as possible to make up for lack of physical presence
- Allow reports to have freedom to experiment with new technology to see how they can take advantage of it
- Encourage people to contribute ideas rather than dictating what they can do
- Make sure workers aren’t burning themselves out by working longer hours as the line between work and life blurs