Back in the days when people began studying how to improve companies, they recognized that managers could help their teams by spending a little more time outside of their own offices.
By walking around, visiting their employees, and having casual one-on-one chats, they could ideally learn how things were going and how employees were feeling. It was dubbed “Management by Walking Around,” or MBWA. Overall, if done well, it was an idea that worked by blending the two vital elements of 1) keeping the channels of communication open; and 2) supporting employees in getting their work done.
But now that Covid has unleashed the work from home and the hot desk era, what happens when those employees are no longer on the premises? This worry became a focal point of fear when examining the post-2021 new normal. How can a manager manage when the workspace has become fractured and remote? For many managers, this is a surprising twist on the path to digital transformation. They feel as if they’re losing their team, the solidarity of the business, and the control they once enjoyed. Even worse, they feel that they’re losing their identity as managers.
But in reality, it doesn’t have to be that way. The transformation is happening all the same because many employees have discovered that they prefer working from home — especially with the cost of the commute getting ever higher. If their job is based on using a computer and a phone, they’ve realized they no longer need to travel to an office to carry out their work.
Managers will still be able to manage, though, and they might even find that their jobs become easier. They can practice “Management by Zooming Around” (MBZA) — even though it’s not about Zoom per se. Zoom is just the brand that currently represents video chat technology in general. MBZA enables managers and employees to still enjoy focused chats, whether spontaneous or scheduled, using video conferencing, while also conveying the body language, empathy, and confidentiality that would take place in an in-person setting.
But MBZA still feels uncomfortable to managers who’ve become used to exerting their physical presence to establish the mood and structure of a team. Here are some standard pushbacks that management presents in their arguments against the hybrid workspace, along with the reality surrounding each.
Management argument #1: Removes opportunities for spontaneous conversation.
Reality: The next generation of collaboration technologies are already here. They replace the Zoom grid style with an environment in which people can exist all day without looking like cartoons. This informal in-office dynamic means spontaneous conversations are just as possible in the new virtual workspace.
Management argument #2: People can only focus on work when they’re at the workplace.
Reality: Many people are discovering that they can focus at home, even with children and pets around, and are consequently joining the ranks of those who’ve already been working from home productively for years. What’s more, the workplace has seldom been a place of focus, with interruptions and meetings happening daily. Most at-work employees discovered they could only get focus time if they hid somewhere else, like an empty conference room or a coffee shop. That says a lot about the actual impractical nature of an office.
Management argument #3: If my employees are working from home, I can’t see what they’re doing.
Reality: That’s true. But why would you need to? The goal is for an employee to get work done. Managers who have embraced the work-from-home approach are unanimous in their endorsement of letting team members work when and how they want so long as the work gets done. Work should be outcome based, not face-time based.
Management argument #4: Employees will slack off and avoid work if I can’t oversee them.
Reality: Managers who feel this way have a bigger problem on their hands than employee productivity. If there’s no trust in a manager-employee relationship, the good employees will simply leave. The work-from-home scenario is in fact a place where trust is established and reinforced.
Management argument #5: Coordinating distributed groups is too complicated.
Reality: No, it’s simply different. Distributed teams enjoy success when the meetings are immersive, sharing the same virtual space where they can all see each other. They also work best when everyone is remote, regardless of where they’re logging in from, including those who log in from the office.
It’s often difficult for people to move into new, unknown territory. To resist this, they hang on to the old ways for dear life. But history is littered with the grave markers of companies that refused to pivot, even when the marketplace offered them the opportunity. Hopefully, managers will perceive through experience and experimentation that there’s actually more to be gained from MBZA than they could have ever imagined.