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Remote Future Shock

Andrew Nelson
July 5, 2020

Our world is experiencing future shock in the workplace. It’s not the degree of change that is causing this, but rather the rate at which the changes are occurring. With the recent turn of events, organizations and workers are adapting to a variety of new realities and possibilities.

Organizations are:

  • Evaluating their processes, policies and office space requirements.
  • Quickly realizing they have geographically distributed recruiting opportunities.
  • Assessing the use of on-demand remote resources.

Information workers are:

  • Re-evaluating their lifestyle and quality-of-life vs. geographical location choices.
  • Exploring new Work-from-Anywhere (WFA) opportunities.
  • Comparing these choices and opportunities with what their current employers are offering.

However, to optimize a distributed workforce requires a complementary arrangement of organizational governance, leadership culture, and ongoing strategic processes.

As someone who has been working remotely with distributed IT teams for 20 years, it is exciting to see the remote workplace gaining widespread acceptance. My experiences have taught me there is much more involved in remote success than Zoom, Slack, and working in one's slippers. Everyone is asking for advice on how to maintain productivity, monitor what their teams are doing, and manage distractions while keeping people connected.  App and tool developers are also racing to offer solutions for facilitating organic collaboration that once took place in the hallways. Business leaders are worried about keeping people engaged and motivated. 

Predictably, the term agile is somewhere in the mix. Recently, I have a renewed appreciation for the widespread bemusement surrounding Agile. Don’t worry! This post is not about trying to hammer that jello into place. My goal is to highlight the key advantages that values and principles-based organizational models can provide. One example is a management system that is structured and infinitely flexible. This duality is a key driving force behind successful distributed companies such as Shopify, Basecamp, Zapier, Slack and InVision.

Information or knowledge work requires a set of management practices that guide and support efforts. Traditionally, this was the role of project management. Today, it is increasingly common in software development circles to deploy an agile process-framework such as Scrum, Kanban, SAFe, or LeSS to provide this structure. All process-frameworks, whether agile-based or homebrewed, offer a set of practices that organize what is required to get work done.

Regardless of the seemingly universal acceptance of Agile, implementing an Agile process-framework in an organization does not always translate into people embracing and embodying the values and principles behind it. 

Utilizing an Agile process-framework does not equate to an organization being “agile.” 

Agile is a set of values and principles that a group agrees to use in order to guide their efforts. Agile is a belief system - okay I know that sounds weird and is likely why it is not well understood - but Agile is not a regime, a methodology, or a framework. It is a mindset that is derived from values and principles. Any set of values and principles can govern a group. The key distinction comes in principles-based organizations, where governance is not held by an individual or group of individuals.

Business leaders increasingly seek to expand these concepts beyond IT groups and strive to develop “business agility.” To realize this requires an understanding and appreciation of what is needed to develop ongoing agility fitness. An “agile-organization” is one that is governed by a set of core values and principles that provide a distributed governance structure. A key aspect of these organizations is a culture of Servant Leadership, modeled throughout the management. This leadership mindset works well with remote workers and when successfully implemented provides intrinsic advantages to distributed organizations. 

Agile organizations are composed of networks of flat, self-governing, multi-disciplinary teams working in rapid cycles and given full responsibility to deliver. They embrace uncertainty and encourage experimentation. These teams focus on outcomes vs. outputs that enable them to respond quickly to shifts in customer needs and market conditions. The Harvard Business Review published a cover story titled Agile at Scale with an excellent overview of what an agile organization is and what it takes to become one. 

So the obvious question is if Agile process-frameworks are so popular for software development, and business leaders are clamoring to develop “business agility,” why aren’t more organizations implementing a principles-based organizational model? Our response to this question is best answered in the following quote by Willam Gibson, “The future is already here, it’s just not evenly distributed yet.” 

Current conditions have demonstrated that remote workers and the organizations that rely on them have unique needs and desires. In a rare turn of events largely due to high levels of uncertainty, neither the organizations nor the workers hold all the cards. The best and brightest workers can choose where they want to be physically (WFA) and who they want to work with. And organizations have a wider recruiting reach, increasing their candidate pools and lowering costs.

Values and principles-based organizations and the newly liberated WFA workforce naturally align. While remote work strategies have come and gone, and recently come again, management has (until now) often resisted looking inward at their organizational model as the critical success factor in fully empowering the distributed workplace and remote workers. As organizations consider these facts, they need to ask: 

  • Will our leadership culture be dependent upon chain-of-control management bureaucracies that are committed to mastering the art of management-by-surveillance
  • Or, will the culture be driven by leaders who are devoted to servicing the needs of autonomous, self-governing, self-directed teams of passionate individuals? 

Remote Velocity is eager to help organizations transition into the vision reflected in the latter. Such a transformation comes through developing “agility fitness.” This is a strategic process that is driven from the bottom up and requires top-down support from senior management. This change does not happen overnight. 

We can help you successfully change your organization. Our forward-thinking hands-on approach begins with our resourceful and resilient Montana roots and over 20 years of experience. We work in the trenches with our clients - embedded with their teams - to address their specific needs. We believe in managing the work and guiding individuals to be accountable to each other.

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