With ‘working from home’ becoming the ‘new normal’ in South Africa in the light of COVID-19, many organisations are being forced to transition from being an input-based time watchdog to an output-based productivity matron.
In my experience, the ‘old school’ directors who I work or worked with and those within my network are now entering an uncomfortable zone in which they no longer physically see employees in the office. Many have had no choice but to adapt to this new norm, especially with cash flow restraints.
Many organisations are cutting costs to stay profitable (or to conserve cash) as the economic impact of the pandemic spreads around the globe. Office space appears to be a popular cost-cutting target. The lockdown has forced us to use technology for communicating with both internal and external stakeholders. Have a look at the spike in Zoom users over the last three months, and you can quickly see how profound and in many cases successful this communication pivot has been.
Within our own organisation and with many of my executive colleagues we have been called upon to diversify our leadership style to what I refer to as bottom-up leadership.
WHAT IS BOTTOM-UP LEADERSHIP?
The concept of bottom-up leadership has not shown much popularity in recent scholarly studies. However, as leaders implement this new norm of operating their business remotely, this leadership style may well be called upon more frequently. In my personal experience, the three steps below are the leadership fundamentals to this approach succeeding should you move to remote work in the long term:
Step 1: Set up your employees to succeed
This step may sound simple, but it is easy to fall short on! Upfront investment of time is required to correlate what tools and technology are required for employees to deliver efficient and effective results that will drive the organisation’s overall success. This may require a period of trial and error before deciding the infrastructure that works best for the entire organisation. In identifying the best-fit infrastructure, joint research from all employees often provides a quicker deadline in deciding what works best. As each department shares their input, this is an ideal time to standardise critical internal business processes (assuming they are not).
The time invested in this step should be viewed as a long-term investment that avoids churn in the future.
Step 2: Invest in your employees
Investing in your employees is an ongoing process, not a once-off! Many leaders ignore this aspect of leadership, missing out on the long-term benefits of an effectively skilled workforce. Investing in upskilling and providing employees with ongoing training that helps them from both a work perspective and a personal perspective. Training is can be a combination of formal and informal.
Depending on the level of complexity within your organisation, never underrate the value of an employee wellness course. Benefits include uplifting self-confidence within employees as individuals, together with self-confidence in their ability to execute on their roles within the organisation. Depending on budget capacity, I would highly recommend considering the the Proctor Gallagher Institute Paradigm Shift course which focuses on how we build habits and how these adversely affect what we view ourselves as and the opportunities ahead of us. By better understanding ourselves, the paradigm shift course helps individuals approach change and challenges ‘hands-on’.
Step 3: Employees need to be in the right headspace
In my opening paragraph, I mentioned the output-based productivity matron. A productive employee is one who is in the right headspace, that is, their wellbeing is taken care of; and this can be done using just-in-time motivational feedback, especially as employees who work remotely often feel lost.
Some employees may find it difficult adapting to the remote work lifestyle, while others may adapt quickly. As leaders, assuming our working environment suits our deliverables may not necessarily mean our employees’ environments are similar − for example, we may not have children, dedicated space to work from or other family members to take responsibility of, but other employees do. In South Africa, the concept of ‘black tax’ places significant social pressure on individual breadwinners to provide for their extended families. This may affect their productivity and managers need to be cognisant of such circumstances.
To overcome the above, identifying employees’ personal challenges (via a survey or one-to-one discussions) can potentially reduce the negative impact on employee productivity. In identifying the various challenges and implementing the required solutions, an employee in the right headspace will lead to notable outputs delivered = notable outputs desired.
TO SUM UP
In financial terms, employees are reflected as a labour cost. How effective an ROI we receive on this cost is a decision we (leaders) make. By empowering our employees to be at their best, a labour cost can become an invaluable intangible asset.
AUTHOR | Hiten Keshave CA(SA) | MBA