How do you effectively manage a team of employees without the benefit of a centralized, in-person workplace? This is the same challenge facing many of today's team leaders across industries, and it isn't going away.
While the move to increased remote and hybrid work in 2020 was a function of the COVID-19 pandemic, it was not an out-of-nowhere shift but rather an acceleration of an existing trend. Sooner or later, managers would have had to learn to lead dispersed teams. Now, that time has come.
On some levels, leadership has not changed in recent years. Managers are still expected to apply their unique communication and motivation styles and to inspire employees while keeping them productive.
What has changed are the tools available to achieve those goals and the environment in which businesses operate.
In a webinar on shifting workplace conditions, McKinsey experts gave an example of how the "new normal" is making management tricky. Today's managers may find it harder to keep their employees aligned around processes and objectives. Without proper planning and support, companies with dispersed, remote workforces can end up with ambiguous structures, processes and chains of command.
Responding to a lack of clarity can mean realigning team assignments. While it once might have been beneficial to have large groups of employees working on a single team, employees today may thrive best when they're assigned to smaller groups with a clear purpose. The McKinsey experts recommended managers put between five and nine people in each of these pods.
Ensuring employees understand and carry out their assignments isn't the only challenge facing today's team leaders. How can managers instill engagement and morale when their employees are dealing with different circumstances, potentially separated by great distances? The classic tactic of in-person office meetings to celebrate achievements and relieve stress are no longer available.
McKinsey recommended folding relaxation and levity into the workday. Managers should not skimp on informal communication with their employees. While a video meeting may lack some of the warmth of a face-to-face gathering, it's still a chance to chat and engage about things outside of work. A tunnel-vision focus on productivity can bring a modern workforce's morale down.
While managers deal with the operational difficulties of leading the modern workforce, there's another side of things to think about: technology. From video conferencing happy hours to highly efficient collaborative document creation, all of today's interactions are enabled by connectivity systems — which are increasingly cloud-based.
The cloud has proven to be the perfect technological framework for the present moment. The access-anywhere promise of cloud applications makes these tools ideal for remote and hybrid workforces.
When polled by LogicMonitor, 87% of IT leaders said pandemic conditions have caused companies to speed up their cloud migrations. Businesses already considering the cloud for benefits such as cost-effectiveness and scalability have moved up their timelines.
Just how prevalent is the cloud? The same survey asked respondents how long it would take to get 95% of workloads running in cloud infrastructure — 74% said it would happen within five years. Early years of cloud use were marked by some hesitancy about moving mission-critical data and applications. Amid waves of development and lockdown conditions, that indecision faded.
Now, with companies fully committing to the cloud, managers have a chance to bring their teams together through SaaS applications. Since departmental silos and a lack of clear communication channels are significant inhibitors of team leaders' work, cloud-based collaboration tools and virtual workspaces will be prime enabling factors in the years ahead.
The months and years ahead will be pivotal for companies that have recently increased their use of the cloud. Practices and technologies put into place as quick fixes will have to become formalized parts of businesses' strategies.
For managers, this means trying out team management approaches that support hybrid or remote team structures. Keeping employees engaged and productive will only be more challenging when carried out over multiple years. The most successful leaders will be those who make the most of their businesses' new SaaS-enabled technology tools to encourage collaborative, open team environments.
Porting the fundamentals of good management and leadership over to the new, always-online world of modern business represents a moment of transition for businesses of all kinds. While some leaders are likely a little intimidated by such a massive change, those with solid cloud infrastructure and the will to use it can take this moment as an opportunity to achieve their true potential.