Why did this headline have such a powerful reaction? Because of what it said about the organisations management culture. Such insensitivity towards their staff. Despite the impression given by some commentators this was not the fault of the technology but the way it was used and by the people who used it. I was thinking about this when I read a piece on How to be an effective virtual manager.
The coronavirus pandemic means business don’t have a choice about the extent to which they encourage working from home. How does this change the way managers manage? Management pre coronavirus was about getting people to do what needed to be don. Management post coronavirus is still about getting people to do what needs to be done. The difference is before it was done mostly by face to face meetings in the work place, supplemented by phone calls and emails. Now it’s face to face via the computer screen. Now all managers are virtual managers.
There have always been managers who preferred managing budgets, analysing performance reports and identifying ways to improve efficiency rather than dealing with people. There have always been managers who saw the role as making sure staff were working as opposed to skiving off. The technology won’t change their view of staff or suddenly make them more socially skilled. This is one explanation as to why so many organisation haven’t yet got to grips with managing by email. That is the tendency of managers to think that simply issuing instructions by email will ensure people do what needs to be done.
Effective managers have well developed social skills they are good people managers. I had a boss who was very good at networking. She use to find opportunities to go to HQ and once there she would go round the building seeking out people in HR and Finance who she regularly spoke to on the phone just to say hello. It was very effective. Effective management involves more than just issuing instructions, it’s about building relationships. The manager who is good at people management recognises the importance of keeping in touch with team members, easy if you all share the same office but even more important in a dispersed team, so weekly catch ups even if there is nothing urgent or important to discuss.
Perhaps the biggest difference in how managers use the technology is around expectations and access. Some managers have unreasonable expectations about staff availability despite the fact that staff are often sold the idea of working from home as part of a virtual team by the opportunity for greater flexibility of hours. Some senior managers are prone to firing off emails when ever an idea or thought occurs to them, often in the evening or weekend. They are then “disappointed” that they don’t get an immediate response.
The technology that allows people to work in virtual teams and from home can either be used in an oppressive, bullying way or a liberating supporting way, depending on the individual manager and the management culture the organisation encourages. The key modernisation message is it is not about the technology its about managers and their people management skills.