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Distributed Workforce: Time to Rethink the way you work

After 5 weeks of New Zealand being in lockdown and forced to work remotely, I’m seeing companies and employees surprised at how much better it is; not only from a productivity but also a work-life balance standpoint. With many company executives considering what hybrid remote working might look like longer-term, I wanted to share the most commonly asked questions raised during my executive health and performance sessions and expand upon why this work style has more to offer.

Discussed:

  1. What is distributed work?
  2. What motivates people?
  3. Matt Mullenweg 5 levels of adaptation to distributed work
  4. Will distributed work be appropriate for your organisation?
  5. Why you should consider the distributed work model
  6. How to track and measure work
  7. Important considerations around distributed work in this current climate

Although many use the term “remote work” we prefer to use the lesser-known alternative “distributed work” as we believe it defines the model more comprehensively.

What is distributed work?

Distributed work describes a workforce that reaches beyond the restrictions of a traditional office environment. A distributed workforce is dispersed geographically over a wide area – domestically or internationally.

In this challenging time where you’d expect things to slow down, many businesses are experiencing an increase in productivity, as staff no longer have the stress or need to commute, plus they are removed from the distracting environment of the office with the opportunity to design a workday that suits them and their productivity peaks. This is only the beginning of unlocking the potential of distributed work.

Distributed work is nothing new and there are many great examples across small and large multinational companies eg. Dell, IBM, Salesforce, General Electric, Jet Blue, and even Sears.

In our opinion, one of the thought leaders in this space would be Matt Mullenweg, founding developer of WordPress (open-source software which runs 31% of the internet) with 1,172 employees working in 75 countries. Let’s unpack some of the principles behind WordPress’ success and how that can be harnessed by other organisations.

What motivates people?

A motivated worker is a productive worker.

Daniel Pink outlines in his book Drive that there are three things that truly matter in motivating people: mastery, purpose, and autonomy. Additionally, Matt Mullenweg, argues the physical work structure allows the first two to flourish, but too often fails to offer sufficient autonomy.

What is Autonomy?

“Our desire to be self-directed, to have agency over ourselves and our environment.”

What better way to ignite this than distributed work.

Let’s now breakdown Matt Mullenweg 5 levels of organisation autonomy

  1. Level Zero autonomy is a job which cannot be done unless you’re physically there. Imagine a construction worker, barista, massage therapist, firefighter. Many companies assumed they had far more of these than it has turned out they really did.
  2. Level One is where most businesses sit. There’s no deliberate effort to make things remote-friendly, but in the case of many knowledge workers, people can keep things moving for a day or two when there’s an emergency. More often than not, they’ll likely put things off until they’re back in the office. Work happens on company equipment, in company space, on company time. You don’t have any special equipment and may have to use a clunky VPN to access basic work resources like email or your calendar. Larger level one companies often have people in the same building or campus dialling into a meeting. Level one companies were largely unprepared for this crisis.
  3. Level Two is where many companies have found themselves in the past few weeks with the COVID-19 pandemic. They’ve accepted that work is going to happen at home for a while, but they’ve simply re-creating what they were doing in the office in a “remote” setting. Marshall McLuhan talked about new digital mechanisms initially copying the activities from the previous generation media before. You’re probably able to access information from afar. You’ve adapted to tools like Zoom or Microsoft Teams, but everything is still synchronous, your day is full of interruptions, no real-time meetings have been cancelled (yet), and there’s a lot of anxiety in management around productivity. That’s the stage where companies sometimes install surveillance software on laptops. Pro tip: Don’t do that! And also: Don’t stop at level two!
  4. At Level Three, you’re really starting to benefit from being remote-first, or distributed. That’s when you see people invest in better equipment — from a good desk lamp to solid audio gear — and in more robust asynchronous processes that start to replace meetings. It’s also the point at which you realize just how crucial written communication is for your success, and you start looking for great writers in your hiring. When you are on a Zoom, you often also have a Google Doc up with the other meeting participants so you can take and check real-time notes together. Your company has a zero-trust BeyondCorp security model. In a non-pandemic world, you plan meetups so teams can break bread and meet each other in person a week or two a year.
  5. Level Four is when things go truly asynchronous. You evaluate people’s work on what they produce, not how or when they produce it. Trust emerges as the glue that holds the entire operation together. You begin shifting to better — perhaps slower, but more deliberate — decision-making, and you empower everyone, not just the loudest or most extroverted, to weigh in on major conversations. You tap into the global talent pool, the 99% of the world’s population and intelligence that doesn’t live near one of your legacy physical office locations. Employee retention goes way up and you invest more in training and coaching. Most employees have home-office setups that would make office workers green with envy. You have a rich social life with people you choose. Real-time meetings are respected and taken seriously, almost always have agendas and pre-work or post-work. If you get good at baton passes work will follow the sun 24/7 around the world. Your organization is truly inclusive because standards are objective and give people agency to accomplish their work their way.
  6. Finally, I believe it’s always useful to have an idea that’s not wholly attainable — and that’s level five, Nirvana! This is when you consistently perform better than any in-person organization could. You’re effortlessly effective. It’s when everyone in the company has time for wellness and mental health when people bring their best selves and highest levels of creativity to do the best work of their careers, and just have fun.

Matt Mullenweg, 2020

Will distributed work actually work for my organisation?

You may have previously said that distributed work would not work for your organisation, but what if I said you were most likely working remotely prior to COVID without realising it. Yup, you are working remotely effectively and you may have no idea. If you don’t have a Marketing, Accounting or Legal department inhouse, no doubt you are outsourcing eg. working remotely. Yet we don’t think twice about this. On the flip side, when we lose the oversight of a staff member we feel uneasy.

Why do we trust external organisations or contractors over our own staff? 

What do you think happens to company culture when employees don’t feel trusted to do their jobs?

Is this a healthy business model? So, how can we expand upon this?

How does your organisation track performance?

  1. Time in the office looking busy?
  2. Work output?

You don’t lose oversight within a distributed organisation, in fact, it shifts to a more productive measurable model – away from intangible (time in office) to tangible (work output).

The sad truth is the physical structure of work allows people to fall under the radar because if we see them at work looking busy, we wouldn’t necessarily question productivity or output. They may even escape being identified for months just doing the bare minimum.

However, when thrown into a distributed working environment it becomes quickly evident when someone is not pulling their weight.

For example when they don’t deliver on what was agreed upon.

On top of this from a management standpoint, staff are less likely to be micromanaged and continuously interrupted with pointless inefficiencies.

With a distributed workforce it is no longer a short walk to a desk for a casual chat. The managers now have to schedule a chat which should ensure they have a true purpose for touching base (with possibly an outlined agenda) vs a casual conversation pulling you away from the flow of productivity.

Cost Saving

A distributed workforce is not just an advantage from a productivity perspective, but also a financial cost-saving one. Companies no longer have to accept the massive capex and opex burden for large commercial spaces, fitting out costs, maintenance and monthly bills (e.g power, supplies etc). Just imagine what that reallocated budget could do in profit centres such as sales or R&D? This is not to say the office space, in general, is fully redundant. But it will no longer be a business necessity. I will discuss the future of workspaces in another blog post because this is an exciting topic 😉

Win-Win

A distributed workforce is truly a win-win situation as it also offers the staff the autonomy or flexibility to optimise their work-life balance which is one of the biggest contributors to stress and poor mental health.

An organisation is formed from individuals coming together, with no one member of the staff being the same. By forcing everyone to conform themselves to one workplace model while expecting high levels of productivity, you will naturally see organisational culture and engagement negatively affected.

Let’s look at this from another perspective. All of us have lived in a shared space with others at one point, whether with family members, friends or a partner. A successful situation requires a certain amount of compromise within the relationship to find a happy balance for communal living. This is tough enough within one household, but trying to find mutual ground for 50,100, 1000 staff members all with different roles, demands and preferences, GOOD LUCK!!

From the AC (too hot to too cold) to overhead lights (too bright or not bright enough); from the variance in alertness and productivity windows (Early bird vs Night owl) and workspace layout (open floor through to the private office). On a daily basis, we risk falling into the time-wasting, challenging conversations around who is the lucky one with the corner office or the desk with a view, best airflow, best temperature, location…. you get the point. This list seems endless.

Wouldn’t it be better to avoid these difficult awkward conversations altogether, while allowing people to maximise their own environments and attain higher productivity and happiness?

Next Step’s

You’re no doubt thinking this sounds too good to be true, but it is not. If executed correctly, this is as drastic a change as it gets for an organisation. With COVID-19, we have all been forced to take the plunge into the deep end without a systematic approach and while some of this change management process has been thrust upon us, why not take it for an extended test run?

Yes, it will involve some inevitable fires to be put out as we scramble to figure out this new digital business landscape of distributed work, video calls, collaborative software.

However, with no choice at the moment there is no better time for you and your staff to work through all the kinks with flipping the paradigm.

Keep in mind this. For most organisations, you’ll be functioning at Mullenweg’s Level 1 and 2 of a distributed workforce due to the nature of New Zealand’s COVID-19 response. But the longer you work though these kinks and view it as an opportunity, you will progress into level 3 and above. This is where the true magic begins while removing any shackles that may be holding your business back from rapid recovery and growth.

As I discuss with all my executive clients, it will not be easy. However, Taylored and the team is here to help guide you throughout this challenging situation. If you need support in adaption or just want to run something by us, please get in touch.

In the meantime, we will keep blog posts coming highlighting important considerations to help guide you through this transformative time.

COVID-19: Everything thing you need to know

Now deemed a Global Pandemic we are learning more day by day about COVID-19. With all the hysteria across the media, it has become difficult to determine what is hype and what is true. From people panic shopping and fighting over toilet paper, the world is going a little bit crazy.

In this post, we will aim to provide you with an overview of accurate up to date information. Following this post, we will discuss strategies on how to combat this issue.

Hysteria:

First of all, I need to address the panic, we all need to calm down……… There is no need to prepare for the end of the world and stock up on supplies like toilet paper and food. Well not in New Zealand at least as we produce all essential supplies (food, toilet paper etc) in New Zealand, we are not reliant on global markets. Even the supermarkets are requesting for everyone to calm down and to shop as normal, there is plenty to go around. 

From a hysteria standpoint, the timing couldn’t be worse for NZ/ southern hemisphere with the changing of seasons and drop in temperature and as we head into flu season. As a result of lack of education and understanding of COVID-19, people that are suffering from common flu are unnecessarily concerned for the worst and stressing our health system which is going to need every spare bed atm. What is the difference between common flu and COVID-19? Stay tuned as we will highlight this below so you can stay informed and rest easy.

Important: COVID-19 is treatable.

 

Stop stressing! 

Don’t forget stress is one of the leading causes of disease (something I have written extensively around) so you are not doing yourself any favours worrying about things you cannot control. Our hope in this article is by sharing the facts we can help in easing any anxiety or stress you may have. Our next post will begin to address what you can do to mitigate this and the anxiety around it.

What is it COVID-19?

Similar to SARS, research points out that the virus also originates from bats. COVID-19 causes respiratory and intestinal infections in animals and humans. 

What happens in the respiratory system and immune system in response to the virus?

  1. Your body will produce mucus in an attempt to contain or trap the virus. 
  2. The infection involves overstimulation of the body’s defences against viral infections. Cytokines, proteins secreted by certain immune cells, signal for more immune cells to enter the picture and try to engulf the virus, resulting in cell death and increased inflammation.
  3. Due to the high replication rate of the coronavirus, it often overwhelms the immune responses leading to local tissue destruction and depletion of infection-fighting cells. Cytokines also can travel via the circulatory system to other organs such as the kidneys, liver, and small intestine. Dramatic increases in cytokines are referred to as a cytokine storm and this appears to be a distinguishing feature of severe respiratory viruses vs lesser viruses like the common cold.

Not all people with the virus will experience all three stages and also in some cases, you may be a carrier of a virus but have no symptoms (meaning you can unsuspectingly pass it on).

How COVID-19  spreads

As a new disease, we are still learning how it spreads but below as of 19th of March the CDC believe these are major methods: 

 

  • Human interaction

 

    • Between people who are in close contact with one another (within about 6 feet).
    • Passed through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes. These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby or possibly be inhaled into the lungs.

 

  • Can someone spread the virus without being sick?

 

    • People are thought to be most contagious when they are most symptomatic (have symptoms)
    • Potentially it is possible before people show symptoms. However, it is not thought to be the main method in which the virus spreads.

 

  • Contaminated surfaces or objects

 

The virus could potentially spread through cross-contamination of surfaces or objects that have the virus on it and a person touching it and then touching the mouth, nose or possibly eyes. However, this is not thought to be the main method for the virus spreading.

 

What happens if you feel sick?

Remember that symptoms of the common cold or seasonal flu can be similar to symptoms of coronavirus, which can make it difficult to determine what might be going on. Especially with New Zealand heading towards flu season. Here is a great chart to review symptoms and determine next steps.

Determine what you are dealing with

We encourage anyone with signs of a respiratory infection or COVID-19 (fever, dry cough, and shortness of breath) to contact their primary care physician for guidance. Ideally where possible connect with your doctor online or by phone to reduce the risk of transmission. 

If you develop severe symptoms or are in the high-risk groups outlined below and develop shortness of breath, call 111 or go to the nearest emergency room after calling ahead for safe arrival instructions. 0800 358 5453

 COVID-19 risk factors:

If you are high- or medium-risk and fall within any of these risk factors below, it is recommended that you self-isolate and practice social distancing for a minimum of 14 days, even if you have no symptoms. 

 

  • Age: 

 

While the overall global mortality rate of COVID-19 is currently estimated to be around 3.4% by the WHO (as of March 3), early reports out of China and a similar pattern identified in Italy (the highest number of coronavirus deaths outside of China) show that the mortality rate increases with age. The mortality rate is highest (14.8%) for those over the age of 80. This most likely due to older individuals often suffer from at least one chronic health condition that stresses their immune system, increasing their risk. 

Children are rarely affected by the disease. 

 

  • Pre-existing conditions

Adults with preexisting conditions like heart disease and diabetes or chronic lung conditions such as asthma, emphysema, COPD have a greater risk of being affected by any virus, including COVID-19 because of decreased ability to fight off infections due to a less robust immune response. In China, coronavirus patients with heart disease had a 10 per cent mortality rate, while those with diabetes had around a 7 per cent mortality rate, far greater than the global average — which WHO estimated at 3.4% on March 3rd.

 

  • Immunocompromised adults 

Immunocompromised means the inability to normally respond to environmental exposures including viruses or bacteria due to a weakened immune system. People who are immunocompromised include those with diabetes, heart disease, hepatitis B, chronic kidney disease, autoimmune conditions, malnutrition, and cancer because those conditions do lessen one’s ability to mount an adequate immune response. 

 

  • Smoking

 

Adults who smoke on a regular basis (cigarettes, cigars, marijuana) are at an increased risk for more severe upper respiratory infections overall. Some Experts believe that this is one of the reasons that men in China died more often than women from coronavirus was because of their smoking habits. 

Social distancing: bell curve

Why should we consider social distancing? 

This is a manageable/treatable disease but if we don’t control the spread we will surpass the health systems capacity and will result in a higher mortality rate as health professionals won’t be able to keep up with demand. The primary goal is to slow the spread of disease, a concept which is being referred to as  “flattening the curve” which you will see depicted down below. Essentially it will provide us the time to manage the disease but more importantly and often forgotten it will also allow the health system the capacity to deal with other business as usual cases eg. trauma, surgeries, chronic diseases etc. If capacity is maxed out COVID-19 patients won’t be the only ones who will suffer the consequences! 

The new research also showed that 97.5% of people who are infected develop symptoms within 11.5 days. About 1% of patients, however, show symptoms after 14 days – outside the window of the CDC’s quarantine guidelines.

Cure

Once again no need to fear. The University of Queensland Centre for Clinical Research director Professor David Paterson told news.com.au they have seen two drugs used to treat other conditions (Malaria and HIV) wipe out the virus in test tubes.

Prof Paterson said the medications given to some of the first positive cases of COVID-19 in Australia, had already resulted in “disappearance of the virus” and complete recovery from the infection. 

Another reason for us to flatten the curve and provide scientists like Prof Paterson the time they need to design a cure which could be distributed worldwide.

Keeping safe in the meantime

It is simple, practice good hygiene and social distancing where possible. 

  • Most importantly due to the nature of how it spreads through bodily fluid, if coughing or sneezing do so into your left elbow as many people are now greeting using right elbow touch instead of a handshake (weird I know, but best to be safe than sorry).
  • Wash hands frequently (at minimum 20 sec, see image below) and carry a hand-sanitiser with you and use frequently (if you can find one…).
  •  
  • If you use tissues, do not reuse them, throw out after use.
  • Avoid highly populated areas, where possible.
  • Aim to keep a 1.5m distance between other individuals to prevent spread.
  • Clean and disinfect everything after use.
  • Avoid travel were possible. 

Sick or medium-high risk

  • Self-isolate a minimum of 14days.
  • Wear a mask around other people. You do not need to wear a facemask unless you are caring for someone who is sick (and they are not able to wear a facemask). 

Future

The news is not all bad. I am one to always look on the bright side and there are plenty of learnings to take away from this outbreak. For example, it will greatly impact our lives in so many ways, some of which we probably haven’t thought about yet. I will touch on some of these in future posts, I will discuss things like the future of the workplace etc.

Next post

Stay tuned for our next post where we will discuss the science and nutrition around prevention and management of COVID-19.