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For leaders seeking a more aligned and engaged workforce, technology is crucial

Written by Stuart Templeton on Monday, 02 August 2021. Posted in Leadership, Innovation, Technology, People

It isn’t a question of being ‘modern’ or ‘old school’. Today, you can’t lead a successful business without being tech-fluent.

For leaders seeking a more aligned and engaged workforce, technology is crucial

It isn’t a question of being ‘modern’ or ‘old school’. Today, you can’t lead a successful business without being tech-fluent. 

A year of remote and distributed working has raised new challenges for leaders as they have sought to keep teams aligned around vision, strategy, priorities and goals—even as those work pillars have needed to rapidly evolve. 

What’s become clear is that (already out-dated) closed-door decision making and command-and-control style leadership must be relegated to the past. We no longer work in Dickensian-era factories, and it’s clearer than ever that we mustn’t run organisations as if we do. 

Instead, leaders today need to champion a culture of alignment that is driven by open leadership, systems built on transparency and equal employee opportunity whether at home or in the office. Using technology effectively as a leader is fundamental to unlocking this vision. And, those who do so and nurture a truly aligned workforce will be rewarded with a happier, more agile, engaged, and competitive organisation.

Opening up the workplace

Following the mass-shift to remote and distributed working, it became apparent that keeping even a single team aligned around shared goals and priorities during such disruption was a challenge. Scaled to an entire organisation, it was infinitely more complex. 

However, rather than a knee-jerk desire to return to the office, the most effective leaders during this time recognise that more fundamental changes are needed to keep teams engaged and aligned in the post-pandemic era. At the heart of this necessary change is a move to more open styles of leadership.

Keeping information hidden away in email chains, decision making siloed within a small exec team, or individual work logged in offline systems or specialist software, leads to a lack of alignment, confusion over organisational priorities and uncertainty when it comes to rationale or accountability. 

Without visibility over why decisions are being made, what current priorities are and who has completed certain work, distributed teams become disconnected. Time ends up being lost to duplicated work, engagement falls as employees can’t see where their role fits into the bigger picture, and faith in the leadership collapses. The organisation as a whole suffers as a result. 

This is why its key that moving forward, organisations have a centralised space where work happens.

Putting in place a system of transparency 

To build an aligned culture, leaders require tools that help keep everyone in the loop on the work that matters to them. A space where decisions can be made and shared openly, and teams can catch-up or discover information seamlessly, without digging through inboxes or chasing colleagues for a document they’ve missed. 

Channel-based messaging apps can do this by bringing every team member into a single shared space with transparent access to all the right people, apps, docs, and information they need for a given project. Tools like these also enable teams to embrace flexible and asynchronous work by enabling employees to catch-up autonomously, discover information easily, and collaborate on work without the need for meetings at set times. Meanwhile, leaders can drop in easily for progress checks, without the time-drain and diary management needed for formal reports. 

Having a transparent system to collaborate, organise, and discover work is key even if some workers are returning to offices, particularly with 42% stating they are concerned they will lose the flexibility they currently have - according to a survey Slack recently conducted, among 1,000 UK workers, revealing how they are currently feeling about the return to work. 

For leadership, however, simply installing the right technology isn’t enough. To use technology to drive alignment, both within their own team and the organisation as a whole, leaders have to actively use it. 

Wayfair is one company in which the executive team successfully approached the challenges of the last year by rethinking their approach to employee engagement. Using Slack, teams moved from in-person status updates to stand-ups in Slack channels, ensuring no sacrifice in transparency despite different locations or schedules. Meanwhile, the leadership encouraged questions and an open dialogue by actively sharing how they were addressing challenges by holding transparent biweekly ask-me-anything sessions via Slack. 

With transparent access to leadership, employees have a forum to share their concerns and discover the meaningful actions being taken to address them, boosting overall engagement and helping everyone come together through a shared mission. 

Eliminating proximity bias 

As restrictions ease and remote-only environments move to hybrid mixtures of in-person and remote, the risk is that, without the right processes and systems in place, proximity bias undermines alignment and equality. While progressive leaders need to keep everyone on the same page, that doesn’t mean they need to be in the same room. 

It was previously thought that in-person meetings were the best way to interact and that alternatives were always a compromise. Slipping back into this view—after it has been routinely proven wrong—can create bias between teams, benefitting office workers over those who work remotely. 

Such a bias is particularly harmful as it can further exacerbate existing workplace inequalities. New parents or those with caring responsibilities for example may be more inclined to embrace a flexible or remote model. It’s therefore vital that proximity bias doesn’t take hold, as it risks not only creating new disparities but entrenching issues amongst under-supported groups. 

Leaders should instead seek to empower every worker with access to coworkers, leadership, networking opportunities, social activities and more whether they are in the office or elsewhere, working a 9-5, or on a different schedule. This is fundamental to nurturing an aligned, diverse and inclusive office and with it a more agile, highly-skilled and engaged team. 

Moving forward, not backward

As office doors reopen, it would be a mistake to equate walking through them as a return to aligned, engaged and happy teams. While access to the office will be important for some, leaders must remember that only by breaking down siloed information, democratising decision making and dismantling proximity bias can they put in place a true basis for a more aligned, equal, and empowered workplace for everyone. 

About the Author

Stuart Templeton

Stuart Templeton

Stuart Templeton is Head of Slack in the UK. He has over 20 years of experience in the enterprise technology industry and has held senior roles at Salesforce, Tideway and SS&C. During his 10 years at Salesforce, Stuart held a variety of positions including Regional Vice President for Financial Services, where he helped guide customer focused innovation within banking, insurance and capital markets space.

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