What Scares Leaders about Work-From-Home?

Rachel Shuey

“What are you up to?! What about my team?!”

Laura Freebairn-Smith, Partner at OPG


Many managers have been taught that 8-5, in-office schedules are the only way to ensure accountability, productivity, and teamwork. This notion is a holdover from management ideas built on old paradigms around production lines, value of labor, hierarchy, privilege, and more. How does OPG continue to evolve away from old paradigms of control toward paradigms of engaged self-management?

OPG currently has a 4-day work week, with work-from-home (WFH) flexibility on three of the four days. We ask all staff to be in the office on Mondays and for other key events or team building moments, such as when new staff start. When new staff start, we ask everyone to be in the office every day for two weeks. (A sidenote about COVID-19 and in-office work: OPG requires that staff be vaccinated.)

Most of the time, the staff can choose when they work from home or when they come in the office. Is this anxiety producing for me as a leader? Yes. I worry about two things – (1) accountability and productivity (these go hand-in-hand), and (2) teamwork.

For OPG to be successful, our team must work fluidly together, delivering top quality services and results for our clients. Our standards and norms must be intuitively integrated and exhibited in everything our staff does. This level of team functioning cannot happen without face-to-face team building time. As we’ve pivoted to more WFH, Tony, the other Partner at OPG, and I have worked with the staff to find creative ways to build and sustain the team. We use all of the following methods, and more, to keep a sense of team:

  • Weekly all-staff Zoom calls, 30 minutes long
  • Monthly all-staff meetings, 2 hours long; these are pivoting to in-person on Mondays over the next few months
  • Annual in-person retreat, 1-2 days in length
  • All staff in-office every day during a new employee’s first two weeks; as the firm grows, we’ll probably adjust this to a rotation of staff being in the office
  • Annual charrette [1] week, mix of in-person and WFH
  • Year-long orientation activities for new staff
  • Rotating facilitation of staff meetings so all staff lead meetings
  • Celebrations such as birthdays and staff get-togethers
  • Transitioning some of OPG’s microlevers [2] to work in the hybrid environment; for example, our “good news gong” has gone virtual via a group text chain

But what about accountability and productivity, the holy grail for managers? OPG relies on staff to be self-starters and self-managers. Within 6-12 months of an employee’s start at OPG, we have clear indicators of whether they need more or less structure in order to deliver results. We don’t use software to track accountability; we rely on several other tools:

  • Weekly meetings with staff and their supervisor
  • Quarterly performance reviews
  • A review of each staff member’s current productivity at the monthly Partners’ meeting
  • Feedback from clients
  • Employee’s proactive managing up and keeping us informed of their progress
  • Assessing the employee’s impact on OPG’s strategic goals
  • OPG’s profitability

We also pay attention to indicators of problems with accountability and productivity; these include:

  • Regularly punting of work to others
  • Missing deadlines
  • Hard to find or track down the staff member when needed
  • Excessive excuse-making on why they are not achieving their targets
  • Lack of follow-through on tasks
  • Repeated “forgetting” about agreements or tasks

At the core of work-from-home and more fluid in-office arrangements is trust and good management. Both are built with time, and the active engagement of everyone in the firm. As work life begins to “normalize” in the coming months, let’s not lose sight of this opportunity to challenge the old paradigms and rethink how we work, for the benefit of our organizations, employees, and the world.

 

About the Author: 

Laura Freebairn-Smith is Partner and Cofounder of Organizational Performance Group.  Laura has been a consultant for such distinguished companies as the New York Times and People’s Bank. Her specialty is assisting leaders in realizing the full potential of their organizations through humanistic and analytical practices, while offering guidance in the redesign of infrastructure, the creation of strategic plans, and with organizational development.

 


 

[1] https://hrdailyadvisor.blr.com/2019/02/22/whats-an-organizational-charrette-and-how-can-it-enhance-your-business/

[2] https://organizationalperformancegroup.com/resources/opg-inspire/