In 2021 we navigated a lot of change and ambiguity. Life felt at times, hectic and unpredictable, but there was also a slowing down. There were shortages; so we waited longer for everything from household supplies to PCR tests. We saw inflation creep up, and so we waited to buy things; and, we changed our purchasing habits. Stores and restaurants reduced hours due to staffing issues and lowered demand. So while there was great uncertainty, this slowing down also made many families question everything from where they wanted to live, to the types of jobs they wanted to have, to their values and how they want their children educated.
I got started with this tradition of predictions in 2010 after reading Disrupting Class, a book by Clayton Christensen and Michael Horn. In their book, they predicted that by 2019, 50% of all high school courses will be online in some blended learning model. That was a pretty bold prediction in 2008 when the book was published, but their model for cycles of innovation seems pretty accurate now that we have hindsight. Even as of May 2019, there were people pointing out the failure of this prediction. Now at the end of 2020, I’d estimate that +95% of all K-12 students took some form of an online class, and most likely this trend will continue into 2021.
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To close out this series on how to get your organization primed for remote work, I’d like to explore some pitfalls of working remotely and share tips for avoiding them. It can be easy for virtual meetings to get very tactical since participants are wary of conversations that are too long and fail to stimulate them. This can lead to several other issues that can derail a meeting. To avoid this pitfall, it’s important to have a strong facilitator that can bring people together to agree on a set of protocols and norms for any given meeting. Such norms might include not having side conversations, so as to not distract others.
Distributing information in an organization can sometimes feel like playing telephone. When we need to share information with teammates, it can be easy to start small, by having side conversations with colleagues sitting nearby. If you know how telephone is played, you know that this can be a recipe for disaster, with people passing on diluted information they did not have adequate time to reflect on. However, in a remote work environment, we have an opportunity to think about how we can distribute information quickly and equally throughout an organization to avoid confusion and misalignment.
Many leaders are making decisions that impact their entire organization in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. As with many decisions with far-reaching implications, building consensus may be an obvious instinct for many. However, in a time with so much uncertainty, there can be many drawbacks to aiming for consensus – chief among them being too much input, causing the process to stagnate. Remote work provides the opportunity for leaders to try things differently and to avoid some of the traps that come along with integrating the input of many team members.
Many organizations are learning how they can push their work forward as they transition from in-person to virtual collaboration. No longer confined by the physical limitations that come with an office space, leaders must also recognize the opportunity that virtual work brings to more thoughtfully reflect on how work gets defined and how it gets delegated to team members. Defining the work before defining team roles is essential for individual growth and improving organizational decision-making.