Working from home: a team perspective
A look at evolving team dynamics with mandatory work from home requirements
Here in India, we are now entering the sixth week of a country wide lock down. For many of us, depending on organizations that we work for, the lock down might have started even earlier. We have all used work from home option on multiple occasions, but there are some things that are distinctly different when we all are doing mandatory work for home.
“Our facial expressions, our gestures, our posture, everything is a very efficient mechanism to telegraph our intentions, apart from the content of what we are speaking.”
For starters, when we optionally decide to work from home, it does not mean our entire team also works from home. It will just be a few individuals who might work from home for a day or few. This makes a huge difference as it allows us to postpone some of our discussions to the next time we all meet face to face. And meeting face to face is a wonderful thing, as communication between humans involve verbal as well as non-verbal cues. Our facial expressions, our gestures, our posture, everything is a very efficient mechanism to telegraph our intentions, apart from the content of what we are speaking. This complementary communication channel is extremely hard to replace when we are communicating remotely, even using video. Replacing this highly efficient side channel of communication with only verbal communication, creates an extremely challenging scenario. One of the ways to mitigate the challenge is for the participants to be extremely lucid and articulate in the language of communication. Meeting this criteria can be difficult in a multi-cultural and globalized work force. A more reasonable approach will be to ensure team members to become more precise while talking over the phone, while putting down as many details as they can in their e-mail communication.
“the ability of the human race to organize and work as teams is one of it’s greatest social achievements”
Secondly, the ability of the human race to organize and work as teams is one of it’s greatest social achievements. It has allowed us to tackle impossible challenges as a group and progress forward. Same holds true in a corporate environment. We all have specific strengths and areas of expertise and being able to quickly check on with our colleagues on areas we are not an expert in, allows us to efficiently deliver on our jobs. But with physical distance, this becomes a challenge. Various factors start influencing our ability to reach out: the person we want to talk with might be in another meeting, they might not be at their desk at that moment and so on. We have probably reached an age where we need all rounders in our teams, and I completely expect the bar for hiring to become even higher.
“we might see a trade off happening between the team velocity and team throughput”
Thirdly, lack of close proximity discussions, like hallway conversations, severely stagnates the flow of information within cross teams. Every problem requires teams to setup meetings, instead of just walking over. But setting up a meeting requires time, which might not be available since the persons might be engaged in other similar meetings. And we quickly end up in a scenario where we have an avalanche of meetings and work comes to a standstill. This is getting well documented in articles like this. Needless to say, the situation quickly becomes unsustainable. At this point, we might see a trade off happening between the team velocity and team throughput. It might become imperative to start throttling the team deliverables so that the system does not get stressed beyond capacity and team velocity becomes zero. Again, we can see that this becoming a highly individual centric factor, as outlined in point two above. A few all-rounder’s in the team might get over subscribed to maintain team velocity. Care should be taken that this does not happen.
“we need to realize that the world as we knew it before the pandemic has probably changed for ever“
Finally, we need to realize that the world as we knew it before the pandemic has probably changed for ever. And it is imperative that we are agile and flexible enough to adjust to these new realities in both our personal as well as professional lives, whether as individuals or as organizations.