March 31, 2020

Remote management

Intercultural Management

The distancing of employees is a profound trend that the coronavirus crisis is accelerating. How can we make it a source of opportunity and not anxiety?

Remote management

See distancing as an opportunity

The distancing of employees is a profound trend that the coronavirus crisis is accelerating. Companies need to ensure that each leader, manager and employee sees this distancing as a source of opportunity and not anxiety.

The problem to be solved as posed by customers is: how to be effective and impactful despite the distance that separates employees and managers? How to create an aligned and motivated virtual community despite this distance?

The problems posed by distance

When we ask leaders and managers the problems they associate with distance, the answers are generally found in the following list: dehumanization of work, lack of knowledge of colleagues, inability to understand who is doing what, loss of control, less impact, less power, feeling of isolation or downgrading, climate of distrust, conflictual climate, inefficient operating methods, bureaucracy, too much reporting, multiplication of performance indicators (KPIs), too many procedures.

The need for control

Excess reporting

Let's focus on one of the major sources of frustration, this excess of reporting, KPIs, procedures and remote meetings. What is this excess called? Why this abuse of reporting and procedures to ensure performance remotely? An analysis quickly brings us back to a widespread need in managerial software: the need for control.

In a local environment, in local management, it is easy to exercise this control in a more or less subtle and constructive manner.

A manager with a strong need for control can be content to see, be satisfied with proximity to his colleagues, and regular physical interactions to meet this need. Imagine that this same manager finds himself at the head of scattered teams on many sites and in many countries, how will he satisfy this need for control?

Few choices present themselves to him, apart from the multiplication of KPIs, capable of giving the illusion of controlling what is happening "over there", in the reflection - the lure? - of an Excel table or computer platforms. So much for controlling what is done. To control how this is done, the multiplication of processes and procedures will do the trick.

The problem here is therefore not distance but control exercised at a distance.

Dose control

I always recommend that each manager invest in thinking about their relationship to control and the consequences on themselves and others in such an environment. It is not a question of removing control but of measuring it.

From a distance, the overdose is very costly: ineffective decision-making circuits, bottlenecks, bureaucracy, delays, annihilated innovation, disengagement.

Let's take trust out of the realm of goodwill and build a real business case of trust versus control by integrating costs, risks and opportunities.

Feeling of powerlessness or invisibility

Let us now turn our attention to another important source of discomfort: the inability to be impactful in a virtual environment, the regret of lacking resources, the impression of loss of power, the feeling of invisibility and isolation too.

This last symptom is often the most painful and must be treated seriously by the company. Here again, it is more interesting in this environment to question the managerial software and not what makes it "buggy", the distance.

Verticality disrupted by distance

Typically, our traditional organizations have placed our impact, our status, our access to resources in a very strong verticality, hence the emotional, relational and productive overinvestment vis-à-vis our hierarchy upwards, the manager in the first place. , and down to subordinate teams and individuals.

It is this vertical relationship to the organization that distance shakes up, by isolating individuals from their hierarchical lineage, and by creating multiple transversal and virtual interdependencies which force us to rethink its impact and to consider it in its horizontal dimension rather than vertical.

To access resources, exercise power and develop your impact, you must now look left and right much more than up and down.

The attributes of power

It is about questioning one's perception of the attributes of power, that is to say what gives power, or, on the contrary, does not give it. An overly positional vision of power (hierarchy, age, social status, expertise) leads many leaders into a dead end. Businesses today are full of experts and powerless leaders.

In a mirror effect, we find both the difficulty in getting out of this verticality on the part of those managed who still often have expectations of their manager which today's organization makes it impossible to meet, as well as the part of the manager who sees an essential element of his managerial attributes escape him, authority or expertise.


We will therefore keep in mind this image of T-leadership, T-shaped leadership, which, like Leonardo da Vinci's Vitruvian Man, evokes as much the horizontal breadth as the vertical anchoring of today's impactful leader.

In such an environment, we therefore recommend investing in the development of transversal leadership, capable of creating value in the horizontal complexity of the organization.

We then talk about skills around trust, influence, alignment, conflict resolution, networking, intrapreneurship,etc.

Ambiguity and uncertainty

Another example in the list of problems with which distance is often associated: who-does-what, where-is-who, visual navigation, in short what we could summarize as ambiguity and uncertainty in the 'organization.

Clarify everyone’s roles

The role of distance is also quite relative here; I have many examples of teams reorganized on the same site, often in open space, without any real distance problem, who claim that they no longer have any clarity on the roles of each person and that the gray areas seem become the rule in the definition of responsibilities.

The Americans talk more quickly about the VUCA environment, an acronym which means volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous.

The central question becomes: the clarity essential to move forward together, clarity without which there is no alignment possible. Should we wait for it, champing at the bit, or should we take care of this clarification ourselves?

Managers today understand that only the second option is viable, often noting with disappointment that clarity is the organization's broken promise.

This is a source of immense frustration both for employees who at one time experience chaos and for leaders and managers who are no longer capable of providing this clarity, themselves subject to the own volatility of their priorities.

Restore readability

Clarifyingis probably the key function that the organization previously performed for all its members, and that each member must perform for the organization today.

Clarifyingbecomes a full-fledged job for the T-leader in an organization which is no longer there to generate clarity but agility.

Each manager thus becomes responsible for restoring clarity to their interdependencies, by building partnerships, by collaborating, reconciling, aligning, clarifying with others “why we do it, how we do it, and who does it”.

In such an environment, we therefore recommend challenging one's expectations of the organization, and implementing constructive collaboration without ever forgetting to first clarify, for oneself and with others, the why, the how and what.

Email, hyper-traceability and formalism

Finally, let's talk about the recurring problem in today's virtual organizations: the omnipotence of email. We will talk about the power of email for its role as a merciless tracer as much as for its widespread overuse.

This omnipotence draws its source from several factors: the real or perceived lack of alternatives for remote communication, the generalized distrust which leads to the search for traceability ("look, I sent you an email on February 4, 2020 at 3:32 p.m. "), and the race for information.

Let us first recognize in recent years the real awareness and initiatives in the search for alternatives to email: simple instant messaging tools (chat) or augmented (whatsapp and others), virtual meetings with webcams. shared, social networks, communities, Skype, Teams, Slack, etc. I would cite the recent example of this sales manager of an industrial firm who demanded that each of his colleagues be present on WhatsApp, adding “if you have no idea what it is, ask your children”.

The main obstacle to the adoption of these new tools is often their association with a form of futility, of gadgetry. It is then necessary to reiterate the extent to which what is perceived as futile at a distance is, on the contrary, considered essential in proximity: informality and interaction.

With distance disappears the informality of the coffee machine, the interaction of emotions shared in a corridor, the (re)cognition that is created in proximity. Considering that it is enough to deliver to create trust is an illusion. Confidence has as much to do with who we are as what we do.

When informality disappears, an all-formal and all-traceable society is created which slowly destroys trust. We can see the inverse proportionality between use of email and confidence in the virtual organization.

We must therefore be creative at all costs to recreate this informality remotely with the right tools and dedicated time. In this race for information, we must also have the courage to deplete our communications in information in order to enrich them in interaction.

Distance, photographic revealer of corporate culture

Thus, like the photographic developer which allows us to discover a latent and invisible image, distance brings the company culture to light.

Dip a hierarchical and top-down managerial culture, focused on control and expertise, doped with information, in this revealer of distance and you will then see excessive reporting and procedures, managerial impotence, ineffective decision-making circuits, feelings downgrading and isolation, the omnipotence of email and an army of managers hampered by uncertainty and ambiguity.

Energy must therefore be focused on adapting managerial culture to the standards necessary to generate commitment and productivity in modern organizations. It is the responsibility of everyone, at all levels of the company.

Socrates said that we are individually responsible for the culture we experience.

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