The COVID-19 pandemic has led to a surge in the required virtual supply chain work across companies. Aside from the pandemic, teams workingvirtually is a macro trend that newer generations making up a growing portion of the workforce expect. Looking ahead, if supply chain leaders want to attract and retain the best and brightest talent, they will need to facilitate work in new and different ways.
One of the unintended consequences of the instantaneous switch to remote work was the negative impact on productivity because of how our traditional work was assigned, communicated and organized. To better understand how working virtually can increase productivity and provide employees more autonomy, managers need to review how agile supply chain tactics and tools are empowering virtual teams.
Invest in People to Create a Stronger Organizational Foundation
The single biggest key to success in this new work environment is having talented people. The most powerful takeaway from my research and experience is that no method or technology can be as impactful as people with clear roles, documented processes and standardized training. It is critical that you first conduct a thorough assessment of the current state of your people, roles, procedures and training.
It may seem appealing to assume you are fine in the people department, but skipping this step is at your own peril. Have your leadership teams conduct an honest assessment of the current state of your people. Simply put, any organizational challenges you currently face will only be exacerbated by increasing your level of virtual work.
Ask yourself these questions and consider these tips to quickly assess and improve virtual work within your organization.
- Define Clear Roles: Are there multiple people doing the same job? Is there an overlap in approvals? If yes, map out team members' critical roles and tasks, then adjust to eliminate gray areas and overlap to improve work pace.
- Tip: A RASIC tool is an excellent framework to outline each task for which a team member is (R)esponsible, (A)pproving, (S)upporting, (I)nformed and (C)onsulted.
- Document Processes: Are there undocumented processes? Are there different ways to accomplish the same thing? Pause from the day-to-day hum of business to document your processes, then watch the productivity boom.
- Tip: Use a value stream map to outline your end-to-end processes, document the current state, trim the waste and deploy the future state process.
- Standardize Training: Were team members verbally training new team members in person? Are there variations in training materials? If so, take the time to document standard training requirements, including digital checklists, processes, duration and aptitude tests.
- Tip: Exams with certification awards upon successful completion are a great way to reinforce excellence while celebrating individual successes along the way.
- Foster Net Giving Culture: Do team members ask for more information than they provide? Is there an apprehension to share data? Quickly change this dynamic by encouraging people to start small and proactively give more to their teammates. Use a simple net giving equation to track giving with a +1, taking with a -1, and giving and taking at the same time as a 0 and watch awareness of behaviors accelerate information sharing.
- Tip: Have each team member use the net giving equation to track and “self-enforce” weekly interactions. The goal is a positive weekly score.
Follow Virtual Work Best Practices
John R. Hollenbeck, Michigan State University professor and a premiere researcher on leadership and teamwork, advocates that five is the magic number of people for an effective video conference call. Additional researchers have converged on similar results for team size in general. Effective communication begins to break down in larger groups, and it has become even more glaringly apparent in virtual meetings.
Hollenbeck stresses that larger teams create more extensive communication links that must be managed. As team size grows linearly, the links among team members grow exponentially. A five-person team has to manage 10 links, while a 10-person team has to manage 45.
A 15-person team might well be over 100. This does not mean we can never have a business unit larger than five or an organization larger than 100. What matters most is how we organize people and the communication links.
If you have a 25-person supply chain team, then split them into groups of five with each group having a leader, especially for communication across groups. This structure is called a multi-team systemand it has been very successful across a wide range of organization types. This does not mean you cannot host a virtual gathering of more than five people.
To optimize video conferencing, we need to pay attention to the number of communication links, not necessarily the total number of people observing. To leverage software technology tools like video conferencing, and improve virtual work productivity, we need to deploy these best practices.
Utilize Agile Supply Chain Software to Improve Collaboration
Once your organization has a strong footing and you are utilizing virtual work best practices, productivity software could be the answer to further accelerate your results. To truly realize the full potential of virtual work, real-time communication is a must to replace former in-person access that an office provides.
Real-time collaboration can encompass the facilitation and execution of data sharing throughout the extended enterprise from your team to cross-functional teams to suppliers. This level of real-time collaboration often requires Industry 4.0 software technology tools to facilitate the exchange of data inside and outside your organization.
Agile supply chain project and task management software allows users to track project, team or personal tasks. This software allows for more efficient real-time sharing of task statuses, criticality and next steps empowering professionals to focus more on getting work done and less on communicating progress.
Furthermore, managers are better able to remotely monitor teams without having to request constant touchpoint check-ins that can leave both parties feeling frustrated. Thus, managers can gain greater task visibility while employees gain more autonomy, so both get more of what they want using technology. Rapid changes in our supply chains have also caused pause for how we divide up and assign the work to be done.
Another trend taking hold is managers utilizing agile supply chain methods to assign tasks to team members along with a corresponding point for the time and difficultly of the task. Software, too, can track this input. The benefit is that both the manager and employee are better able to forecast their work bandwidth availability and completion dates. Again, everyone is winning.
More Workflow with Less Effort
As our talent budgets will likely continue to remain under pressure, we must seek out creative approaches to do more work with less. Also, as we look around our video meetings and see a growing number of generation Y (Millennials) and now generation Z (iGens),we need to align to their autonomy expectations while satisfying our work visibility needs.
Virtual work will remain a new constant path forward for many innovative organizations, while other organizations will revert to traditional onsite work. The long-term macro trend of newer generations expecting more location autonomy (e.g., virtual work) for part or all of their workweek will continue. However, managers can succeed in this dynamic workplace transition. They can increase, not decrease, team productivity simply by adjusting their tactics and tools.
Foster a strong organization foundation, follow virtual work best practices and then accelerate with agile supply chain software to empower your team to thrive in a virtual workplace.