Escaping the shackles of organisation structures by Dr Susanne Evans

The opportunities for change that the pandemic presents.

A recent survey by Deloitte showed that 55% of workers believe that their colleagues are just as, if not more, productive now than before lockdown.  And, 61% of desk based workers would prefer to work from home more often after lockdown.

There is no denying that despite the difficulties being faced by many people during lockdown, a positive has been being able to work from home.  Whilst working from home has its own challenges, many of us have found that there are also benefits to doing so.

And it seems that productivity has not necessarily been affected by workers suddenly being out of sight of their boss.  There are many reasons for this but recent research suggests that people are more productive when they have more control over their schedules.  The same research also claims that being at home avoids some of the distractions that can occur in a busy office environment, enabling greater focus on the work that matters.

This raises some interesting questions.

Organisation structures do not fit with what employees need

For many years, some leaders and managers have been reluctant to embrace flexible working out of fear that if they cannot see their teams, they cannot control what they are doing.  The fact that during lockdown, work has continued to be completed and, as the research shows, employees are feeling more productive and potentially more committed to their organisation, makes these arguments redundant.

The problem is that so many of the structures and processes in organisations have historically been created to control the many, out of fear that a few employees will ‘misbehave’.

For example, think about performance management processes.  Research has shown that most employees do not find their annual performance review or appraisal useful and yet many organisations continue to use them.  This is often because a poor performance review is seen to be a useful mechanism to begin a process of dismissal for a poor performing employee.

But, in any organisation, how many employees are truly poor performing?

Why are organisations continuing to use a process that is not beneficial to most employees just to deal with the few cases of poor performance each year?

Having experienced many organisations during by 20+ years as a consultant, I whole heartedly believe that most people go to work each day keen to do a good job.  And this has been demonstrated during lockdown by the continued efforts that people have made, despite the challenges of working from home and juggling multiple responsibilities, to get their job done well.

So, what does this mean for the future of work?

Well, I definitely don’t have all the answers to that question.

But, I hope that in future, organisations have home working as the norm, with the opportunity for teams to come together to collaborate as necessary.  The World Economic Forum have highlighted how this will create many more opportunities for inclusion at work and for marginalized groups to fully participate.

Equally, there is an opportunity to review and reevaluate some of the processes that are used in organisations and to reconsider how work gets done.  Going back to performance management as an example, the piece of the process that is valuable to employees is getting feedback, so let’s reinvent performance appraisals to focus on this rather than the current endless process of form filling and having conversations because the process tells us to.

Let’s ask employees what they have valued from their experiences of working from home and what they would like to take forward into the future.  The team at Work Horizons have developed some fantastic resources to support these conversations.

And let’s create a workplace that is inclusive and designed around the needs of the many rather than creating structures to deal with the few.

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Dr Susanne Evans began her change management career in Big 4 firms before setting her up own consultancy. Feldspar Consulting in 2007.  She focuses on the people side of change, enabling her clients to achieve sustainable change through the use of appreciative inquiry, conversation, dialogue and storytelling.  She works with individuals and companies across a variety of sectors and with organisations of all sizes.  Susanne is an experienced trainer and facilitator, with a Postgraduate Certificate in Facilitation from the University of Surrey and a PhD in Organisational Change and Storytelling from the University of Birmingham.  She also hosts the podcast ChangeStories (https://www.feldsparconsulting.com/change-stories/) where she shares insights about change through conversation.  Away from work, Susanne loves open water swimming and anything to do with archaeology.