Coauthored by: Karen Gorman and Jessica Miller
Kitchen tables, make-shift computer trays on car consoles, scribbling notes on the back of napkins… Working arrangements in 2020 looked a lot different due to the pandemic’s impact. We toughed it out one video call at a time, but all the while our mindset of what was “normal” was shifting and evolving, and so was the mindset of the global workforce. We truly are in a work-from-anywhere world now and like many of you, ALULA was curious about the impacts of that dramatic shift.
At ALULA, we know that behavior (what people do and say) is the key to work success. So, we wanted to see what performance indicators shifted as a result of the pandemic, its economic disruption, and the massive cultural changes. We definitely had some surprises!
Nine months into quarantine, we deployed a survey based on our proprietary DCOM® model. DCOM is a practical and powerful model that can effectively gauge how organizations are doing in the midst of massive change. It has four parts:
Direction: Leaders give clear, consistent direction on what to do and why.
Competence: Leaders ensure employees know how to do their jobs.
Opportunity: Leaders provide resources and tools so employees can do their jobs without barriers.
Motivation: Leaders give feedback to positively reinforce employees to work the right way.
In our DCOM ratings, 4–5 indicates strong performance, while a 3 or below means “needs improvement.” It might seem obvious where DCOM would be impacted by the major shifts that a work-from-anywhere world brought about. But when we dug into the results and compared them to our benchmarks, we were intrigued. Here are the results.
Work-from-Anywhere (WFA) Results
|ALULA DCOM Database|
The following are the pros and cons of what our analysis uncovered.
When the quarantine was first implemented, companies scrambled to rearrange and rework the very nature of their business, both to maintain profitability and a sense of stability for their employees. Pre-pandemic, Direction was a strong category, indicating that leaders were communicating the what and why effectively. But when the world was thrust into quarantine and the workforce scattered, that score dropped. In fact, it was the single largest gap in the survey. With focus on crisis control and base operational shifts, it’s no surprise that leaders and employees felt a lack of direction. The sudden shift from environmental norms to isolated kitchen tables left the workforce with a need for clarity and directness from leadership nine months into working-from-anywhere.
Rapid transitions with no preparation create challenges where they didn’t exist before, yet the score for competence didn’t suffer nearly as much. Competence was the highest score of our DCOM benchmarks—and the score among quarantined respondents was the smallest drop-off from the norm. Employees flexed their individual knowhow to ensure the work was getting done. Organizations quickly adapted to ensure that resources and technology were in place to support employees working from anywhere. The rise in digital commerce pre-pandemic helped smooth the way for minimal disruptions in daily operations.
Two of the key factors within this DCOM category are the removal of barriers and subsequent communication that facilitate high performance. Every part of that equation is rendered more difficult in a remote world. Technology, communication, collaboration, innovation, and problem-solving—all are harder to manage when you aren’t in the same space as your coworkers.
The benchmark for Opportunity indicated stronger performance in general—and the pandemic had a negative impact on this performance area, too. While not as substantial as the change in Direction scores, this is the one that most employees feel day-to-day. Lack of opportunity creates shifts in cultural norms: we all heard that sense of frustration from time-to-time when we connected with our colleagues. The workforce wanted to drive results, but the situation introduced barriers that were foreign and challenging. We found that when leaders intentionally asked about barriers and obstacles, some of these headaches were mitigated short-term, but we are still trying to navigate how to get back on-track. However, the survey reinforced that even in optimal working conditions, leaders need to help remove barriers and support employee collaboration. There are implications for future learnings in this finding.
The results here might surprise you, as they surprised us. Motivation is the lowest benchmark, but during our work-from-anywhere survey, we found the average rating to be higher than the benchmark. That’s right: the score actually increased during the quarantine when work environments were drastically altered. It’s hard to know why. Was the pandemic an adrenaline-filled, rally cry? Did people just like being at home? Were employees eager to prove that they could create results under these new challenging circumstances?
People struggled with motivation prior to the pandemic, so how can leaders maintain this going forward? Keep in mind that some motivators may not stay motivating; something that is fresh and engaging today may lose its luster and momentum tomorrow.
Beyond the numbers
We have heard so many stories about how thinking has had to evolve in managing our new environment. Here’s one from our consultants: “One manager wanted people back on-site so he could guarantee they were productive. His premise: ‘if people are at their desks, they are productive.’ We suggested ways he could observe productivity on Teams/Zoom calls by asking questions, ensuring that strategy was understood, discussing barriers and how he could help remove them, and providing positive feedback about what was working well. In the end, it turned out that the key performance indicators on productivity—or any other measure—did not degrade as a result of remote work.”
We are seeing more positive outcomes than not, but sometimes we have to check our own DCOM indicators to ensure we are focusing on the right things to ensure high performance.
So, what have we learned?
Companies need to double-down efforts to ensure employees understand the what and why of their roles and duties during times of uncertainty and work-from-anywhere. In other words, the need for frequent communication about Direction is not only wanted, but desperately needed. Employees also want leaders to display humanity, including frequent check-ins and feedback to keep everyone on track and focused on what truly matters during the constant change and the “unknown.” Even when our working lives are thrown off track, we still find ways to keep going and stay motivated through all the turmoil. Ultimately, it’s up to leaders to maintain or rejuvenate that motivation, so that—even after the pandemic has passed us by—high performance can be continued.
It is through scientific assessments like this survey that leaders can get an honest look at the pros and cons of working from anywhere. This data allows us to refine strategies and tactics toward maintaining high performance in any condition, whether in the office, or the floor of your living room. The rules are the same; it’s just the playing field that’s shifted.
A little about the coauthors:
Karen Gorman finds reward in achievement. But, unlike many with that characteristic, Karen differs in that she feels most fulfilled when her accomplishments benefit those around her, whether that be a cause, a person or an organization. As ALULA’s Chief Executive Officer, Karen believes her principal responsibility is to define, model and advance a culture that ensures the business and people thrive in a dynamic, quickly evolving marketplace. Her greatest motivation is contributing to the success of others fueled by an innate professional need to provide ongoing and increasing value to the entire organization, clients and shareholders.
Jessica Miller is ALULA's Director of Creative and Administrative Services and was responsible for executing the DCOM survey, analyzing the data, and reporting the results.
DCOM® is a registered servicemark of CLG (dba ALULA).