The Emergence of “Working From Home Silos”.
As Victoria re-opens and people start to drift back to the city, many have decided that they would prefer to work from home, and many companies are supporting this. Of course, this means companies that adopt ongoing remote or increased flexible working for their teams must now think about ways to ensure productivity remains high when a portion of staff have moved from working in the office to predominantly working from home, and the novelty has worn off.
One of the challenges that has become apparent from several conversations this year is that many people are often only spending time engaging with the members of their immediate teams or department. This means they often do not really know what is happening within other teams or departments. In many cases those who have started new roles during the last 6 months have only ever met, virtually or physically, people in their direct teams.
This can inadvertently create silos. With the result often being bottlenecks and inefficiencies. They also greatly reduce collaboration across teams and departments, and the lack of enterprise-wide visibility can result in duplication of work and multiple solutions for similar problems being developed. We all know how that ends.
A recent Gartner employee survey found that, when working remotely, 41 percent of people feel disconnected from their colleagues and 26 percent of people feel isolated. This disconnection contributes to the drop in efficiency and will undoubtedly lead to higher turnover among staff.
So, what can leaders do to tackle this? Firstly, recognise the problem and secondly, act on it. I would add that you should really be encouraging true systems thinking across your organisation, but one step at a time.
Silos happen when people separate into unofficial sub-groups and, usually due to a lack of cross communication, stop collaborating and start working independently. This can result in similar or identical initiatives being tackled differently or cross team dependencies not working. Often this will eventuate in some form of clash.
There are a number of warning signs that all leaders should be aware of and actively monitor.
Overlapping responsibilities and/or duplication.
Ideally, everyone should know exactly what part they are playing in the broader context of the organisation, but when silos start to form the distinction between peoples responsibility can become blurred, often resulting in overlaps and, at worst, duplication. As a leader you need to set very clear boundaries and parameters that are universally understood. No two teams should be performing the same tasks and duties. Communication, as always, is key to preventing this and the inevitable frustration and disunity. Assign tasks to specific people with due dates.
Misaligned understanding of common goals and priorities.
When multiple teams are working toward a common goal, but responsible for different aspects and there is not a clear definition of what you are seeking to achieve, and who is responsible for each constituent part, it is almost guaranteed that very few, or none, of the objectives will be met. This is not good for morale, time or money. You have to include your teams in goal-setting discussions to ensure that everyone is on the same page and have an opportunity at the outset to ask questions and ensure absolute clarity. Fail to prepare, prepare to fail.
Cooperation and teamwork are not always organic and not everyone is a natural collaborator. Often the act of physically sitting next to each other in a group is enough to instill and reinforce the idea, however when people are working alone this team mentality can break down and individuals can start to make personal, independent decisions, not aligned with the group. You cannot just assume that people will continue to work together when physically separate. Luckily technology can go some of the way to provide workable solutions so you need to put tools and platforms in place that enable your teams to work together. There are plenty to choose from. Creating workflows that encourage or require the need for team members to report to one another and share progress and information can also be used very effectively.
Emerging information silos.
When you have data and information not being openly shared and access restricted to a limited cohort of people you are likely to run into issues with information silos. A way to share necessary data across teams and departments virtually is required, securely, obviously. Again, technology can provide the solution here.
It is also important to remember that we nearly always refer to silos in the plural form. Silos are like any other contagious disease; it is unlikely that only one will emerge. Once one forms, you can bet your house that more are on their way or are lurking undiscovered just waiting to duplicate work, introduce misalignment, and ultimately hamper your organisation’s agility.
The most important area for leaders to focus on is transparency. It is critical that every individual understands how, why and what they are tasked with contributing. Everyone needs to know what is going on, what the overall goal is and what the path to success is. Transparency and constant communication is your best weapon against the scourge of the silo (plural).
*I have also heard many stories of increased efficiency and am certainly not blind to the many pro’s of home working but I do wonder if, long term, the physical separation of employees will be truly beneficial to teams, departments and organisations overall.