At Hatica, our customer research efforts gave us an opportunity to engage with hundreds of remote workers, managers, and business leaders. For most of these remote teams, one of the biggest disruptors is the challenge of visibility at work. Even though this is a burgeoning issue, there is very little understanding of the multiple facets of the problem. Here, we attempt to present a definition of visibility and breakdown some aspects of the challenge while offering some quick action items to overcome these issues
What is visibility at work?
Visibility – to see and to be seen; it is the ability of a team to share, acknowledge and appreciate the work of individuals. In addition to answering the question of “what” teams work on, visibility also answers the question of “how” teams work. As knowledge workers, we thrive on knowing that our work is recognized and valued within our organizations. This is how we take credit for hard work, keep coworkers in the loop, plan our professional trajectories, and build our networks of influence.
Gaining visibility is also how people managers and leaders understand how their teams work, ensure that teammates are aligned with the organization’s goals and culture, and find avenues to help their coworkers to perform better. A viewpoint of processes and people allows managers to gauge bottlenecks, emulate success patterns, and prepare for process improvements. Visibility snowballs into building team morale where every individual comes together to be innovative, collaborative, and supportive towards a shared purpose and vision.
What is the problem?
The digital and remote workplace has eliminated archaic processes and thought patterns surrounding work, but nevertheless, it has brought new challenges in human interconnectedness that we once took for granted – visibility becoming the most common concern for most teams. The challenge with making remote work visible is amplified due to the many factors that constitute the issue and the many expressions the same issue takes. The most common facets of the visibility problem are:
Lack of a viewpoint into people’s contributions
The problem starts at the absence of a viewpoint into people’s efforts and their contributions. In a physical office space, employees see each other, managers see their direct reports, everyone sees the effort that goes into projects, and team members and leadership are aware of each other’s contributions. In a distributed or remote workplace, teams are deprived of this obvious visibility and hence there is a gap in recognizing and rewarding credit where credit is due.
A workaround that was migrated from the physical workplace is the feedback and appraisal system. Managers rely on scheduled feedback to ascertain and correlate the right people with the right contributions and the right time. However, as teams delve into digital transformation, this feedback mechanism is being disrupted by advances in workplace data analytics.
Tip: Use a data-driven approach to visualize and derive insights into your team’s contributions, successes, and bottlenecks. Hold regular virtual 1:1 and scrum meetings to present accolades to jobs well done and also to generate feedback about concerns and issues that blocked success.
Inability to duly recognize team efforts
In remote work, tracking output has served as a flagship to understanding and evaluating productivity, bottlenecks, and successes. However, the hyper-focus on output has led to a neglect of the incremental efforts and tasks that contribute toward a successful larger outcome. No project would take off without the foundational tasks of brainstorming, collaboration, or knowledge sharing, and the ongoing supporting tasks such as collaboration, reviews, etc. Teams that succeed at visibility frameworks encourage and reward these incremental tasks and efforts too. This allows all stakeholders to feel ownership towards their tasks while keeping their vision on strategic goals.
Tip: Monitor which smaller efforts and tasks led to which outcomes. Keeping a tab on this data will not only help acknowledge incremental contributions but also present a view into practices that lead to favorable outcomes.
Absence of motivation and inspiration
In a traditional office environment, people tend to sit in a workspace surrounded by work activities – people working on their desks or brainstorming in conference rooms, all activities lending to an environment that focuses on work. This surrounding buzz from peers and leaders bubbles up to motivate individuals to ideate and deliver results. In a remote workplace, employees are at a disadvantage since the visibility of buzz is removed.
Tip: Intentionally nurture motivation by making space for conversations regarding successes, boosting learning opportunities, and discussing potential growth roadmaps for your employees.
Digital sprawl – Staying in the loop
The rapid pace at which companies adopted digital transformation to support remote work created a tool sprawl that is now leading to a data overload. With every employee and every action, a large volume of information is generated at a staggering pace while being distributed across multiple tools and silos. For managers and leaders, this sprawl has led to issues of tracking, dealing with noise, low visibility into tools that are actually important and relevant, and as a result, it has become harder to draw insights from the digital exhaust.
Tip: Consider using workplace analytics tools that provide visibility into the IT tools that facilitate work in your organization. Stay cognizant of what tools your employees use and how you can optimize usage to meet your team’s goals.
Increased focus but siloed work
Async work and the remote workplace have promoted productivity and focus work across teams and organizations. However, this work model has also propagated a larger disconnect amongst workers that don’t convene for work directly. An office water cooler was a space for social chatter within the workplace – connections were formed, news and interesting snippets from different teams were shared, and many strokes of serendipity gave rise to successful ideas. In remote work, an employee is cut off from learning about developments beyond their focus area. This leads to lower team cohesion and, more importantly, employees become disconnected from the larger vision and mission of a company.
Tip: Explore collaboration tools that emulate physical office chatter spaces such as Slack’s Donut or Gathertown that promote conversations across your organization. Virtual happy hours and remote team-building activities can set you up for success in breaking silos in your remote workplace.
Missing opportunities to help teammates
Most successful projects are accomplished by teams that pitch in their strengths and experiences and help each other carry a project across the finish line. In the office of the past, this was done synchronously and in person. However, with remote work, teammates and managers are often obscured from the tasks and progress that the rest of the team works on. This makes it harder for members to be able to find opportunities to help their teammates.
Tip: Adopt project management and performance management tools that display the status of projects – what is being worked on, along with specs about skills and tools needed. Amplify the knowledge gained through project management with data correlation tools and analytics tools that provide insight on how teams are working. Creating an environment of knowledge sharing and teamwork equipped with such work analytics tools will allow a seamless cross-functional flow of work.
Threats to well-being
When managers do not get a thorough picture of their team’s efforts and challenges, it can be difficult to gauge which team members are faced with threats of stress, workload mismanagement, anxiety, or burnout. This can result in managers becoming incapable of offering the right resources and support for their teams to perform well sustainably. For example, a remote dev team might have two or three senior developers that handle the bulk of review work in addition to their own coding tasks. These reviewers might be facing tight deadlines, leading them to work post regular work-hours, in order to manage the other tasks required of them. Over time, this can lead to stress and burnout, and reflect as poor quality of code. Similarly, some teams have only one or two team members that work on incident management in addition to other tasks. Such employees might be burdened with many context switches while struggling to focus on their core tasks. In these cases, managers and leaders need a factual view point of their teams’ workload to gauge how best they can allocate work and support their teams. Leaders also need to stay cognizant of their teams’ well-being to ensure that their teams’ processes are sustainable and scalable.
Tip: Use the daily stand-up meeting to get visibility into the team members’ workload and potential blockers. Leaders should document and review these meetings to stay ahead of their teams’ performance trends and bottlenecks and plan resources and work to help their teams succeed. Leaders can also use data-driven 1:1 meetings to discuss employee well-being and to gauge employee experience.
💡 Visibility is tricky, especially as we navigate remote and hybrid workspaces and use a multitude of tools to get work done. At Hatica, we believe that this problem is best solved with data analytics which is why we are building a work analytics platform to equip engineering teams with visbility into their workload, contributions, and processes to help them work effectively without burnout. Gain visibility into the teams and processes that power your workplace.