A manager walks a delicate tightrope between functions that necessitate diligent oversight of all team activity and functions that require her/him to be an accessible and trustworthy resource. Successful managers are those that have found their zen, balancing involvement in day-to-day team activities without micromanaging, while creating space for creativity and individuality.
In the traditional workplace like a physical office setting, many managers used processes and practices such as check-ins – which were sometimes a simple walk around their team’s cubicles, team stand-ups, face to face meetings, etc., suited to their unique management styles, that helped them stay cognizant of their team’s activities. Staying in the loop allowed managers to build rapport with their team members, understand unique work styles that helped them support individuals’ unique challenges, take the pulse of their team’s morale, all of which equipped them to strengthen their teams to perform effectively.
However, with the rather sudden shift to remote work, enforced by the covid-19 pandemic, and with ongoing large scale adoption of remote and hybrid workplaces as a long-term work environment, managers are grappling with concerns about work silos, invisible work effort and contribution, and a steady upsurge in burnout.
As part of Hatica’s customer research, we worked with several managers who have made the shift to remote and hybrid work from diverse industries, with different project and team capabilities, and with unique managerial principles.
A common pain point that unites these managers is the need to gain visibility into what work is happening in their distributed or remote teams, and more importantly to gain an insightful view into how work is happening in their teams.
We conducted several discussions to understand 1. Why managers need to be equipped with this knowledge? and 2. What is hampering managers’ ability to stay in the loop of their remote team’s activities?
Here are our top findings:
Why is it important for managers to stay in the loop?
Better support and early interventions
All teams face professional, task-related, and sometimes social challenges and roadblocks. Good managers can support their teams to handle bottlenecks by providing insights and ideas from experience, by providing better-suited digital infrastructure, or by offering advice and feedback. Oftentimes, managers in the loop can foresee and preempt potential challenges through early intervention. This avoids slip-ups and contributes to building a high-performing team.
A highly effective team is purpose-driven. Here, all teammates find alignment at every level; starting at resonance with the company mission, down to finding alignment with individual OKRs and team sprints. This alignment helps team members to cohesively work towards shared goals and purposes and allows the team to commit to their work. This engagement is critical to ensure individual and group success. Managers are responsible for ensuring that their teams understand the purpose of their organization, their tasks, and how they contribute towards larger goals. In remote teams, it becomes more important that managers ensure their team members are consistently engaged and are driven towards the identified goals, as reported by Preppio covering a Salesforce study where 97 percent of managers believe a lack of alignment on teams will affect the larger project outcomes.
Workload allocation & management
In physical workspaces, managers can see how workload distribution is being handled by their team members – are they being cognitively challenged to grow and stay engaged, or are they being inundated by their workload? This insight allows managers to allocate workload depending on each team member’s capabilities, goals, and performance. In remote teams, managers don’t have an opportunity to see the effect of workload allocation on their teams and hence struggle with allocation and management of task load. Staying in the loop, understanding how their teams are coping with work, and also getting an insight into work-life factors contributing to performance, can help managers effectively allocate work.
Better workflows and better productivity
When managers can stay cognizant of team activities, they can apprehend what tasks, what workflows, and what sequence of actions led to desirable outcomes. This understanding helps managers to devise processes and workflows that teams can adopt to emulate success. This bird’s eye perspective of productive outcomes comes from a deeper understanding of a team’s day-to-day work. In remote teams, where success is equated with productive outcomes, managers can facilitate individual and team success by staying cognizant of their teams’ work dynamics.
Enables Async work
Remote work depends greatly on a team’s ability to work asynchronously. This allows remote workers to be more productive, more efficient, and also more attentive to their well-being. Managers that can stay looped in with their team’s activities, without taking an over-your-shoulder, micro-managerial approach, can enable their teams to adopt async work. Such managers do not need micro-updates or constant communication from their team members, thus creating a space for employees to allocate time for focused and deep work which leads to high-quality task outcomes. Highly successful teams adopt workflows such as async stand-ups and retros that allow managers and teams to stay cognizant of what work is happening in their teams along with self-reported feedback on roadblocks and bottlenecks.
What’s hampering managers’ visibility into remote team activity?
Remote and hybrid teams are usually isolated by nature and hence are predisposed to working in silos. Combined with the nature of async work and async communication this leads to the problem of low visibility in remote and hybrid workplaces where peers and managers alike lack an understanding of what work is happening in their teams, outside of their specific tasks. For managers, particularly, these siloed teams and work prevents them from getting an elevated perspective of team activity.
SaaS sprawl is the spiraling and often uncontrolled adoption of SaaS applications that leads to IT management’s inability to manage the cost, consumption, and compliance of SaaS tools used by their workforce. The prevalence of SaaS sprawl leads to work happening in too many apps thereby generating knowledge across too many apps. It then becomes hard for managers and team members to discover knowledge, workflows, or associated processes, contributing to managers falling out of the loop of team activity.
App Notification fatigue
Another outcome of SaaS sprawl is app fatigue – which is the fatigue that users face as a result of having to use many tools. When team members have to toggle between multiple tools for even simple tasks, in practice, they get inundated with notifications from all these tools, causing increased context switching, distractions, and lesser time for focused work. Over time, this builds notification fatigue which can lead to managers and employees ignoring or missing notifications and updates from tools. For managers, these missed updates are a missed opportunity to stay in the loop of work activity.
A solution – Using data to stay in the know
A tested, effective, and accessible solution to help managers stay in the loop of their remote team’s activities is to use data from the digital exhaust to drive insights. Digital exhaust is the data that is automatically generated from the usage of tools. Since remote and hybrid teams are dependent on tools completely for their work, the digital exhaust from these tools can be a trove of information and insights. Additionally, since this data is tool and process specific but not person-specific, analytics of this anonymized data can help managers understand process and workflow outcomes with complete transparency, fairness, and ethical standards.
Consider this scenario:
A remote software development team of four engineers and one manager is working cross-functionally with the product marketing manager to release a highly requested feature update. The organizations’ digital workplace facilitates distributed, remote, and cross-functional collaboration through apps such as Slack, Zoom, Github, Jira, Google docs, and Notion for functions like communication, engineering, project management, and knowledge management. Analytics derived from the digital exhaust from these apps could potentially provide these insights:
This analytics dashboard helps managers to understand what work is happening in their team based on their Jira activity placed in the context of activity happening in the associated work apps including Github and Pagerduty. This unified view of work activity can help managers identify epics and tasks that are at risk of delay if there are dozens of pull requests awaiting review towards the end of a sprint. A look at Github analytics can help managers proactively prevent delays and inefficiencies by discovering teams or repos with slow cycle time, or those that may need a manager’s intervention since they indicate a potential block to the release train. A factual view of top documents by activity can help managers identify opportunities for team members to provide their expertise and build a team’s knowledge capabilities. When team members are inundated with Zoom calls that cause virtual meeting fatigue or when one or two individuals are inundated with tasks for incident management, managers are able to assess the situation using data and then reorganize logistics and workload to facilitate higher productivity and lower risks to well-being.
At present, organizations are accelerating their adoption of data-driven and factual management practices that allows leaders and managers to gain an unprecedented level of operational visibility around people, processes, and technology. This visibility facilitates better workload allocation using data, particularly by helping redistribute workloads if the data shows one department, or team, or individual carrying the larger share of work-related tasks. Async stand-up reports are a noteworthy example of how teams and leaders can use data-supported processes to create visibility without disturbing the contributor’s focus time or creating distractions through sync meetings. When this process is supported by analytics and data, leaders are able to collate individual input to understand the effort, roadblocks, and plans of the entire team, allowing better planning, resource allocation, and managerial support.
Analytics is also being used to fill in the gaps caused by poor visibility by equipping managers with insights into the productivity of their teams by providing a view of how teams interact, how employees can improve in their jobs, and how workflows can be optimized to support business goals.
In the modern work environment, where employee well-being is becoming increasingly important, analytics and insights from app usage can identify signals of stress, burnout, anomalies, or dip in productivity. This can equip managers with the necessary data to structure breaks, promote well-being programs, or take preemptive measures to avoid burnout.
The future of work is being built on the foundations of transparency, fairness, well-being, focusing on achieving harmony between work and life. This effort is being bolstered and grounded by the use of data to inform all decision-making.
Successful teams of the future will be those that have harnessed the power of data to maximize the potential of their workplaces and their workforce.
Hatica equips engineering leaders and managers with a data-driven avenue to stay cognizant of their team’s work activities, facilitating opportunities to preempt roadblocks, protect productivity, and ensure team well-being. Discover how Hatica can help you build better teams.