Neueda chairman, Brendan Monaghan, talks about why a change in approach to people management will be critical in the new remote workplace. 

Across the world, companies have been taking the necessary steps to minimise the impact of COVID-19 on day-to-day operations. While at varying stages of both the business and pandemic lifecycles, all organisations have been required to accommodate remote working where possible, with varying levels of success. 

Neueda was not only born in the cloud more than 13 years ago, from day one we have worked remotely with our international clients across various time zones. As a result our experience of the last 13 years allowed us to move quickly in the face of the crisis. When news of the lockdown began to circulate, we put our business continuity plan into action and shifted focus to helping customers stabilise and accommodate remote working. Indeed for ourselves it has been a very positive experience,  unfortunately, the same can’t be said for other businesses. 

Listen, this is a tough time for everyone, but it’s been frustrating to see so many otherwise forward-thinking companies struggling to get a handle on remaining productive during this time. It’s not a question of laziness; in fact, these businesses are working themselves into the ground in an attempt to remain operational, but they’ve never had to accommodate remote working before, and it shows. 

So, what’s going wrong? Neueda believes that a big part of it comes down to communication and trust. It’s not uncommon to see two-hour Zoom calls taking place that result in zero actions, or back-to-back calls between managers and their teams to…what? Make sure they’re coping? Hash out ideas? Maybe, but the likelihood is that they’re checking up on them. Quite frankly, the level of distrust is staggering. And you can bet your bottom dollar your employees are taking note and will remember it for a long time (if they choose to stay working for you at all). 

The issue comes down to businesses perpetuating outdated working cultures, where management by ‘walkabout’ was the only option. Not only does such day-to-day surveillance reveal a need for control that’s borderline pathological, but it also limits creativity, flexibility and overall business agility. Also, helicopter management instils in employees a fear of using their initiative to take chances and, god forbid, actually fail at something. 

If all of this sounds painfully familiar, then perhaps it’s time for a cultural shift in your business. However, let’s start small and focus on something you can get under control today; meeting etiquette. If you can master the discipline of effective meetings, trust me, you’re off to a good start. 

Let me preface this by stating that Neueda is by no means perfect. At the start of the lockdown, we had daily conference calls to manage work and discuss any issues, which we quickly realised needed to become less frequent if we wanted to push forward and help our customers. Before the complete mobilisation of our workforce, we had excellent discipline around meetings and were keen to get back to it as quickly as possible. For example, our board meetings last 45 minutes and never exceed an hour to ensure we get to the point. We reached this logical conclusion after spending (read: wasting) hours in them and then bouncing around the building for additional meetings that would arise. 

We have 10 simple meeting rules at Neueda that I want to share: 

  1. Ask and establish: 
    1. What’s the purpose? 
    2. Why is it important? 
    3. What are the boundaries? 
  2. Who’s the meeting owner? 
  3. Be on time – set the standard 
  4. If you’re unlikely to have input, it’s okay to leave 
  5. Put the phone away. Be present! 
  6. Only invite relevant people. Don’t waste anyone’s time
  7. One conversation at a time 
  8. Level the playing field: 
    1. No chain of command
    2. No such thing as a stupid question 
    3. If you have something to say, say it
  9. Stay on topic
  10.  Conclude with follow-ups and actions. 

Additionally, we make sure there’s an agenda and that any materials are circulated beforehand, so we don’t waste time sitting in silence while people digest information.

I understand that a somewhat militant approach to meetings may seem at odds with my initial message about providing employees with freedom and trust. For us, it’s about freeing up time to enable them to get on with their job. Our staff don’t need constant interaction and dialogue with senior management to get the job done, in fact, the less of that, the better. 

If trust, or lack thereof, is a serious concern for managers or leaders, I’ll leave you with this final thought: Your employees understand what work looks like – they were in the education system for more than a decade, perhaps then higher education before working to gain the knowledge, skills and qualifications that enabled them to, and this is important, make the choice to work for you. Now’s the time for you to let them get on with it, so your business actually has a good chance of emerging from the other side of this pandemic.