Leo Bottary: Leadership, Technology & Our Humanity
Imagine asking a CEO this question in 2019: What would happen if, at a moment’s notice, your employees could no longer come to the office and were forced to work from home? How many of those CEOs do you think would have responded that productivity would improve and that their teams would be working together better than ever? I doubt too many of them would have provided that answer because if they thought that way, they would have initiated it on their own three-five years ago. Yet in recent weeks, that’s exactly what CEOs across Canada, the US, and the UK have been telling me about what is going on at their companies.
Productivity is up because strong leaders are leaning on technology and humanity. Consider this: Tools such as Zoom, Slack, and Microsoft Teams, are so relatively new, that they didn’t even exist during the 2008 financial crisis. Today, they are the backbone of what’s keeping teams connected, transparent, and accountable – not just to their CEO, but to one another. Teams whose members accept personal responsibility for being accountable to their colleagues will always be more productive. These tools offer a convenient means for making that possible.
While the technology has helped, there’s a uniquely human side to this story as well. Another reason productivity and collaboration have improved is because employees are not convening at a common place, they are inviting each other in their space. Assuming most of them eschew the use of virtual backgrounds (which I highly recommend), co-workers get a new window into their respective worlds. These worlds include everything from a dog jumping in someone’s lap; the 8-year-old who stops by to say hi to their mom or dad because they need a break, too; or the pictures on the wall behind a desk that offer a glimpse into what matters at home. The more we see each other as people who share common aspirations and challenges (rather than just as co-workers), the more cooperative, collaborative, and productive we will be.
What’s even more impressive to me is that this boost in productivity is taking place despite the fact that these “remote employees” are facing daunting personal challenges as well during this pandemic. Beyond their own health considerations (physical, emotional, and financial), they’re adjusting to a new workspace, homeschooling their kids, or worrying about their vulnerable elderly parents – and in many cases, all of the above. This makes the commitment they are showing to their companies and their co-workers all that more impressive.
For any skeptics out there, you may be asking, how much productivity boost are we talking about? Well, one CEO from a tech company in Denver told me last week that since the shelter in place order, employee productivity is up 20%. He knows this because his employees are charged with writing lines of code, and his systems track everyone’s activity. (This system was always in place; it wasn’t just activated to monitor work from home). While dozens of other accounts from CEOs across multiple cities and countries tend to be more anecdotal, they share a common theme – people are getting more done AND having more fun.
It’s been my privilege to learn from so many of the CEOs I’m thinking about today as part of their peer group experience. It’s during challenging times like these that they need each other more than ever. As a result, they are meeting more frequently, collaborating more closely, and digging into the hard questions more deeply. Even in the face of what many would regard as good news on productivity, they ask: Should I be concerned about employee burnout? How can I use this time to connect with my teams more effectively? How do I prepare for the world of work in 2021?
These are the kinds of questions best answered together. Together, they not only help each other see the entire picture, but they also decipher what it means. I marvel at watching these CEOs leverage technology and showcase their humanity in ways that are improving their own productivity in their groups. It’s no wonder their companies are following suit. That’s leadership.