Our office is closing! We can do better than just despairing

Jun 02, 2016 by lsmit@wemanity.com in  Blog

 

 

In March 2015 we received the bombshell from our U.S executives that our office in Oxford was to close as part of a long-term global consolidation of sites with some staff being offered relocation and the others made redundant. The products needed to continue, but how could we avoid the remaining time just being miserable?

Staff were asked to complete their current work and assist with knowledge transfer to the remaining development offices in the USA and India. The previous few years had seen good progress with agile and lean software development, customer satisfaction had steadily risen and staff turnover had been extremely low. So the closure announcement was a body blow. The chance of the announcement being taken badly was all too real with the risk of the situation disintegrating into a depressing mess.

The Oxford management team had the difficult task of trying to make the best of the situation and get the best outcomes for both staff and the company. One year on, the results so far have been remarkably positive. We can therefore make some recommendations for anyone else in this situation, some of which are also worth considering for companies during normal operations.

Actions taken

  1.  Long notice period – We managed to agree 18 months’ notice of the final closure.   This was necessary to complete current work and have an effective handover so that the complex medical imaging software products could continue. However, it was a very long time to hope that people would stay so other measures were needed.
  2.  Generous redundancy packages.   These were agreed at a level which impressed staff. With their tax-free nature, this gave people confidence that even if they didn’t find another job immediately, they would not have any financial worries for a few months.
  3.  Relocation support – Real commitment was shown to staff to find them other places within Siemens. This included generous relocation packages, funded exploratory visits for staff and families, advice from locals and flexible move dates. This was not cheap, but the cost was much less than hiring and training somebody new.
  4.  Voluntary end dates – Rather than imposing end dates, staff were asked to openly express whether they wanted to stay 6, 12 or 18 months.   It’s very hard to predict how people will react so it was better to try to align individual’s needs with business needs. Almost 100% of people got they end date they wanted, most opted for the longer duration and the company had adequate cover.
  5.  Keeping a training budget – Staff were given encouragement to still do training and qualifications.  The company would still get some benefit from the training in the short-term, it would help staff with finding a new position, but mostly it helped reassure staff that they could stay and still develop themselves.
  6.  A larger entertainment budget – It was important for people to socialise and support each other so there was an increase in company-funded drinks, lunches and a bigger-than- normal Christmas party.
  7.  Help with job-hunting – Staff were allowed to take some time for interviews and encouraged to have an open discussion on opportunities with support given to try to accommodate people’s wishes where possible.   External consultants were available to advise on interview techniques, CV-writing and job hunting.
  8.  Effective use of employee representatives – Rather than just fulfilling a legal requirement, a real effort was made to engage with the elected employee representatives, create a detailed FAQ for staff and share all information on the intranet.
  9.  Continued staff recognition.   The office was required to operate properly for an extended period so it was only fair that staff should be treated normally and retain the opportunity to still achieve an above-target bonus and the opportunity for promotion.
  10.  Management care – The managers have been very open, honest and helpful to the staff and shown genuine care and empathy for people and their circumstances.  This probably made the biggest difference and enabled so many of the positive results.  A site closure can be viewed by staff as a big breach of trust, so asking staff to believe promises about arrangements during the remaining period is a challenge and requires lots of reinforcement, consistency and ensuring that was is said is done.

Results

  1.  Staff morale – This went through the inevitable rollercoaster of shock, anger, worry then acceptance.   People were annoyed or upset at the decision, but overall viewed the offers as fair and professional.   Staff who had been through a redundancy before thought that the way this was handled was much better. Although losing colleagues is unavoidably sad, people have been positive about making the best of the situation.
  2.  Staff stayed until their agreed date – The long notice period and generous packages meant that most people were fairly relaxed about finding a new position and happy to leave serious job hunting until a few months before their agreed end date.  Whilst, it’s an imposed change for everyone, in some cases, staff have appreciated having the “luxury” of having an extended period with a financial cushion during which to calmly think about what alternative job they would really like to do in future. Staff have been open about their hunting and have discussed mutually agreeable end-dates before accepting offers.
  3.  Results still achieved. Work on products continued at a good level.  Inevitably people weren’t going the extra mile in quite the same way as they used to but were professional and productive.   Staff have been helpful in ramping up new recruits in India and continue to take pride in their products.  There have been no surprise, early, resignations or disciplinary issues.
  4.  A surprising number relocated. 25% of people relocated to the USA which was a lot higher than anyone originally expected since people liked being in Oxford.
  5.  Additional social events – The activity in the office “community” if anything picked up since the news with whisky tasting, a pool tournament, team nights out, a group cycle ride around town etc.
  6.  Peer-to- peer training – Staff have shown a great desire to support each other and proactively run open seminars for others in the office to share their knowledge with others (e.g. Sharepoint, Data Science, Android Programming, Arduino programming, Linux etc)
  7.  More cakes – We’ve always provided cakes on a Friday but the number of spontaneous cakes being brought into the office on other days has gone up.

Overall it has been a much more positive experience it could have been. The office morale is still good and the staff have received outstanding praise for their continued professionalism and dedication.

The results has been good for the company as there is a smooth handover taking place while ensuring that people are taken care of.   The actions above have not been cheap for the company in the short-term, but are ultimately delivering better long-term value than the alternative of instant site closure followed by disorder and a long period of rebuilding a new team from scratch.

Suggestions relevant for companies not closing

Whilst some of the topics are only relevant to a site closure, some things could be beneficial anytime.

  1. Management openness is always a good thing. It’s easy to forget the importance of explaining plans and listening to feedback. Make sure there’s time for group meetings, 1 to 1 sessions and occasional surveys.
  2. Peer-to- peer training is always very cost-effective so time and support should be given for this. Staff have a lot of varied knowledge and it’s motivating for both the trainer and attendees.
  3. Creative entertainment. It can be an easy area to cut, but pays back a lot. If people have a good social relationship with colleagues, they are much more committed to them and hence also the company. The entertainment does not necessarily have to be lavish e.g. a pool table and     tournament, an indoor mini-golf area made out of office accessories and text books, a pancake- tossing event on Shrove Tuesday etc. Something a bit different every few months keeps things fresh. Cakes, are always good.
  4. Look for the best outcome for both staff and the company given the circumstances. Arrangements with staff have to be fair to get the best results in the long-term.

By: Stephen Wells, Siemens Molecular Imaging, Oxford

Great Leaders Ask Great Questions

May 20, 2016

For the last few years, I’ve been working with and studying some of the best teams in the world; Red Arrows teams, SAS and US Navy SEAL units, Racing yacht crews, a Formula One pit crew, etc. I set out to study teamwork. In particular, I wanted to know how these teams have become world class. In the course of my studies, I identified six common characteristics, which differentiated these incredible teams.

Interestingly, I didn’t set out to study world class leadership. However, when I found world class teams, I also found world class leadership (I know, I probably should have expected that!). So, as well as studying teamwork, I also began to look at the characteristics that differentiated world class leadership. One of the most powerful insights that I discovered is this…

Great Leaders Ask Great Questions.

In fact, the great leaders that I encountered often didn’t provide any answers! Instead, they realise that the group has the potential to generate a better answer than they could on their own. It’s a principle that James Surowiecki outlines in his book, Wisdom of Crowds. When I shared this idea at an educational conference last year, a Head Teacher responded by saying, “That’s rubbish. Are your trying to tell me that Einstein should ask his class for the answer, and that the class will have a better answer than Einstein?”. “No”, I said, “Einstein is part of the class. So by engaging the class you get Einstein plus the class, not instead”.

Knowing that great leaders ask questions is one thing. Knowing what constitutes a ‘Great Question’, is another. So, what makes a question ‘Great’?

Here are some of my thoughts and reflections…

To me, ‘Great Questions’ are simply the right question, asked at the right time. To ask great questions, we need to understand the problem we’re trying to solve and where we are in the process. Do we need to ask a strategic question, or a tactical question, or one that’s related to implementing and executing a plan?

Strategic Question – Why?

Tactical Questions – What? …. How?

Action & Implementation Questions – Where? …. Who? …. When?

Very simply, it makes sense to understand why we are doing something (and whether we should be doing it), before deciding what we’re doing or how we will do it? Equally, it makes sense to know what we’re going to do, before deciding who will do it, when and where.

To me, ‘Great Questions’ are also well defined and simple. Sometimes it takes time and thought to frame a question well. The world class leaders that I saw at work often ask simple questions, which engage their team to collectively solve a problem. Some of the most powerful questions I’ve heard simply begin with the words, “How could we…?”.

To find out more, read Stronger Together; How Great Teams Work and hear from world class leaders sharing their wisdom on Be World Class TV.

By: Simon Hartley, Founder of Be World Class.

http://www.be-world-class.com/node/251

Why we should lean into risk in Brexit Britain

May 10, 2016

I was going to write a blog about risk. I’d whip through the theory, focus on the practice, and back it up with science.

Then the referendum happened. And now, depending on your view, the country’s either deep in the mire, or free to succeed. The markets have crashed, but might bounce back. Hate crime is up, but might be a blip. We’re living in uncertainty, and we don’t even know how long it’ll last.

All of that feels uncomfortable and risky. So to write about risk without acknowledging the uncertainty around us feels a bit absurd. We’re already awash with political analysis, so I won’t add mine. But whether you’re delighted, devastated or unmoved by these events, it’s an interesting moment to take a look at the parallels with organisational and personal change.

Major change throws the status quo in the air. Before it settles, as it inevitably will, we can make some choices. We can pretend it’s not happening. We can choose to step back and see where the pieces fall. And we can choose to take a risk and lean into uncertainty. These are decisions organisations are making now – as they’ve done before and will again. Individuals are doing the same.

Unless you’re very lucky, pretending nothing’s changed will leave you baffled, and your colleagues disengaged. It’s also, counter-intuitively, a lot of effort. Our ability to adapt is part of what defines us as human. So while adapting might be hard, refusing to is exhausting. Sometimes, of course, the wisest move is to hold your horses and wait for a new normal. But you forfeit the chance to shape it, and risk being left behind.

Choosing to shake hands with uncertainty can be complicated and uncomfortable. It can also be profoundly creative. If you can lean into that, there’s scope to experiment with new ideas and products, have different conversations and make unexpected connections. You might fail, you might succeed, you might create something a bit… ‘meh’. But you only find out if you take the risk. And whether or not it’s sparked by external events, embedding a culture of testing, adapting and improving will reap benefits well into the future.

Thing is, it’s not easy. There’s a gap between intention and doing. And however much you want to, crossing it can seem boring, painful and hard work. And once you do cross it, there’s no guarantee it’ll work. Ugh. Why bother? It’s somehow easier to feel disrespected afterwards than to challenge in the moment. To feed back to your friends instead of your colleagues. To work within stasis than to venture an alternative.

But that ‘ugh’ is worth the bother. It’s when things shift, and when you learn. Plus you reinforce in yourself and colleagues that, whatever the outcome, you are people with the agency to create change. You’ll be more likely to do it again, helping build a culture of creativity in yourself and others.

So where to begin? Here are three initial suggestions.

1. Acknowledge fears, but don’t draw them out. Give yourself three minutes to project the potential range of outcomes from best to worst. Then begin, ditch or adapt. You’ll only find out what actually happens by taking the risk, so don’t waste time on the fundamentally unsound, or delay the great.

2. Solicit feedback; ask, listen, learn, adapt. And be specific: work out exactly what you want feedback on, and ask questions within a clear remit. This shifts the focus away from egos (easily crushed, despite denials) and towards ideas. Seeking feedback can feel like a massive risk in itself. But the more you do it, the easier and more useful it becomes.

3. Build networks. It’s exhausting taking a risk on your own and it takes ages. Talk to people who disagree: diverse opinion makes for robust ideas. And test the idea as soon as you can, drawing on your network for support. Make sure your network includes people unconnected to your idea, but who can help you reflect on progress and remain resilient. Action learning sets and peer mentors are ideal.

I’m not suggesting all ideas are sensible or risks worth taking. But change is definitely coming. New systems, new products and even new industries may emerge. I hope that as organisations and individuals we’ll be inspired to lean into risk when we encounter it. Start experimenting, adapting, innovating. The status quo has been shaken, and will rebuild. The space in between is yours to shape.

By: Kamala Katbamna from Chirp

http://www.chirp.org.uk/new-blog/2016/6/29/risk-taking-in-a-post-brexit-britain

Remote Work: Stories of People and Teams Doing Great Things

Apr 29, 2016

Get ready to pack up your laptop and hit the road!

Today, I specialise in facilitating remote work. And it was an experience ten years ago that turned a light bulb on for me — in a way I would have never expected.

I was living in California at the time and belonged to a social community interested in the future, technology, and staying healthy. Every Sunday, we’d meet up for a hike together. One member of the group was particularly interesting to me because he was working on a startup idea I’d never encountered before: he wanted to eradicate death.

To the outside world, it appeared that he was building an online project management tool. That was a very “normal” startup idea, even for ten years ago. But what most people didn’t know was that he was building the tool so that longevity scientists from all over the world could collaborate and solve the “problem” of aging.

He had found that the best people needed for this unusual collaboration were not living in the same place. So his vision was to build a tool that they could use to work together remotely.

It was a true “aha experience” for me. Once we remove the issue of being geographically dispersed, we can gather the best, most enthusiastic people together virtually to work on the most challenging problems imaginable.

I was hooked by the concept and started interviewing people and companies working remotely to see what they were doing. Down the rabbit hole I went!

In the past, we had to go to a specific geographic place in order to access the information we needed for our work. Now, that information is likely accessible from anywhere. And this gives us the opportunity to play with new ways of working and new business models.

I’m increasingly seeing a move from a model of work-life balance, which assumes that work and life shouldn’t overlap or blend, to work-life fusion, where the lines between work and life blur.

Work and Life: No Longer at Odds

Jeffry Hesse is an agile coach working with a distributed development team of approximately 40 people at a company called Sonatype. He loves his work. He also loves mountain climbing, photography, and spending time with his grandmother.

Because he can work from anywhere, Jeffry combines his passions by working while traveling. He started by trying an experiment with his remote team. He spent one month traveling in Argentina — and didn’t tell his colleagues he would be on the road.

He wanted to test how productive he could be while traveling, and if anyone on the team would notice.

Admittedly, it was hard. Finding a decent internet connection in Argentina was one of the most challenging aspects. He tried coworking spaces and staying with friends — and his technical know-how came in very handy while experimenting with various VOIP phones. But while it was hard work, and sometimes shaky, he managed to get his work done without the distributed team noticing that he was on the road.

While being a digital nomad may seem like a radically unconventional way of working compared to the traditional 9 to 5 job, it gives us a glimpse into what’s becoming possible…and increasingly common.

What Does It Mean Today to Be “Present”?

The tools that allow us to work in new ways are developing at breakneck speed. One of the most exciting examples of this is telepresence. Telepresence is a combination of technologies that give you presence somewhere other than your actual location. Your smartphone and standard video conferencing tools — even Facetime — can all be considered forms of telepresence.

My favorite form of telepresence? Robots.

The Revolve Robotics Kubi, for example, allows someone to call in (via video conferencing) to any tablet device. The difference is that you can move the tablet from side-to-side and up and down and control where you are looking from your own laptop.

For instance, if you are a remote participant at a meeting where everyone else is sitting together in a room, you can turn yourself to see who is talking. Other telepresence robots allow you to beam in to what is basically a tablet on wheels, and drive yourself around using the arrow keys of your keyboard. Schools use these for kids who can’t attend classes in person. Museums use these to give remote tours. Even doctors use them when specialists are scarce.

These interactive sensory experiences bring us closer to replicating what it’s like to be together in the same room. And the technology gets better and less expensive every year, opening new options all the time. Holograms are just around the corner!

How Businesses Are Changing

Because of these new technologies, more and more people are like Jeffry, seeking to balance their work with the freedom to pursue their passions. What it means to actually “be at work” is changing rapidly — businesses are evolving as well. Here are three examples:

A Virtual Network With Global Impact

Happy Melly is a social entrepreneurship network of individuals and small businesses dedicated to happiness at work. Supporters include coaches, creatives, authors, speakers, managers, and entrepreneurs. Members of Happy Melly help amplify and globalise great business ideas through virtual and in-person workshops, blogs, guides, books, tools, and videos.

I joined the network to get business advice from people who shared my same purpose and values. With the help of “colleagues” from all over the world, I learned how to structure and scale my company, Collaboration Superpowers, so that myWork Together Anywhere workshop could be offered online and in person around the globe. I’m also now the remote team manager for Happy Melly.

Serendipity Turned Them Into a Team

The team at StarterSquad first started working together (remotely) when a client hired them for a software development project. They didn’t know each other before the project started, but over time, the team clicked.

At one point, the client unexpectedly ran out of money — but the team members weren’t ready to part ways. They decided to find other clients so they could stay working together. They now operate as a self-organised team of entrepreneurs, specialising in building minimum viable products for software startups. In addition, they offer seed funding for startups whose ideas they believe in.

Forget About Facetime

Another company, Teamed.io, prides themselves on having no central office, no meetings, and no phone, Skype, or video calls. The company is made up of a large group of freelance software developers that have never met or spoken to each other. They work entirely through chat on task management systems.

Specific people are brought together for projects depending on the skillset that’s needed. Projects are broken down into very small tasks. Programmers are paid as they complete tasks, and they are not paid if the tasks are not completed. When the project is over, the team is dissolved and everyone moves on to other projects.

Extreme? Perhaps. But it does show ways of working that were never before possible.

Leveraging the Remote Advantage

There are numerous benefits to being able to work from anywhere. Some resonate most for solopreneurs and digital nomads as a source of empowerment to work and travel. Others please HR departments and hiring managers who need to build virtual teams or want to offer flexible benefits to their employees. A few are aiming to raise visibility around worker happiness and the environmental benefits of not commuting.

The ability to tap into information and collaborate with colleagues from anywhere has opened up new possibilities for work-life freedom. People can work on the things they are most passionate about, and businesses can hire people who love what they do versus people who are just doing their jobs.

If you haven’t thought about what’s possible with remote collaboration options in a while, you might be surprised by what’s happening — and what’s possible for you as well! I encourage you to do some more exploring. We’ve come a long way, and it’s only getting better from here.

By: Lisette Sutherland from Collaboration Superpowers

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