17 Jun 2020
Hacking Virtual Work Processes in a Post-COVID Workplace
In the past several months, we have been confronted with challenges we haven’t experienced before. To solve these new problems required thinking and acting differently from the norm. And it all had to happen at light speed.
We mobilized to protect the safety of employees serving in essential roles. We equipped office employees to work from home. We redeployed employees to new, more critical roles. But this has just been the beginning. The world of work has changed for us all and that means more challenges lie ahead.
One helpful tool for navigating the path forward is hacking. I know what you are thinking.
“Hacking? I’m not a coder. How could that possibly help?”
Hacking Is Not Just for the Coders
Hacking is about more than technology. When you dig a little deeper into what hackers do and why, you discover a simple process for driving incremental improvement and innovation. And, while hacking has gotten a bad rap in recent years because some evil people have used it to steal identities or rig elections, there’s nothing inherently good or bad about it. It’s all in what you do with it.
Hacking is both a process and a way of thinking. It forces you to think differently about the problems before you to identify small, simple steps that you can take immediately toward a solution.
What makes this approach so powerful is that it’s contrary to the standard way we tend to approach problem-solving at work. Our default approach is to see a problem and make it more complex by having a bias for big, sweeping solutions like an entirely new program or technology platform. This requires writing charters, creating task forces, and investing months of time and resources before taking one meaningful action to solve the problem.
Hacking takes you in the opposite direction. Instead of seeing a problem as big, the hacking process requires you to break the problem down into smaller parts. Think of it as looking inside the problem to see its “code,” then finding opportunities to experiment and take immediate smaller steps toward a solution.
For example, if you were trying to hack a meeting, the small pieces (or code) you might identify would include who is invited; where (or with what tech platform) the meeting is held; the agenda, ground rules, and timing of the meeting; how it’s led; and many more.
A hack is simply a change made to one of these smaller parts as an attempt to make the meeting better in some way. Perhaps you add a ground rule of no multitasking during the meeting or you only allow three agenda items per meeting. These are small changes you can make immediately to see if they have an impact. If they do, that’s progress. If not, try something else.
Hackathons With HR and Learning Leaders
Recently, I hosted a series of virtual hackathons with HR and learning leaders from a variety of organizations. Our goal was to tackle some of the most pressing HR challenges companies are navigating today because of the pandemic. We used this process to identify some hacks that organizations could try or use as inspiration to drive progress. The three problems we tackled were virtual learning, virtual onboarding, and virtual performance management.
For purposes of this hackathon, our goal was to come up with hacks that might increase the number of eLearning and virtual courses completed by 50 percent. Below are some of the best hacks proposed.
- Use interactive ice-breakers to create energy and engagement in the course. For example, a fun quiz in Kahoot! or a question sent in advance to attendees, such as “What is something that makes you unique?”
- Gamify learning by awarding points and badges for completion of courses. Create urgency by having a leaderboard and awarding prizes weekly and monthly. Another approach could be to award one entry into a drawing for each completed course with weekly and monthly drawings for prizes or rewards. Use word-of-mouth promotion.
- Ask employees who have completed courses to share in writing or video what they liked and found valuable about the courses. Share these testimonials with managers and leaders to persuade them of the value of the courses.
As our teams hacked virtual onboarding, we were pursuing an aspiration that employees would rate virtual onboarding more favorably than in-person onboarding. Below are some of the best hacks proposed.
- Use “menu-style” delivery of onboarding to allow each new employee to find what they want and need as they need it. The menu could include welcome videos, virtual tours of key physical locations, access to intranet and other websites, eLearning modules, and many other resources.
- Pre-onboarding outreach. Before the employee’s first day, have an assigned “buddy” reach out to introduce themselves and get to know the new person. Send a welcome video from the CEO, an org chart, and IT info ahead of day one so they feel prepared and supported from the very beginning.
- Formalize a process for initial introductions of new hires. Create processes to ensure employees meet each of their team members and get to know one another. Add some fun activities that encourage people to share more about themselves (i.e., get-to-know-you quizzes, “meme yourself,” etc.).
Virtual Performance Management
Our goal for this hackathon was to find hacks that would help ensure employees could clearly articulate their expectations and how they were performing. One thing to note about these hacks is that there was general agreement with those in this group of hackers that regular, weekly 1:1 meetings are crucial when managing remotely. Those involved in creating these hacks assumed that these 1:1 meetings are taking place.
- Send a weekly management tip to all who supervise others. Focus the tips on practices to use with employees to ensure that they understand expectations. The weekly tips could come in a variety of formats, including instructional videos, blog posts, tips from other managers, etc.
- Add a “goal review” to the weekly 1:1 meeting. This would include a discussion of priorities and progress against key goals and objectives. Ideally, the manager and employees would prepare in advance by listing the employee’s top three accomplishments from the past week and their top three priorities for the next for comparison and discussion.
- Encourage each employee to have a “priority goal.” Each week (or month), the employee could calibrate this priority goal with their manager to ensure they are in alignment with what is most important. The employee could also post or share progress against their priority goals in 1:1 meetings or weekly updates.
Responding to Change is Vital
As we navigate the disrupted path that lies ahead and try to find our footing in our new COVID-shaped reality, our ability to respond to new challenges will be vital. Learning to think like a hacker will allow you to be more agile and proactive in your response. Learning to break things down into smaller pieces and finding ways to take small steps forward will allow you to make progress where others get stuck.
Whether your challenge is to support a more virtual workforce moving forward or to figure out how to get people safely back to the office, don’t underestimate hacking and the power of thinking smaller to drive big change.