How Can Organizational Network Analysis Help You With Remote Work Management?
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From the US to Germany, Japan to Singapore, companies in these countries have, in the last few weeks, sent their employees to work from home amid the spread of the novel coronavirus.
However, the work from home transition has brought one major issue. How can senior leadership and HR ensure that managers are managing their remote teams properly?
In an organization, everything is interconnected. Decreased engagement and productivity in one unit has a domino effect across the organization due to the highly cross-functional nature of how modern teams work. Just one person holding several teams together deciding to leave the company or getting burned out can cause major organizational chaos.
So, what can companies do to empower their managers?
One particular approach has been gaining a lot of popularity in recent years, and that's the management tool called Organizational Network Analysis (ONA). In a nutshell, ONA is a means for visually representing how an organization functions and detecting where issues might be appearing.
In this article, we'll explore in greater detail all the important aspects of ONA and discuss how it can help remote organizations be successful in managing remote teams.
What is Organizational Network Analysis?
Every larger company has hierarchies that outline who is responsible for what. These so-called formal networks are set up to handle easily anticipated problems.
On the other hand, every company has something called informal networks. Every time colleagues communicate a network is created. Over time, these connections grow stable and form an informal organization. The informal organization has proven to be more effective when unexpected problems appear.
For example, in a case when a task needs to be completed fast, employees can use these informal networks to cut through formal reporting procedures and meet urgent deadlines.
Even though senior managers believe they are aware of these informal networks and how they operate, this is not the case. They may be aware of the social links of a handful of people who work alongside them. However, their presumptions about how employees outside of their immediate circle are connected are usually inaccurate.
This is entirely normal. Managers can't be everywhere at the same time or know what's going in people's minds. Instead, they operate based on gut feeling and superficial observations.
Not understanding the informal networks in your company can pose a threat to the company. For example, if employees are opposed to a specific change in the company, they might use the informal networks to easily sabotage the company's plans.
Luckily, there's a way for managers to analyze the informal networks in the company using a field of study like ONA. Using ONA, managers can detect these networks and leverage them to solve organizational problems.
Understanding these networks can help managers learn who the most influential people in the company are and how alliances work. They could work with the informal organizations to manage possible issues such as high employee turnover, low engagement, and poor performance.
Why is Organizational Network Analysis Important for Remote Companies?
There's one popular study that reported how employees who were let to work from home were more productive and had lower quit rates.
However, there's one major difference between that study and the newfound situation with the coronavirus. In the case with the study, employees volunteered to work from home. They were trained on how remote work functions.
With Covid-19, employees don't have a choice. They're being forced to work from home. No training, no preparation.
It's only understandable that productivity and engagement will suffer. Many people are motivated and inspired by being around other people. They might struggle with self-motivation, time management, and distractions.
Think of new hires. They don't have strong relationships with their colleagues and might have difficulties in getting the job done.
This brings us to the question: how can managers know if their team is engaged, productive, and stable?
Simple questionnaires don't work. With all the cost-cutting and layoffs taking place in many companies, people would be scared to express their true feelings. Meaning, companies need to adapt to new methods of discovering which employees are having a hard time transitioning to remote work.
Identify Employees Struggling With the Remote Transition
In the case of a sudden transition to remote work, there's much that can go wrong. Some employees might be inexperienced in working remotely and be separated from the team for the first time.
As a consequence, many high performing employees might experience a drop in job performance and engagement when they find themselves working outside of an office. This scenario is more probable if employees lack proper preparation and training for transitioning to remote work. Other factors that can damage an employee's engagement and productivity are lack of face-to-face supervision, lack of access to information, social isolation, and home distractions.
ONA can be applied to this situation as well. By analyzing the communication network, managers can identify gaps in information flow. Managers can pull communications history from before the company switched to remote work and compare it to communications data from when the company started working remotely. Doing so can help detect which employees are struggling with the transition.
If Claudia's communication data from before and after the transition overlays perfectly, then that's an indication that Claudia is not struggling with staying productive, even in a home environment. On the other hand, if Peter's after-the-transition data shows that he is communicating less with other employees, then this is an indication that Peter is struggling with working remotely.
Analyzing your people's communication data is a better measure of measuring engagement than surveys.
After managers detect which employees are struggling the most, they can proceed with offering help. There are many ways for how managers can mentor their employees, including one-on-one sessions and daily check-ins. ONA can pull out calendar data to help track how many one-on-one's are being conducted by managers, how much time is being spent in meetings vs actually doing work, and more.
Another tip is to have managers provide mentoring on how to network and help those employees who are struggling to expand their network through introductions. For example, senior employees can be responsible for introducing junior employees to people in other groups who could assist them do their jobs.
Improve Employee Onboarding
Statistics show that a strong onboarding process can improve new hire retention by 82% and productivity by over 70%.
But when a company transitions to working remotely, onboarding new employees might become more challenging.
A large part of onboarding involves learning more about a company's business and the problems the company is facing. New hires usually gain this information by chatting with different people within the company.
Moreover, new hires won't get a chance to meet the team in person and form quality bonds as everyone would be working from home. In return, their engagement and productivity might suffer.
One hands-on example of how ONA has been used in onboarding is Uber. In an attempt to increase revenue and mentor their new hires, Uber analyzed its employees' communication data to see who is talking to who within the company. They looked at their sales teams and who was doing the most sales and which teams were bringing the highest revenue across the company.
They found their most high-performing employees and looked into how they were connecting with other people in the sales department, but also how they were interacting with people in other departments such as marketing and operations. Their findings showed that it was not the content that was exchanged between employees, but the breadth of their network that made them the most successful employees in the sales department.
For example, when a well-connected employee called John from the sales department had a deal that needed to be executed quickly, he already had the relationship to promptly connect with the right person in another department and get that person to give him support.
What Uber did is they used ONA to analyze the network of their high-performing employees. They looked at how John's network looked like when he first joined the company (the first 3-6 months), along with other high-performing sales representatives, and created an average model. Then, they used that model to determine who in the company wasn't performing that well to give them coaching and training on how to expand their network internally so that they can be more effective.
Uber's example can be applied to when a company is transitioning to remote work and wants to know that new hires are integrating well within the company. Managers can mentor new hires on what they need to do to excel and how they can expand their networks. Companies should enable and encourage their new employees to form bonds across the organization and use ONA to track those who might need assistance for the same.
Once new hires start interacting with other people, they'll begin building relationships with these people, and at the same time, build familiarity between them, as well as trust.
One great way to build trust and meaningful bonds between remote teams is by engaging in team-building activities. There are many fun team-building activities for remote teams that can help the new person integrate with the company more easily. From fun Slack channels and grabbing a remote donut to online games, managers should think of fun ways to bring the entire company together.
Optimize Diversity and Inclusion
Being a diverse and inclusive company doesn't mean employing a large number of females or nonwhite employees. A truly diverse and inclusive company is the one that contains a diverse cross-section of employees who interact with each other.
Although a company might believe that it has made efforts to support diversity and inclusion, sometimes companies don't have a wholly accurate picture of what exactly is going on inside the organization.
A company can employ a large number of diverse groups based on race, gender, generation, tenure, etc. These diverse groups might not be well integrated within the company and can have a small number of connections with other people.
ONA can help a company map out the connection network among employees. For example, when analyzing communication data, a company can discover that women are more likely than men to be isolated on the network’s periphery. The network's pattern might also suggest that women are also less involved in decision making than men.
In a healthy company, all women are as well-connected as men, and fewer women are isolated on the periphery. Companies in which certain diverse groups are neglected aren't benefiting from the perspectives, experiences, or expertise of their diverse members.
Findings such as the ones outlined above can suggest that certain diverse groups might be suffering from unconscious bias. To clarify, unconscious bias appears when employees subconsciously prioritize the views and opinions of employees of the same gender/race/religion/ethnicity/age as themselves.
When different groups are well integrated, and when no diverse group is left out, important decisions can be easily made. For example, if a company wants to discuss changing the employee incentives and benefits to accommodate a remote transition, decision-making would be better if all diverse groups are included, and everyone's perspective is heard.
The insights provided by ONA can uncover the specific diversity and inclusion problems a company is facing and provide a clearer direction for addressing the issues.
Prevent Digital Burnout
As people will be working from home, their personal life and work-life might become intertwined. Meaning, people might be working past their working hours and have lots of late-night meetings.
This is when the threat of losing your best employees due to digital burnout comes into play. Digital burnout can be due to too much communication, digital activity at odd hours, too much time spent in meetings, and more.
The people who are most at risk are the so-called "central connectors" at your company.
The central connectors or "bridge builders," are the people who link most people in an informal network with one another. They don't necessarily have a manager role, but they are well-connected with people in their department and with other people from other departments. They are the people who can provide critical information or know who in the company has the information or expertise to get work done.
When regular employees are the bridge builders in a team instead of the manager, this can be a sign of a lack of teamwork.
One research about teamwork in emergency care rooms tried to determine who were the most influential people in the team who had the most connections. What the researchers discovered is that the doctors weren't doing much work. Even though they should have been the leaders of the team, it was the main nurse who was doing the most work, even though she was not in a leadership position. Overall, the person who should be leading the team is actually in the background.
Using communication tools like Slack, email, or project management software, companies can gather information about how information flows within the company. They can see who has been overworking and predict that they might become digitally burned out.
This is crucial because you can't risk losing your most influential people, especially when going through a remote work transition. If your most influential people leave the company or their performance drops due to being burned out, connections between isolated groups may collapse. Consequently, you can expect a considerable drop in performance.
Having only a few people in your company who are the bridge builders can also be considered as a bottleneck. Meaning, you'll always be at risk from your influencers leaving the company and leaving entire teams to operate on their own.
What a company can do to prevent this scenario from taking place or remedying it, it can implement a formal mentorship program that can mentor employees on how to form relationships with one another. By doing so, the company will not be dependent on only a handful of people.
As informal networks are not part of the official hierarchy of a company, they are often neglected by senior leaders in an organization. Sadly, many senior managers mistakenly believe that more meetings or company retreats are just enough to make informal networks flourish.
That has proven to not be enough.
To fully leverage the informal networks in an organization, senior leaders must systematically gather communication data and process the information using a people analytics software. People analytics software was designed to give detailed network maps and provide leaders with guidance on how to devise effective long-term strategies.
Once a company equips itself with the right data about its employees and how individuals are connected, it will be ready to face any sudden challenges that come its way.
Watch the full introduction to ONA webinar by Panalyt at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=chOZPdznlAA
Watch the full webinar by Panalyt on How to Effectively Manage Remote Employee Engagement and Productivity during WFH with ONA: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TGytWcT3DcY&t=1039s
Register on the waitlist at https://panalyt.typeform.com/to/MOaXfE to join ultra-high growth companies like Mercari, Circles. Life, Sansan and SmartNews using Panalyt to make strategic, data-driven people decisions!
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