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17 April 2020

Self-management as the New Normal

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Part 1 in a 3-part series on self-management, by Learning and Development expert and guest blogger Katrin Kircheis

A vast amount of people are now working from home, more due to being forced than wanting to. They must manage a busy schedule, setting up shop in their living room or kitchen. Some must deal with being around their spouses 24/7 and home-schooling their kids. How do you fit in answering emails and attending Zoom meetings into that?

The answer is something future-oriented companies have been doing already: they let their teams manage themselves.

Imagine this: your employees are happy, productive, seldom absent and sing your praises to their friends. In fact, they are so happy that your company is in the top companies to work for. What these organisations have in common is that they are profitable. Just look at the examples over the last few years in the UK and US alone: Amazon (well not so much their warehouse workers I suppose), JP Morgan and Sainsbury. LinkedIn, Facebook and Google also consistently rank amongst the best companies to work for.

Often, I see the complaint from smaller companies that they simply cannot provide what these corporate giants can, like state-of-the-art gaming and relaxation rooms for their employees. But you don’t need all that. What you need is a restructuring of the way you work, and you can do that one step at a time.

Firstly, let me explain in a bit more detail what self-management in a company environment means. It means that teams do not report to a manager, but to each other. They make decisions together, take on organisational tasks like planning rotas, holidays and finances. They work within a framework they defined together with a manager, one that really works for them. And they can consult the manager should they need someone to give advice on specific questions. That is the basis of it. It’s a culture of trust, freedom, responsibility and caring.

What it means is that people within a self-managing team can make decisions without the usual bottleneck of a manager or senior leaders to get involved. They can work quicker and deliver more efficient customer service. They take responsibility for their decisions. They will want to do a good job. What’s not to love?

Of course, a change into that direction takes time and you will need to get everyone in your organisation on board eventually. But that’s the good thing about it, these things can happen gradually.

A massive benefit of having a self-managing structure in your company is that you would have avoided many pitfalls businesses fell into when cases of COVID-19 hit their countries. Your employees would have been able to decide to work from home if they needed and wanted to, for example. They would not have been forced to get on public transport to travel to the office. They could have made staff rotation plans to ensure minimal contact with each other but still covering the needs of the business. They would already have an excellent system in place to individually work from home and stay connected, collaborate online and continue to be productive.

Here is something else to think about: CO2 emissions have dropped since this virus seemingly paralysed the world. It’s probably the only good side effect currently. And we can keep it going! By deciding to give your employees more freedom as to where and maybe even when they work, instead of forcing people to travel to and from offices all at the same time, your company can contribute to saving the environment. That’s a huge plus in the eyes of many people, who will want to buy your products, recommend you and even work for you, based on your excellent ethics. You can save money in office space, and so on.

So many possibilities, we just need to understand and accept that the world is changing, and that this is the time to get aboard the future.

Katrin Kircheis

From a very young age, Katrin's dream was to become a teacher. However, she soon found out that by being one, kids and teenagers can be quite exhausting and changed course. She started travelling and stayed in places like Iceland and Australia. This gave her the opportunity to meet people from different backgrounds and get to know their outlook in life. Seven years ago, she moved from Germany to London where she settled down and found her new passion – teaching adults.

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