In this project, which consisted in listing and explaining all what I call the “irritants of employee experience”, which are nothing less than all the points and causes of friction that simply prevent people from doing their job as well and efficiently as they can, I did not necessarily think I would deal with the point of the lack of formalisation of the organisation at the outset. And then it imposed itself, not because 13 irritants could bring bad luck, but because the episode of confinement and forced remote work that we have experienced and that some have suffered has put some of the limitations of organizations in the spotlight and shown the gap between companies that have no or limited practice of remote work and those that practice it more widely and have a proven mastery of it.
If we bet that, without knowing yet in what proportions, remote work will greatly increase its footprint in the coming times, this subject has therefore quite legitimately found its place.
When the transmission of knowledge is not organized it doesn’t happen.
One of the lessons of this period of forced telework was, as expected, that by losing the “off”, informal exchanges and the ability to identify weak, often informal signals the employee cut himself off from many sources of information and answers to questions.
Then of course the employees know by heart the rules and processes that they must use and follow 95% of the time…and which must represent for each one 5% of the mass of rules of all kinds that a company is capable of enacting (totally personal estimate).
But do they know them precisely? In some cases yes, in others no. In some cases they have been trained and well trained or they have found the thing clearly written and documented because it is important enough to spend some time formalizing it. But in other cases they were either badly trained or they only got the information in an abbreviated or even altered form by word of mouth.
Then there are all the things they were not taught, and that makes sense, because these are things one only needs to know on rare occasions. You don’t have to clutter their minds for nothing when they’re onboarding. And when they need it most of the time they don’t even ask if the information is available somewhere, they ask a colleague.
Finally, there is all that we learn along the way through practice and exchange. It has to do with the way we work and certain cultural codes. It’s not written anywhere, sometimes it has no official existence, but it has a very real existence and it’s better to know it.
The reality of what happens at all times, and it is logical given the level of complication of organizations, is that when you don’t know, you ask a colleague and in the end you usually find out. Sometimes you search the intranet but it’s complicated and poorly organized and there’s no guarantee that what you’re looking for is there or you don’t have time to waste searching through the x intranets that the company has, so you don’t even try. And when you don’t know the right people or when you don’t dare to ask, it’s hard to find it. But anyway things are always easier when you are surrounded by people in the open space or when you meet them at the coffee machine.
What we learned during containment was that a lot of things that used to circulate almost naturally in an informal way were no longer circulating or circulating badly. We thus witnessed a multiplication of requests for help or explanations on internal organizational points that we thought were taken for granted by everyone, with the corollary of an increase in work “interruptions” caused by chat or email requests.
The challenge of remote onboarding
That’s for employees who are already settled in the company. But there are those who are more recent or even joined the company during the period of remote work, a situation which is likely to become more and more frequent in the future.
This is the same configuration as for “normal” employees, but worse because even the transmission of the most basic information is done in degraded mode.
What was done face-to-face is done at a distance, the moments of informal exchanges around onboarding are less numerous or even disappear, and a lighter integration process from a social point of view does not allow one to know one’s colleagues well enough or to know enough of them to go and ask them in case of problems or questions of various kinds.
An insufficiently formalized organization is a danger
The result: employees who consider themselves, depending on the case, insufficiently informed, onboarded, helped. But that’s just the feeling. The impact is lost time, delays, mistakes and ultimately frustration for the employees.
This is nothing new, but in a face-to-face environment the proximity of others and the ease of contact helps to compensate. This is not an excuse for not making up for the lack of formalisation of the company’s various rules and processes and making them available in a form that is easy for the employee to find and consume, but it is a lesser evil.
What we have learned from confinement is that remote work, when it is carried out on a large scale over all or most of the working time, requires companies to make a greater effort to formalise all their processes and to make it easy to search, consult and consume the content thus produced. Let us not forget that the important thing is not the availability but the reuse.
It is still surprising that at a time when everyone is talking about symmetry of attention, there are real helpdesks and libraries of resources and other FAQs in self-service for the customer and that nothing similar exists for the employee who moves in an infinitely more complex environment. Why a customer service and not an employee service?
And even if the onboarding procedures provide for face-to-face training, tomorrow everything will also have to be made available in digital form.
Formalism is not the enemy of flexibility and agility
So now you’re going to tell me that I can’t both advocate agility at all levels and complain about the lack of formalism of organizations that are sometimes too informal. But the two go very well together.
Formalizing does not mean rigidifying or complicating, but simply saying and writing what is. It can be unnecessarily complicated as well as very flexible. By the way, but that’s not the subject here but we’ll talk about it in another post, this work of formalization can be an opportunity to ask “why do we do it this way” and proceed to a redesign work oriented towards simplification.