7. Challenges to Anticipate

Let's not kid ourselves. Moving from Industrial Age management to Information Age Management is an upgrade and all upgrades present challenges. Further, Information Age Management isn't one particular set of changes you can make and get acclimatized to. Instead, Information Age Management means embracing the fact that how work is done is less important than what work is done.

We haven't abandoned how, of course. Rather, we've learned to become so specific about how workers will participate in the workflow that each of these Communications Requirements is now a concise, quantifiable what. Whereas under Industrial Age management, the how pervaded the entire work experience and defined the corporate culture, now the how takes a back seat, being a minimum set of rules that managers and workers agree to. If anything, it's the lack of a pervasive how that defines the corporate culture of Information Age Management and this culture is best described by the mantra "flexibility and responsibility go hand in hand."

But this is academic if, on a day-to-day basis, your old habits and proclivities prevent you from embracing the changes we've been discussing. Seemingly small issues can be surprisingly potent. Your biggest challenge may be staying calm while you see people disappear from their cubicles or come in and out of the office at non-traditional times.

If you find this happening to you, take a step back and analyze the situation. Is there a tangible problem that needs to be resolved or are you just panicking because this isn't what you're used to? Actual shortcomings need to be addressed but you don't want to give in to fear of change alone.

Ask yourself if there are specific problems you've been having that are caused by the upgrade. If so, what are these problems? For example: if your development curve has accelerated recently, maybe there are some workers from whom one status update per day isn't enough. In that case, you may have to ask them to update you in the morning and again after lunch in order to be prepared for your afternoon - at least until your project slows down again.

If that request is outside the bounds of your arrangement with your worker, share your concern and see if he has any suggestions. You might be surprised how involved a worker becomes when you've given him lots of flexibility. But if you did a good job of setting up your relationship early on, you can rest easy. That's because you know the quickest and most reliable ways to get in touch with your workers if something important comes up.

Virtual Lunches Just Aren't the Same

You may be used to having lunch with your team or maybe you're used to spontaneously deciding to go out for drinks together. This can be an important part of a corporate culture and it's perfectly reasonable to be concerned about losing the bonding that comes from this sort of socialization.

Rather than asking everyone on your team to eat lunch together via webcam, get approval to take them out to drinks every now and then. An occasional off-site party where workers can bring a guest can be great, too. Consider having one or two small, informal events after work every month for no reason other than than to do it - and be sure the company picks up the tab.

Just remember that there are some workers who won't enjoy this sort of socialization for any number of reasons. Don't ever force a worker to socialize. Offer it as an opportunity for people who miss the camaraderie but accept that some people just aren't built for it.

Face-to-face Communications Are Better… Aren't They?

There's a meme that one hears in the business world which suggests that although virtual communications are a modern reality, in-person work is somehow better. This myth is pervasive and it's supported by some MBA programs' emphasis on groups and teamwork.

For social beings (like most managers), it feels like face-to-face meetings are more productive because social beings respond well to verbal interactions. And the truth is that for certain types of work - particularly brainstorming - it is better to have your team in one place. But technical details - particularly specifications and action-items - are only useful when they can be written down.

That's hard to accept but it's the truth so the sooner you accept it, the better for you and your teams. In fact, let's say it again to be clear: until specifications and action items can be written in concise, bulleted, black-and-white text, they're not clear enough to be shared.

Because brainstorming can be critical, you might add "Quarterly Brainstorming Session, All Day Event" to the Communications Requirements for each position you oversee. Hold these sessions in person when possible and over the 'net when not possible. Then use conference calls, instant messages, online whiteboards, short meetings, and other communications tools as quick, concise team huddles.

What About Your Boss?

There's someone else who needs to be comfortable with an upgrade to Information Age Management and that person is your boss. Even if you adjust to the upgrade smoothly, your boss might not. He might be more old-fashioned, less familiar with the technologies in play, or just plain dull. In any of those cases, you have to make him comfortable in order for the upgrade to continue smoothly.

Fortunately, this is the single easiest problem to fix - and for all the right reasons. The fundamental reason to migrate toward a non-traditional workplace is because of the value that you can add to your team and your company. That puts you in an ideal position to deal with any skepticism you encounter.

If you've gone through the process we've been learning here, then you're on top of what your workers are up to. You know their schedules, how to reach them at what times, precisely what they do for your team, and what they've been working on lately. In fact, if you did a good job of determining what your needs were early on and if you hired good people, you probably have a better understanding of their current statuses than you would if they were working 9-5.

If you didn't hire good people (more on that coming up) or if you weren't crystal clear about what you expect from each of them, then yeah: you might be screwed. But we're not talking about memorizing quadratic equations; we're talking about knowing what your workers do and keeping up-to-date on their deliverables. Meaning: it's stuff that you ought to do anyway.

Keep your workers' schedules, contact information, e-mails, IM transcripts, status updates, and especially deliverables handy.

That way, you'll be prepared to answer any questions your higher-ups ask and you'll breathe easier knowing you're on top of things.

Flexibility and Responsibility Go Hand in Hand

At the risk of being repetitive: don't make the mistake of performing only one half of the upgrade to Information Age Management. If you tell your staff today that they can set their own schedules and work from anywhere they want, you'll be lucky to ever see them - or their deliverables - again. Inversely, if you only raise the bar on expectations by imposing a bunch of new rules for check-ins and communications, you'll look like a tyrant.

You have to increase flexibility and responsibility simultaneously in order to gain the loyalty and productivity that Information Age Management promises. So become relentlessly specific about what your workers need to deliver while simultaneously letting go of how they deliver it, until you've reduced the how to the absolute minimum necessary to maintain a cohesive workflow.