How to Boost Remote Team Management with Organizational Network Analysis
Everyone is working from home, and your team has gone rogue — or at least this is what it feels like.
One of the first things you do these days is to open up your project management system.
Monday? Trello? Asana? Jira?
Their layout is relatively easy to use and they’ll give you information like who is working on what — but you’ve fundamentally lost an essential perspective on what is going wrong or right.
We are right there with you: it was much easier to manage when everyone was in the office.
Lack of face-to-face supervision, lack of access to information, social isolation, distractions at home…all of these issues can make you feel as though you’ve lost the tools that make you a great manager.
In light of this loss, there are different ways to recuperate.
The Manager’s Nightmare
The biggest concern we hear from our clients at Panalyt is this one: how is WFH impacting our engagement and productivity?
As you've noticed already, there probably was a dip in both. However, the fact that everyone is online is surprisingly a blessing.
Because if leveraged properly, your company’s digital footprint across all your business tools now is an invaluable source of data! You now need new tools that will give you the right data insights in order to become more intentional and strategic about your people-related decisions.
While Organizational Network Analysis (ONA) has traditionally only been applied at major Fortune 500-1000 firms, ONA is now particularly instrumental for companies of all sizes as it the first time so many of them and their managers are going or have gone remote.
How Managers Can Support Remote Employees?
Well, let’s start with why.
Why do we want team members to interact with each other?
What’s the purpose of communicating?
Communication should give employees information about which colleagues are working on projects, what their areas of expertise are (and if those areas have might have an impact on your/others’ work), and how they can best collaborate. For example, if Adrian knows social media marketing better than you, you should go to him for advice — but you would have to actively approach Adrian for that advice. You can leverage your peers’ experience and knowledge network to ensure the success of projects, mitigate risk, and so on and so forth.
There’s also a great social component to inter-organizational communication. Sustaining a personal feeling that everyone is in this together — be it COVID-19 or company culture — is crucial for your team in the workplace.
Communication does not have to suffer when working from home. But it will deteriorate quickly unless you set cultural, digital communication norms (we provide a great list of links from remote experts at the end of the article), and actively identify people who might be struggling with communicating and collaborating remotely.
Let’s break down your employee demographic first, and explain what each section of workers might be going through now.
Your Employee Demographic
Please enjoy the character personification of these 4 demographics below.
Younger employees — are still developing their career and their work processes.
Older employees — might not want to change things (but some could be very open to it).
Employees without caring duties — have problems switching off work. This could potentially lead to a burn out of sorts.
Employees with caring duties — may be active from 4 am to 6 am because that’s when their children are not awake.
Patterns that Stand Out
These are some common factors to online communication you should be observing and what they might imply.
Start/Stop of the Work Day — When do people log in and log out? When do people send their first message? People might start to log in earlier and log out later. Depending on the demographic and culture, this might indicate being more productive or having a more flexible schedule. In other cultures or demographics, this may be less productive.
Volume of Communication — Does work and non-work related communication within the company’s channels increase?
Breadth of Communication — Does the number of connections decrease? Is it for everyone or one of the specific demographic groups or teams? This indicates a circle of friends or colleagues is getting smaller.
Silos — Are silos forming? Is communication sticking to teams or projects? These limit collaboration.
Silos and breadth of communication are slightly different. Silos exist when people communicate only amongst those that they share something in common with (same department, same gender, same ethnicity, same hobby, etc.).
The breadth of communication is the total number of people you talk to; these people could have different backgrounds. This decrease could indicate a colleague’s circles are getting smaller, but they can still be diverse.
More siloed communication means that communication partners are getting less diverse, but they could still be talking with more people overall.
In conclusion, we strongly advise you to be viewing all of these patterns and data points together! Consider laying out the demographics next to the communication patterns you’re observing because otherwise, you could get the wrong picture.
Data: Changes in Communication Patterns
Imagine that this top-line visualization below is applicable to your entire organization or the specific teams upon which you report. A people analytics tool (conveniently like Panalyt) translates a complex organizational network into simple, practical charts for you.
In this example, the graph is a general overview of your team’s activity over time. The dip seen in the graph below implies that people in your observed group are not adjusting well to this new environment. They struggle to get in rhythm with the change in communication channels.
Furthermore, it could be indicative that either the leadership or the tools are lacking. You may align with your HR department to go into a deeper investigation.
The graph below shows a different narrative. This chart is telling of an effective team working from home.
As you may notice, there is a hiccup shortly after WFH was implemented; the change can cause a disruption in the workflow (and a common issue here is that your employees might be spending more time on video calls vs. their actual projects and emails), but then they get back on their rhythm and take advantage of the new style.
If these two examples were both teams within the same company, you could ask the better performing team for their best practices, and help the other remote team to do better given fairly similar circumstances.
In this broad sense, Organizational Network Analysis gives you real-time information on how things are changing during your remote transition; an advance warning can be spotted far earlier than if you did not have this data.
Raising Questions about How your Network Communicates
Before diving into the examples, take some time to ask yourself these questions and see if you can observe what is happening before we explain each chart below.
Does the volume of communication increase?
Does the number of communications partners increase?
Does the number of silos change?
Do the employees’ position in the network change?
If you want to zoom in on a specific team’s communication patterns, a great way to do this is by analyzing chat and email metadata.
Here is a breakdown of what is happening in this team.
On the upper part of the chart, you see some employees began to disengage. Are they struggling to adapt to WFH? Are they burning out? Are they stressed out about the current Covid-19 situation and its implication on their personal life? Or their professional career with layoffs happening left, right, and center?
At the center, you see more and more communication happening. These are the individuals driving projects and the department forward.
Who are they? How can you reward them? Are there indicators as to why they are so central (time in the company, leadership ranking, etc.)? Can you use what they’re using to replicate the communication success or develop training programs?
At the bottom, we see individuals who were isolated initially, but over the weeks they were brought in. Are these individuals freshly hired and onboarded? Who are the people helping these new employees integrate with the rest of the company?
A deeper analysis of these communication patterns can also help you identify employees who show signs of leadership potential which is useful for succession planning and leadership development, as shown in the video below.
So while we may not be able to show you exactly why something is occurring, we can certainly provide a far clearer picture of what is happening.
You wouldn’t be able to find this out until it's too late — when things have already broken apart and you see who is being negatively impacted. Without ONA, it is only then you can work backward and try to figure out where things went wrong.
An Individual’s (Data-Driven) Journey
In this graph in the video example above, we see the same person in two different time periods. On an individual level, this is someone who has had a normal working pattern. However, this pattern has been disrupted and they withdraw slightly from communication within the business.
On to this, you can layer performance metrics. You can test for a correlation — whether a decrease in communication has caused a decrease in performance. For example: if they’re a salesperson, are they selling more or less?
On the flip-side, this type of analysis can also highlight positive metrics! Following the sales example, do those team members who talk to more individuals across departments (or within teams) sell more? Below is a video of our CEO explaining how he observed an improvement in sales using people analytics.
From Micro to Macro: the Individual to the Team
Now taking a step back from the individual level, we can also examine this at a team level. This is especially useful if you have a 1,000+ person company, and a macro view can serve as a powerful instrument to have in your managerial toolbox.
Do projects go smoother if communication between sales and marketing is higher? Is performance better? Which people are no longer talking to each other? Which groups peaked in collaboration? Who were the leaders there?
The more information you put into the system, the better and more accurate your insights will be. When you identify something that has changed positively or negatively, you can then zoom in on where and with whom that change happened.
Identifying Champions You Can’t Risk to Lose
Seemingly always at the bottom of a manager’s to-do list is this: identifying employees at risk of digital burnout/collaborative overload. You logically know that this might lead to attrition problems — one of the most costly losses a company can take especially in times of saving costs — so here are some notes to be more aware whilst working from home.
As people are working from home, their personal life and work-life become intertwined. Meaning that people might be working past their working hours and have plenty of late-night meetings.
This is also 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. (Here is a link to HBR's Meeting Cost Calculator if you're curious to see how much you're saving or spending in meetings!)
The people who are most at risk are the so-called “central connectors” at your company. These are people who tend to collaborate more with other people; they are sometimes overloaded with information and are at risk of burning out. (Not-so-fun fact: women tend to take on more collaborative roles and have a higher risk of burning out because of it)
There are two types of individuals that you will especially want to keep tabs on: Bridge People and Pulse Checkers.
The ones who connect with other people.
If they leave, your company will fall apart as the information flow has been majorly disrupted.
They will be located at more strategic levels, and the speed of information spread is not a priority with this individual.
They have a good view of the whole company.
The ones who allow you to efficiently spread and collect information across all corners of your company
They differ from the bridge person because of speed. Targeting pulse checkers is an efficient way to talk to spread ideas quickly.
We will be releasing an article that goes in-depth on the topic of types of individuals soon! A friendly reminder to follow us on LinkedIn.
From Article to Action
Well, how can all of this insight be translated into action? With people analytics, you act very much like a doctor. Once we give you the insights, you are then equipped with the right information to decide a highly relevant course of action for your team.
Without Organizational Network Analysis, you won’t be able to originate your problems or successes, but in the figure below you’ll find our survey results from individuals WFH currently and what they find to be the most meaningful actions or initiatives taken on by managers.
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:
1-on-1 sessions, 15 minutes each
Daily check-ins (gently, gently… this is not us encouraging micromanagement)
Clearly defining communication tools and sticking to them
Providing opportunities for remote social interaction
Offering encouragement and emotional support
The future of your work will require you to perpetually optimize the collaboration between your employees.
Today is the day, more than ever before, to utilize technology to your remote advantage. The sheer fact that everyone’s communication patterns are digital (they have to be!) currently means that providing insights will be far stronger than if you had interactions going unlogged in the office. Building a data-driven team dynamic now will not only help you make better decisions, but it will also help you develop a data-driven perspective to come out of this period a stronger manager than before.
As a company that’s been fully remote for more than a year, we strongly believe this at Panalyt— which is why we’ve launched an ONA product to empower you with these insights for your organization.
For Now, Some Links
Here are links to some resources from the top companies in the world handling remote right now:
General Tips from Remote Worker Superstars
Erin ‘Folletto’ Casali, Jetpack Head of Design, offers a detailed read on setting up your remote work strategy for companies and individuals. (Notion listed Erin’s piece as one of the best remote work guides on its wiki.)
James Huff, Happiness Engineer, published his recommendations from 10 years of working for Automattic. (Automaticc is a fully remote company by the way, and has been for the past 15 years).
Cate Huston, who leads Automattic’s Developer Experience team, led a “Crash Course in Remote Management” webinar, presented with Vaya Consulting.
Lori McLeese, Global Head of Human Resources, shared distributed best practices in a Q&A with True Ventures.
Marjorie Asturias, Partnerships Wrangler, came up with five tips for working from home, which she shared on Fiverr’s blog.
Artur Piszek, who leads the Earn team, came up with a primer and four pillars for remote work.
Cate Huston again, this time on fixing five common pain points of working at home. (Note: this post is email-gated.)
Communication, Collaboration, and (Video) Call Tips
Simon Ouderkirk, Jetpack Data Wrangler, focused on the value of connection in his post, “Phatic Communication, or Talk for the Sake of Talking.”
Aaron Douglas, the WordPress iOS App team lead, shared some thoughts on staying mindful during video calls.
Marcus Kazmierczak, a Special Projects Principal Engineer, wrote about the keys to effective asynchronous communication.
Erin Casali again, this time with some timeless tips from 2015, on setting processes and choosing tools for collaboration.
Charles Earl, Data Analyst, with reflections on his experience as a Black individual working remotely.
Soft Stuff —Still Important!
Sasha Stone, Happiness Engineer, focuses on optimizing distributed life for self-care.
Jeff Pearce, WordPress.org Creative Technologist, shared about the importance of morning routines.