Why Silo-Busting Business Practices are Needed for a Successful Work from Home Strategy

COVID-19 is changing how we work. In a matter of weeks, millions of employers have rolled out mandatory work from home orders – and it’s realistic to assume that this new normal will be around for some time.

As we reflect on this intense period of change and uncertainty, many will agree that pivoting to a remote workforce model while retaining a sense of community across teams has been challenging. To help employees stay connected, companies have embraced collaboration tools like Zoom and Slack at a rapid pace. In fact, as of mid-March, Zoom’s daily active user count was up 378% from last year.

Connected, yet distant

As much as these tools bring us together, many employees may still feel distant. They can’t get up and walk over to a colleague’s cube for a quick conversation or easily huddle in cross-functional teams to foster new ideas or solve problems. These connections can be simulated virtually, but they risk feeling forced and uncomfortable.

This dilemma is not unique to a virtual way of working. Fostering communities in the corporate workplace is a perpetual challenge. Too often critical business functions operate in silos. This isn’t intentional, it just happens that expertise is divided into functional groups – sales, marketing, IT, legal, HR, and so on.

Problems occur, however, when each group “owns” their knowledge and resources competitively. This can create a culture of separation, rather than a culture of collaboration.

As the CEO of a technology services company, I’ve seen how teams in siloed organizations struggle to serve the business needs of customers and stakeholders. In IT, for example, application delivery cultures often prioritize project processes as opposed to outcomes. Likewise, program management office (PMO) initiatives are frequently disjointed from customer needs sometimes focused solely on compliance, impeding desired outcomes.

Aligning teams for success

Only by promoting a collaborative cross-functional environment – particularly during these unprecedented times – can organizations ensure that everyone is aligned around common vision and goals, understands how they contribute to the big picture, and can lift one another to success.

We’ve promoted a culture of enablement at Macro Solutions since our founding and our thinking here is rooted in Agile principles. We have long been proponents of Agile; we have seen Agile work well; we’ve learned from our successes and failures; it’s not just the most effective way for us to work, it is also the most effective way to deploy our work.

Putting up barriers is the antithesis of Agile, some barriers are cultural. We’ve seen how a judgment-free workplace can drive positive behaviors and encourage employees to always look for opportunities for improvement. It’s a culture that says “it’s ok to fail” or “it’s ok to make mistakes;” but learn from them, own and share these lessons with everyone so that, together, we can quickly address our customers’ needs and deliver continuous value.

Getting down in the weeds a little, we have daily and weekly standups and scrums, and we encourage affinity groups to come together to share ideas. For example, we’ve fostered a community called the Macro 5. This cross-functional team (which started as five people but has grown since) is helping us advance the development of practice areas and thought leadership that can be shared internally. This helps the wider Macro team understand more about what we do, think about things differently, and explore ways to deliver continuous value to our customers.

We’ve learned from our successes and failures internally and working in our client engagements. We have seen the benefits of letting technology approaches and internal frameworks compete in ways that are as natural and unforced as possible. Indeed, the Macro Solutions Continuous Value Methodology is our approach to deliver to the federal government based on these principles.

Finding new ways for fluid connections while working from home

As we all wrestle with the challenges of a remote work, at Macro we are doing everything we can to overcome the physical barriers that separate us. However, as we’ve learned, collaboration and connection can’t be forced. While we use video and SaaS collaboration tools to host meetings and break down the silos inflicted on us by COVID-19, we also recognize that people still value the more informal, fluid connections that they have become accustomed to at the Macro office.

We are looking at multiple measures to meet this need. One way is using Zoom’s “Virtual Water Cooler” feature, a virtual meeting place where the entire team can gather or pop in and out as they please. They can mute when they need work and unmute when they have a question or just want to talk. It’s more natural and less forced than a traditional meet-up, and our employees appreciate that.

COVID-19 has created a culture of virtual enablement; let’s keep going

COVID-19 has changed how we collaborate, but the lasting effects on our work experience is hard to predict. One thing is certain, the genie is out of the bottle. Collaboration tools have colored how we work, and we can’t unsee them. They make for a richer telework experience. They’ve freed individuals to be productive outside the corporate office environment. More importantly, these tools have liberated organizations to look more favorably on telework. The result is that we are all more efficient as a result – but only if the company is already built on a healthy foundation of silo-busting business practices.