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Productivity in 2020

Posted by The nFocus Team on 29/10/2020

Today we welcome back Scott Summers with his advice on maintaining productivity in 2020.

A question that I’m being asked a lot at the moment is “how can I maintain (or increase) the productivity of my test team when they are working from home?”. The following are a few things that I've been considering recently and hope you find them useful.

Be supportive, human and emotional

In a professional and personal (peacetime) setting, our collective, sustained stress hasn’t been greater for a generation. Many people are fearful of losing their livelihoods and even more people have had their household income significantly reduced. While many can function normally, beneath the surface, stress is almost certainly affecting people's moods and health. Not everyone will be consciously aware of it, but they can’t help being affected by it, and this is going to affect productivity.

I’m aware that I will also be experiencing this, my tolerance, ability to think clearly and personal performance is affected. Pushing against these natural and normal reactions will only exacerbate the problem, so I try to be mindful of my own, my peers, and my team’s emotions more than ever. It's easy to pay lip service to this but very difficult to apply and I need to take more time out of my day to meditate on these things.

Lead don’t manage

Except in the rare circumstance where someone is underperforming, I’ve found (and I’m certainly not breaking any new ground here) micromanaging doesn’t get the best from people - the destruction of autonomy demotivates and limits performance. Worse still, it builds resentment and breaks trust. I always try to give my team the flexibility they need to manage their personal and professional lives.

With kids at home, couples/individuals living and working in the same space, personal relationships strained (the list could go on and on), I’m conscious that this is more important than ever before. When we look at the testing hierarchy, a Test Manager title is a more senior role than a Test Lead. These titles have always jarred with me because good leadership is far more difficult than good management. Good communication, creative problem solving, motivation and listening skills are hard to master but essential for leadership.

The Covid response provides a perfect example of this. Governments worldwide have struggled to lead their people and have needed to manage them. Poor communication (long and boring speeches rather than short, resonating pitches), conflicting messages, confusing rules, not leading by example, perceived illogical decisions, lack of transparency, lack of trust and lack of flexibility have resulted in a situation where laws and regulations to force the populous to behave in a certain way are necessary. Conversely, good leadership results in people willingly doing what’s needed to achieve a shared goal without coercion or mandates. It’s quite obvious to me that we are being managed by politicians and leadership has gone out the window. Don’t make this mistake in your professional life.

Jordan Peterson’s Rule 8: Tell the Truth, or at Least Don’t Lie

It’s not unusual for senior leadership to keep things from their employees and it seems to be an innate quality that managers believe they know what’s best for individuals to know – or not know. People can’t handle the truth appears to be the mantra.

I have seen first-hand how employees who are not kept informed will most certainly assume the worst. I think it’s just as important to be transparent about business performance when things are bad, as it is when things are good. You’ll likely be surprised at their resilience and motivation to work harder in the face of adversity. 

It’s a misconception that morale will dip or people will jump ship, which is often used as an excuse. In my experience, the opposite is true and once people have assumed the worst, their minds will be set and it's tough to win them back.

The Old “Dog and Bone” is your Friend

We seem to have adopted online meeting technology such as Zoom and Teams with gusto. This is entirely understandable as it makes sense that the next best thing to face to face, in-person conversation would be the ability to see the person we’re speaking to. However, I’m not so sure things have turned out quite how we expected. The camera angle means we’re rarely looking eye to eye with the person we are speaking to. We either look at the camera and not at the person so that it appears we are looking at them, but we're not. Or we are looking at their face as we speak, looking beneath the camera and not making eye contact.

I think this is detrimental to having a good conversation and the lack of eye contact when we can see someone is for some reason worse than the lack of eye contact when we speak on the old-fashioned telephone. There’s something unnatural about the Zoom meeting that doesn’t quite resonate. What’s worse, the urge to look at myself when talking is distracting and I find myself doing it a lot. I’m sure this has an impact on the rapport and connection with whomever I’m speaking to. These subtle body language cues are not to be underestimated.

Similarly, we are subconsciously highly skilled at picking up on slight changes to pace and intonation when listening to someone. From an evolutionary perspective, since we were monkeys swinging in the trees, we have needed to be able distinguish the different shrieks from our troop based on the pitch and volume. I think this subconscious ability is currently underrated and overlooked. We have collectively assumed that the communication will be better if we can see the person we’re speaking to, which diminishes this skill as our brain’s capacity is split between looking and listening.

On a practical level, scheduling a Zoom or Teams call seems to drag out what could otherwise be a quick conversation. A water-cooler conversation or stop and chat when we pass someone is often all that was needed. As such, I think one on one conversations work better on the telephone. A quick, unscheduled call is a wonderful thing and not to be forgotten. What do you think? Zoom or phone?Digital Transformation & Quality Assurance

Topics: Test Manager, productivity

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