Why Understanding Networks Is Crucial to Successfully Redesigning Work

One of the biggest insights from the pandemic was the shrinking effect that remote working had on our networks.

While many of us focused on measuring and maintaining productivity, we may have failed to notice that those working from home typically spent more time engaging with people they already knew well, loosening or eradicating their weak ties.

Now, as they make decisions about what the future of work will look like for their organisations, leaders need to think carefully about the current state of networks and knowledge flows in their business. So, what do they need to factor into their approach?

Be intentional in building moments to drive connection
This is particularly important for new joiners and entry level employees where learning skills and serendipitous encounters or “water cooler moments” are crucial in onboarding them into the organisation. To solve these issues, we need to understand what we gain from them. For example, exposure to people in the form of serendipitous encounters fuels our imagination and creativity and helps us stumble upon new ideas. How else might we achieve this? Exposure to more experienced colleagues is an important way for new joiners to absorb the knowledge they need to do their job. How might we recreate these experiences remotely? Can we? Or do we build time in the office around prioritising these sorts of learning opportunities and encounters over desk time spent on Zoom?

Enable people to maintain their strong and weak ties
The approach here will differ depending on people’s roles and personalities, so leaders must gather as much information about what networks look like in their organisation and how people build and maintain them before redesigning work. What did your networks and knowledge flows look like before the pandemic? What do they look like now? Which roles relied on tight network groups and how have those been maintained? Which roles relied on boundary-spanning networks? How have these suffered, and how might we repair and rebuild them?

Balance human connection with the opportunities presented by technology
While encouraging in-person connection is one way of rebuilding these networks, organisations should also explore the possibilities that technology – from videoconferencing to virtual platforms and the metaverse – could have on how networks are formed and maintained. Would a Mystery Lunch programme where pairs of employees are paired randomly and encouraged to spend 30 mins in conversation fulfil the need for serendipitous encounters? Would sponsorship and mentorship programmes help junior colleagues build tacit knowledge? We have an extraordinary opportunity to fundamentally change our relationship with how networks are built, and tacit knowledge is shared by explicitly designing hybrid work to promote these activities – let’s seize it!

Interested in strengthening networks around your business? Get a more in-depth insight into this topic by reading Lynda Gratton’s Strategy + Business article here.