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The changing world of work: 5 new ideas from MIT Sloan Management Review


Between digital transformation and COVID-19, the way that many people work is changing dramatically. The latest perspectives from MIT Sloan Management Review help executives support remote teams, meet employees’ expectations for how work fits into their lives, and emphasize corporate values ranging from visibility to cybersecurity.

Enable collaboration to help remote teams succeed   

Even prior to the pandemic, executives worried that employees working remotely would struggle to collaborate and build relationships. A literature review by MIT Sloan professor and several co-authors, spanning 22 separate studies over the course of the last decade, suggests that this fear is overblown.

According to Malone, the collective intelligence of remote teams is little different than teams meeting face to face. That’s because where people work matters less than how the work is done and who does it.

The how is a matter of collaboration. This is most effective when two things happen: the individuals with the best skills to accomplish a given task take the lead on it, and all tasks are assigned so nothing is left unfinished. The who extends beyond professional skills to encompass social skills, especially the perception of subtle nonverbal cues that are critical to coordinating work.

Supporting remote teams does involve changes to business processes. For example, constant communication may not be as effective as bursts of rapid communication followed by periods of silence, as this encourages both high-energy collaboration and focused time for work. This may disrupt the way companies have traditionally operated, but Malone indicates it’s worth considering given the range of benefits of remote work — especially the ability to assemble a diverse team when physical location is no longer a constraint.

Read “The collective intelligence of remote teams”

5 assumptions about work that leaders should reconsider

While digital transformation has led executives to question their assumptions about what customers want, the response to COVID-19 has forced the rethinking of what employees want. As expectations have shifted, MIT Sloan’sencourages leaders to rethink five assumptions about how employees work:

  1. If people aren’t in the office, they aren’t productive. The return to the office shouldn’t be binary. Certain tasks are more amenable to remote work — those measured by output, such as coding or writing – while some employees are better motivated outside of direct supervision.
  2. The same rules should apply to everybody. Exceptions that used to be granted in special circumstances, like flexible hours or remote work, should be the standard for everyone. That said, leaders and HR departments must strike a balance between fairness and autonomy.  
  3. We need to locate where the talent is. When it’s possible to work from anywhere, companies don’t need physical locations in prime (and expensive) locations. But they must consider what this means for talent acquisition, compensation, and cross-industry collaboration.
  4. When they’re working for me, they’re not working for anyone else. When employees are remote, it’s hard to gauge why productivity is falling — whether they have a side hustle or a sick family member. Leaders must find transparent ways to both measure output and motivate employees to work when they can.  
  5. Employees will work the way we tell them to. In all industries, employees are questioning work conditions that cause stress. Leaders must incorporate the voice of the employees, not just the executive, in reframing how work is done and how business units are organized.

Read “Rethinking assumptions about how employees work”

Measuring the value of visibility

Netflix recently found itself in a sticky situation after firing three executives who criticized their bosses on an internal Slack channel. The company has a reputation for transparent culture and integrity in communication, and chief content officer Ted Sarandos has written that the company does not monitor Slack or email. The executives, he said, made the comments on a channel they mistakenly thought was private.

As MIT Sloan’s Michael Schrage describes, the company had to find a way to reconcile corporate values and digital surveillance — an increasingly common phenomenon amid both digital transformation and increased remote work. To balance the need to monitor people and processes with the potential conflict with corporate values, Schrage suggests that companies should establish return on visibility as a new key performance indicator.

Leadership should emphasize the potential for ethical forms of visibility that improve productivity and empower employees. Initiatives could include reviews of sentiment analysis associated with workflows or greater transparency of calendars to improve scheduling of meetings and deadlines. It’s also important for leaders to gain visibility into how employees work together — ideally by using the analytics resources at their disposal to study things like interpersonal dynamics and team culture. Finally, leaders should create and share visibility road maps, to ensure that employees view visibility as a core corporate value and not just a byproduct of an increasingly digital workplace.

Read “What’s your return on visibility?”

4 ways to embed cybersecurity into product design

Companies rarely think about cybersecurity when designing products and services, instead opting to bolt on security features once designs are done. This tends to happen because cybersecurity doesn’t contribute directly to revenue, it delays time to market, and because managers often underestimate the consequences of cybersecurity vulnerabilities.

Unfortunately, today’s customers (whether they are end users or manufacturing partners) increasingly expect products to be secure. That’s why MIT Sloan researchers Keri Pearlson and Keman Huang recommend that companies design for cybersecurity from the very beginning.

It’s not enough for companies to tell designers and development teams to focus on security, though. There are four ways leaders can encourage behavior change so cybersecurity is baked into products during the design phase.

  1. Link performance appraisals to cybersecurity, not just speed to market — and don’t be afraid to delay products with insufficient cybersecurity and hold the development team accountable.
  2. Find additional ways to recognize designers engaging in positive cybersecurity behavior, whether it’s through exclusive meetings with security leadership or mentions in all-hands meetings.
  3. Reframe the agile development process to include stories that focus on cybersecurity requirements. This gives designers the knowledge to provide the “first pass” security review and reduce their reliance on external security experts.
  4. Consistently reinforce the importance of cybersecurity in product design. No amount of communication about this message is too much.

Read “Design for cybersecurity from the start”

How executives can support community initiatives

COVID-19’s impact on individual communities has laid bare disparities in access to health care, housing, education, child care, and food. Many business leaders strive to address these challenges as part of their corporate mission, in part because stronger communities lead to stronger companies.

Drawing on the experience of Rush University Medical Center on Chicago’s West Side, MIT Sloan lecturer provides executives with five tenets for using corporate clout to help communities thrive.

  1. Tell a story. For Rush, the story focused on three parts: Narrative (in this case, that ZIP code is a better predictor of life span than genetic code), data (the 16-year life expectancy gap between the West Side and downtown Chicago), and action (a new initiative from Rush and other Chicago hospitals to address the problem).
  2. Build both grassroots and institutional strategy. Corporate partners aren’t there to “fix” the community. They must convene community representatives to better understand priorities and see how their work can address what the community needs.
  3. Make governance inclusive. Executive leadership and community advisory serve separate roles and should be represented in a way that balances community and corporate power.
  4. Drive internal change. In addressing equity gaps within the community, Rush leadership realized that its own employees living in neighborhoods with low life expectancy also faced financial stress. In response, the health system raised minimum wage to $15 an hour, offered financial wellness counseling, and improved career development and training.
  5. Be authentic. Executives, especially those who are white, need to build trust with communities used to hearing institutions overpromise and underdeliver. Meeting local leaders in their neighborhoods and being honest about intentions — and shortcomings — helps leaders demonstrate authenticity and commitment.

Read “How corporate clout helps communities thrive”

For more info Zach Church Editorial & Digital Media Director (617) 324-0804