How COVID-19 is accelerating the shift to remote management.

Julian Mills, CEO Quorso
Julian Mills 01/06/2020·4 min read

Julian Mills is the Co-Founder and CEO of Quorso. Before Quorso, he was a Partner at McKinsey, and founder of the Global Infrastructure Initiative with Madeleine Albright.

The COVID-19 pandemic is accelerating a shift to remote management for retailers, restaurants and other multi-site businesses. Two months ago, you could have spotted America’s three million managers on the move, weaving in and out of airports, car rental branches, hotel lobbies and office car parks. Now many are confined to their home offices. And, even as the economy reopens, they intend to stay there.

The manager’s role is to direct and coach their team to deliver business performance. And to do that they need visibility of how the business and their team are doing, and early warning about any issues. For decades, managers have gathered that information in person by visiting their teams. (My friend, Alice, who runs a large restaurant business, calls this “management by looking around”). At the end of each visit, they’ve typically sat down with team members, coached them to take some improvement actions, written down the action plan in a notebook, and left. They have tended to repeat this cycle every few weeks.

Managing teams remotely was already on the rise and COVID-19 is expediting this trend.

For decades management was this in-person, feet-on-the-ground activity. But that was already changing before the pandemic. In fact, 47% of managers surveyed before COVID-19 hit said they sometimes worked from home. So why was remote working starting to take hold?

  1. Better data: In the last 10-20 years, the amount of data companies collect has exploded. And managers now have much easier access to that information. Managers can now see in real time which products are selling where, and even view what is happening in a store or restaurant via streamed video.
  2. High cost of travel: Travelling to far flung stores and restaurants is expensive and time consuming. Many managers in the US struggle to visit more than two stores a day, and spend much of their week on the road. And travel expenses can rocket. Walmart famously has a fleet of 22 corporate jets for its managers, and one bank exec we spoke to spends hundreds of millions of dollars annually on travel.
  3. Increased job mobility: With the average US manager changing jobs every 4 years, many are reluctant to uproot and move families to follow their careers. And so, managers are increasingly responsible for territories where they don’t live. Consequently, they have tended to snatch any opportunity to work from home.

COVID-19 is accelerating that shift to remote management. Travel bans, health concerns, and furloughed staff mean that most managers are now working from home. And they, and their companies, are getting used to it. (Remember that it only takes 66 days, on average, to embed a new habit).

In the last month, I’ve interviewed 40 executives in the Retail and Restaurant sectors. Nearly all believe that, as the economy reopens, managers will need to continue to visit stores and restaurants regularly to inspire, reassure and assess their teams. However, they also think that can happen less often: for example, at Dollar General, District Managers only conduct an in-depth scheduled visit every 6 weeks or so. And they hope that by embracing data and technology they will be able to provide better day-to-day direction and coaching of their teams remotely.

While attitudes towards remote management are increasingly positive, the logistics are a different challenge.

In practice, many managers are finding that today’s technology isn’t up to the job. The schematic below explains why…

The capabilities we’ve historically developed for in-person management don’t translate well to a remote world:

  • Getting early warning of emerging problems is tough when you need to pull data from 10+ different data systems (e.g., POSs, workforce management, business intelligence, task management, customer surveys…)
  • Having visibility of what your team is working on, and how they are doing is difficult when you can’t huddle around a notebook or presentation
  • Coaching your team to solve problems is a challenge via Teams or Zoom, without understanding in depth what’s going wrong on the ground
  • Focusing your team on business priorities – especially right now when market demand is so volatile – is slow and inefficient

Powering management to drive high performing teams and businesses.

At Quorso, we’re building a platform to address these pains and the many others that managers experience as they embrace remote management. To do that, we unify the layers of management in the visual above – bringing together your data, actions, team and KPIs in a single, easy-to-use application.

I’d love to know how COVID-19 is affecting management in your business. If you’re a manager, please take 10 seconds to answer this poll question:

What are you finding hardest about remote management?

  1. Focusing your team on your KPIs
  2. Coaching your staff
  3. Visibility of what your team are doing
  4. Early warning about any problems
  5. Other