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Reorganizing Work

Managing the Distributed Workforce

After acknowledging unemployment, the most obvious problem created by COVID’s disruption of work-as-usual is the complexity of the sudden disarray in time and location commitments by individual workers.

We are already getting accustomed to managing this problem by attending to three “channels” of availability seen as the source of workers for co-operative functions. These same channels are also expected to have different characteristics as environments for working.

The onsite / hybrid / remote trio of channels presupposes that each has a compelling reason to be selected. The art and science of distributing the workload across these channels is no less organizational design.

However, the challenge of doing that design is not what is fundamentally causing the managerial anxiety levels with “disarray”.

The root cause of the anxiety is the problem of attaining a necessary level of assurance and confidence in the likelihood of continual effective co-operation between members of the workforce.

Without that assurance and confidence, the single dominant feature of management is insecurity about sufficient reliability in the reconfiguration of the organization’s real-time shape on the field.

Reconfiguring the Workload

To get a grip on this configuration, it is necessary to establish three things about each activity exerted in each channel:

•What is done

•When it is done

•Why it is done

The simplest way to do this is to see the entirety of the workload distribution as a constellation of types of events that each contain the probable readiness, interactivity, and influence of individual workers.

The biggest question to ask in identifying each case is this:

•is the worker’s involvement more mandatory or more discretionary? We think of this case as a presence…

•and is that presence motivated more by personal desire (a “carrot”) or by institutional requirement (the “stick”)? We think of this case as a driver…

To illustrate this distribution, we used the most obvious model of personal involvement in cooperative organization — a sports team.

Re-organizing Reliability

The six event types associated with the individual player’s involvement show that the player can do predictable types of things at certain times and places.

Most importantly, the player’s entire range of actions (the “workload”) is distributed, as events, in a rational and communicable way regarding probable (expected) availability.

This same generic model of distinguishing availability and participation can apply to any player without needing to impose the same specifics of all types of event on all players. For example, there can be multiple practices, differing tryouts, a variety of trainings, and numerous fitness facilities and regimens.

A given player is consistently “associated” with selected events in ways that other workers know and understand. In that way, inter-activity can be anticipated and appropriate support of that interactivity can be applied.

And the need for the player to interact with others is part of the rationale for where and when the player might be at differing events.

From here we translate the events model, from sports into corresponding ordinary business work terms.

In Person, Online, and Mixtures

From this generic model, we look at the three “channels” within which the worker and the activity can reside for the event.

We can expect that a given type of event can occur in more than one channel, but that the channel may impose certain conditions on the event that will affect how influence and interactivity can take place.

That means each type of event will be modeled particularly for each channel. A worker can then either shop for or comply with a model of the event that compares well with what the worker can offer.

For example: one worker may routinely use a remote-only model of a staff meeting. Another worker may use evening hours for solo training. Another may schedule some groupwork at one location in the mornings and at a different location in the afternoon. Some onsite events may also include online attendance.

The organization must provide or accept the support needed in the event, in its channel, for the type of interactivity, not just for the individual activity.


Individuals can effectively appear and act in the chosen events in a chosen channel.

But the value of the configurations still depends on whether the individuals both offer and gain the impacts that make their presence a factor in generating value from the work effort.

Some events in a given channel become successful because the support mechanism there fosters trust between individuals. The channel event readily supports trust-building through communication, integrity and empathy.

The trust is cultivated as a result of the individual’s effort, characterized especially by the autonomy, skill and transparency of the effort (all of which can be highly discretionary).

The appreciation of the effort grows into respect, through the routine visibility, initiative and results of the worker.

And respect becomes a strong attractor to the channel event in which the individual can appear.

Defining support of Events

Expectations are a good basis on which to model a given channel for a given type of event. The organization’s commitment to sufficiently supporting the chosen channel event means that all parties have the same way of anticipating how to co-operate with and within that event. The following chart is simply an illustration of the range of things that should matter, in identifying what to support and how.

Any given employee should be able to outline their workload as events, and identify where those events will best suit them from the standpoint of their most likely availability.

That in turn helps to “blueprint” the distribution of the workforce in a way that exposes both the constraints and the opportunities maintained for wherever they perform in their roles.

© 2021 malcolm ryder / archestra research for ChangeBridge LLC




Providing insights on how Change Management is Changing.

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Malcolm Ryder

Malcolm Ryder

Malcolm is a strategist, solution developer and knowledge management professional in both profit and non-profit companies across business, IT and the arts.

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