“Discounting” theory as a framework for assessing remote work proficiency levels
Working virtually with team members dispersed nationally or across the globe is nothing new and our use of this way-of-working has been steadily increasing over the last few decades. We don’t need to be talking about full-blown “follow the sun” projects to make use of remote working methods: from interactions with overseas suppliers to outsourced project team members, most of us have developed skills in remote working.
With the current Covid-19 crisis, though, remote has sky-rocketed, exposing many people to the need to quickly ramp-up to full proficiency.
So, we just do it, right? Or are there pitfalls to avoid? Well, indeed there may be! A good starting point to fully understand what is at stake is the “Discounting” theory of Transactional Analysis. This is nothing to do with trying to get a reduction on a price but rather a sub-conscious process which is best described through an example.
There are four levels of discounting:
- Not registering that a problem exists
- Not registering the significance of that problem
- Not registering that there are options for action [to solve the problem]
- Not registering that one is personally capable of implementing those actions [to solve the problem]
As an example, two flatmates, John and Chris, are at home and a tap (faucet) is dripping. In actual fact, it has been dripping for months. Chris says to John, “Can you hear that tap dripping?”. “Tap dripping?” John replies. He listens. “Now you mention it, there is a tap dripping! Well how about that!” He goes back to reading his book.
→ John has just cleared past level 1: he has registered that a problem exists
Sometime later, Chris, who has been searching through water bills, comes back into the room brandishing a stack of paperwork. “Do you know how much money a dripping tap wastes?” he asks. John replies that it’s only a drip and can’t be that much. Chris shows John bills dating back over a year showing a $20 increase per month since the tap started to drip. “Wow! $20 a month! That’s terrible! But it costs a fortune to call out a plumber and anyway you can never get one to come out…”
→ John has cleared past level 2: he has registered the significance of a problem, and has started to move on to level 3 (not believing there are options for action to solve the problem).
Chris shows John the results of an online search. It shows a bag of 50 tap gaskets of various sizes, with free next-day delivery, for $2.59. “Well that’s very interesting, but I’m no plumber!” says John.
→ John has cleared level 3: he has registered that there are options for action, and has moved onto level 4 (not believing he has the capability to act to solve the problem).
With a heavy sigh, Chris flips to an online tutorial showing “how to fit a new gasket to fix a dripping tap in 5 minutes”. After watching the video, with a shrug and a smile, John sets aside his book, orders the gasket set online and goes off to the tool cupboard to find a wrench…
→ John has cleared all the way through to level 4: registering that a problem exists and is significant, that options for action exist and that he is capable of implementing them!
Discounting applied to virtual teamwork
So how does this apply to our need to quickly ramp-up to full proficiency in remote working? Well, it provides a framework for each of us to evaluate where we are on the proficiency scale.
Level 1: If we believe that, to “go remote”, we just carry on working as we did in the office but now via videoconference from home, we would be at level 1 – not registering that issues exist such as the time needed to set up remote links and use the technology, potential technical gremlins and the additional concentration needed when remote-working all day long.
Level 2: If we believe that these issues do exist, but we just have to “get on with it regardless”, it would be to discount the additional fatigue that distance working can cause. We may also find ourselves working long hours to get the same results as before with, at the same time, a strange feeling of frustration and lower efficiency. We would be at level 2.
Level 3: If we realise that we do need to do something to adapt to the remote working situation but are not sure of what, we would be at level 3. Solutions such as adapting the rhythm of work and using a blend of communication methods to leverage the pros of each whilst reducing the cons are just within our grasp if we take the time to think about it.
Level 4: Finally, we may be aware of key remote working techniques but be unfamiliar with them and need to gain proficiency and confidence through try-outs in a safe environment, and maybe training, coaching or support from colleagues.
Barriers to effective virtual teams
We can identify three main types of issues faced by global co-workers:
- Language barrier
- Distance / time zone barrier
- Human aspect / cultural barrier
Over the next few days, we will not only look into how to “get around” these three categories of barrier but, even better, we will check how we can leverage opportunities to be even more powerful than before in traditional “face-to-face” work.
As we move ahead, it would be great to get your input, discoveries and experience so that we can be stronger together. So, tune in again soon for the barrier analysis and, in the meantime, please share your virtual teamwork experiences, successes and questions below!
About the Author
Peter Chadwick is the Founder of Island Hoppers, and a Trainer and Consultant with IIL. He is qualified as an engineer, project manager, trainer, coach and pilot.
The common threads to Peter’s career are innovation and exploration. From early days dreaming-up designs, through roles leading larger and larger international project teams, up to his current role of trainer and coach, Peter constantly searches for better designs, better ways of working.
Building on his research and in-the-field experience, he has co-authored two books on transcultural cooperation with Pia Moberg and devised the Chadberg Model.
Peter has a long track record of designing and facilitating pragmatic support to individuals, teams and organisations – harnessing the power of international collective intelligence.