According to a Gallup survey, the number of employees working remotely increased from 39% to 43% between 2012 and 2016. I know the mice will play when the cat’s away but what are these folk up to? We can measure productivity after the fact, and should. We should judge people by their results, not by slavishly being merely present at a desk until the boss leaves. Ultimately, if they’re meeting or exceeding targets, then does it matter if they’re working in a unicorn onesie whilst binge-watching ‘Game Of Thrones’ to get up to date before the new series starts? (Too late!) Maybe some of those Lannister tactics would boost revenue?
That same survey says the majority (57%) of employees say they would change jobs for one with a more flexible schedule, and 37% of people would change jobs for an employer that allowed them the ability to work from where they want at least part of the time.
Leadership is not just about transactional production. Ideally, it starts with hiring people of talent, intrinsically motivated, whose discretion you have evidence you can trust. Technology might mean you are far more capable today of micromanaging from a distance than ever before but you’re likely very aware that probably won’t be a helpful leadership style, particularly with those high-value, high-talent types. That same tech allows people to multi-task, peruse social media, etc all of which diffuses their focus and tech shouldn’t be the sole means of enhancing connection, commonality of purpose and inclusion. Leadership of remotely located teams is still about creating and maintaining an intentional workplace culture, even in the absence of a literal singular workplace.
If Tom Peters once said something like, “The true test of your leadership is what happens when you’re not around,” what have you done when you were around to maintain that influence when you’re not there in the physical sense? So, what can you, in a practical sense, actually DO?
- ABC – Always Be Curious. Ask questions to provoke and promote action. Not retro-questions asking for progress reports but future-facing questions like “Between now and when we next speak, what issues do you anticipate”? Or, “How do you feel Caitlin’s work might be affected by yours”? Note the use of the phrase “might be”. Can’t be any wrong answers with “might be”. Bringing a colleague into the mix increases the likelihood of engagement as people are usually more moved by their impacts on colleagues than on you or the company.
- According to Khaneman and Tversky, push motivators are twice as impactful as pull motivators. (ie we are equally motivated by the fear of losing $1 as we are by the potential gain of $2). Be practically pessimistic (that is to say, realistic) with your updates and foreshadowing with your remote folk. For example, “What if your supplier is late”?
- As you should with local people, be specific and regular with your feedback with remote people. Keep close a list of their names and, as stuff crops up, pencil feedback-worthy news in so you have it to hand when you’re next in contact. And schedule those contacts. If you wait until you “have time”, you’ll never have time or will only make contact when there’s a problem. Then you’ll be the person who’s only calling when there’s a problem. Don’t be that person.
- Make meaning overt and obvious, repeatedly. And, don’t TELL them, guide them to self-discovery. Have you tried W.I.D.W.I.D. and W.W.D.W.W.D. conversations? W.I.D.W.I.D. stands for “why I do what I do” while W.W.D.W.W.D. stands for “why we do what we do.” Don’t leave meaning to chance. Along with autonomy and mastery, purpose (ie meaning) is one of the fundamental drivers of engagement, at work and in life. When the going gets tough, the tough get going, not because they’re tough but because they know what the point of the going is.