Employee turnover or attrition is one of the biggest factors that limit an organization’s growth trajectories. With the pressure on margins and the competition for talent, it makes a lot of sense to explore and implement strategies that work as well as or better than financial benefits to attract and retain top talent and increase their productivity. One such benefit is to offer work life flexibility to your people, call it remote work, virtual work, mobile work, telework or telecommuting, work from home – it essentially means moving work to your staff rather than moving your staff to work. In a recent article in HBR by Sylvia Ann Hewlett, she shared some interesting statistics – when surveyed about the possibility of working remotely, 83% of Millennials and 75% of Boomers say that the freedom to choose when and where they work motivates them to give 110%.
Common sense and multiple surveys tell us that remote working is a win-win situation for both organizations and employees – why has this mode then not been adopted more widely? One key reason is that managers and employers are not really comfortable extending this mode of working. There is a certain reluctance arising from the fear that there will be an impact on productivity levels if people are not there working right in front of you. I have worked in a remote mode and have managed geographically dispersed remote teams for most of my career – and have found a greater than 25% increase in productivity and efficiency levels for both myself and my teams. Working remote is a responsibility – and I have written about the worker aspect of it in my earlier post. Today’s post is focused on the leadership responsibilities of the manager and or employer on making working from anywhere, anytime effective.
Leadership Tip #1: Engage – Communication at all levels and through all available channels is key to success in connecting the “isolated” team members and bringing them together as a team. This is not about the technology and tools (of which a myriad variety is available today) but about the basic steps to create an emotional connection. Listen, converse, and reach out often to build a rapport with your team members and a shared environment of trust. Create frameworks and processes for communication, decision-making and problem solving for your team with guidelines on how, when and where people can interact with each other to set the expectations and the pattern. Mailing lists, weekly one-on-one calls or meetings, chat sessions, social media sharing all help bring people together.
Leadership Tip #2: Empower – Micromanagement of tasks and depending on physical proximity to keep track of your team is of course no longer a possibility here (and should not be so even in regular work environments). So let go the old style of leadership and move to outcome based leadership. It’s all about trust. Give autonomy (with accountability) to your teams. Set goals with deadlines – make sure that your teams fully understand the goals and have the support that they need to achieve them – and track them on outcomes instead of tasks. Address problems early and be available to your teams. Promote “intrapreneurship” within your teams, sit back and enjoy watching them GO.
Leadership Tip #3: Enable – This one is about technology and tools. Create a secure and efficient environment for your remote team to work seamlessly without hassles. Microsoft, SAP, Cisco and many others have great tools to ease remote working. Simple things like good internet bandwidth, power backups and laptops, Conference Bridge and WebEx, project management tools all have a big impact on productivity when working remote. Evaluate the options that best fit the team and the business needs and provide the facilities to your team to enable productive working across multiple time zones and locations.
Leadership Tip #4: Energize – Enthuse your remote teams by providing a shared vision and purpose and making it clear about how their work contributes to the success of the organization. This is extremely important in a virtual environment where team members may feel isolated from the organization and ambivalent about the hits and misses in the organization. Ensure that there is no disparity in compensation, promotion eligibility and benefits between the people who work from office and those that don’t. Make your teams successes and contributions visible throughout the organization. Encourage the team to mentor each other and make wins and losses a joint responsibility by celebrating wins and learning from mistakes together.
Leadership Tip #5: Exemplify – It all begins with you – walk the talk and set the right example through your own actions. Be proactive, alert, transparent and always available for your teams. Put in more effort to stay connected with your teams, appreciate often and be sensitive to the work-life balance of your team members. Working remote needs a lot of integrity and honesty and not everything can be laid out in black and white in policies and processes. Influence your teams through your own example and by being a role model so that there is no confusion within the teams on the “right” way to do things in a remote work environment.
These tips and ideas are not new – managers have been using them to ensure their team’s success in regular work environments. However, these become even more important in a remote working environment. By improving communication, learning to manage by outcomes rather than tasks, and nurturing and sustaining trust between managers and employees the entire organization benefits. I can also safely say that my management skills have significantly increased through working and managing in the remote mode.
What tips can you share from your experiences in working flexibly – did you find productivity improvements? What challenges did you face and how did you overcome them? I would love to hear and learn from you.