It is fair to say that we know more about the risks and benefits of working from home than we did 6 months ago.

The future looks positive for remote working, with some caveats.

 


CoachStation: Remote Management and Working at Home

Remote working and the associated challenges and benefits of leading a team who may not be located in the same site, is becoming more prominent in business. This has been triggered by the recent Covid-19 environment, improvements in technology, recognised cost-savings and manager/employee attitudes. There are many potential benefits.

Remote management adds significantly to the requirement for effective leadership. This influences how managers operate and continue to develop new skills within the modern work environment.

It is not only in the remote working space that changes have been occurring to traditional workplace structures and expectations. Concepts such as work from home, co-working, activity-based working and similar alternative working options have become more prominent in many organisations and within the community. However, Covid-19 impacts have raised the bar for meeting health needs and employee expectations. We have also learned that for many, we can easily adapt to this new environment without any productivity loss.

In many ways we are fortunate that this situation occurred now and not 15 years ago. Not downplaying the negative impact at all, but remote working and remote management have gone quite well in recent months. This has surprised many. Most companies have seen a rapid uptake of remote working. It will be interesting to see what the response is as we start to recover from the current restrictions and expectations start to shift.

We may see employees pushing for greater flexibility and completion of work at a time and in a place that best suits them.

Interestingly, remote working and work from home opportunities are not new. I wrote about this in 2012, as have many others in the last decade or more. Back then, remote working or teleworking, was very new. Technology did not support this environment all that well. Many managers resisted the opportunity, taking the view that, “if I can’t see you, I don’t trust you!”. Sadly, we still see this attitude too often, although attitudes are changing. Realistically, these old-school managers have had no choice but to accept remote working through necessity and legislation in recent months.

Leading remotely can add to the challenge of building a team. Technology, globalisation, organisational expectations and culture, management and leadership styles, along with many other factors must be taken into account.

The leader in today’s environment should be able to strategise and connect, developing and connecting with their team in a meaningful, engaged and results-oriented manner.

The skills and abilities of leaders need to not only keep up with business and employee needs but remain ahead of requirements, as remote management has such specific and unique attributes. I spent several years in national leadership roles managing teams based interstate and overseas, which provided many challenges. When I review my own development timeline however, I recognise that those years spent in virtual leadership were some of the most important for me, as they have shaped the leader I am today. Clarity in expectation setting; strong, deliberate communication; shift in accountability; and providing tools/technology for regular updates both ways, are a few of the most important factors for success.


 

The fact that the employee saves time and cost with less travel time can be offset by the challenge of working in the home. Technology, Occupational Health issues and physical attributes all need to be considered, but ultimately remote working is about productivity, flexibility and meeting both business and personal needs.

One of the key challenges for remote workers is the lack of social interaction that would normally occur when employees are located together. This is a very real factor however some employees have stated that this can be a benefit also. The time that is spent with their broader team-mates tends towards more focused and specific interactions, with fewer opportunities for time wastage. Clearly a remote team member has to be trusted and the critical nature of communication is enhanced in this environment.

Not all roles or employees are suited to the remote environment. It has always been and will always be critical to review these opportunities on a case-by case basis.
Recent increases in remote working examples have highlighted this point.

We have learned that the culture and environment that exists in a business setting is enhanced in remote environments. Put another way; good leaders, employees and cultures seem to thrive within remote environments. Poor cultures, managers and employees, where there is little trust or competence, usually fail when working remotely. The need for effective leadership and communication are exaggerated. It takes effort to develop relationships that have depth and meaning generally and especially so when distance is a factor.

The key elements of relationship-building remain the same when leading or working in a remote environment. It just takes a different type of focus.

Activity-based working, remote working and other modern work environments offer different challenges. You would think that remote working and “desk-less offices” would have an immediate impact on our sense of belonging. Do we feel like guest workers when we pull our laptops from the lockers? Will we be scanning the floor to make sure we are not sitting among strangers? When much of our working week is spent outside the workplace, are we still part of the tribe? Or are we loners who come in from the cold every now and then?

Research on inclusion at work has some surprising findings. Instead of feeling more remote, those who can work whenever and wherever feel a greater sense of belonging than those required to be in the office every day. A study of 1550 employees at three large Australian businesses shows that in one business unit, the inclusion rating for staff who did not work in a flexible role was 38 per cent, compared with 83 per cent for those who did. So, belonging at work is not necessarily about a “place”. (1)

Little has changed regarding this data and related findings, other than the level of understanding and experience we now have, based on recent events.

How we establish connections and foster inclusive environments goes a long way to influencing how successful the team, individual and business becomes. The increase in alternative work environments provide opportunity for leaders to test themselves and challenge traditional thinking. Ongoing development and an open mind provide a platform for driving the necessary change and greater acceptance that traditional workplaces are quickly becoming obsolete, or at least less common than a decade ago.

An organisation that decides to increase its remote working presence should also ensure that its leadership model and ongoing employee / leadership development accounts for the special requirements of leading a remote team.
If it doesn’t, then you may find the challenge greater than the reward!

 


When I am not working with my clients onsite, I work from home. This has been the case since creating CoachStation over 8 years ago. As many of us have discovered, there are pros and cons of remote working. In the early days, when our three daughter’s were quite a bit younger, striking a balance was difficult. Back then I found it a relatively constant challenge transitioning to working from home as I was at here more often. I think they believed I was on a permanent holiday, not driving off to work each day! Where we work should matter less than how we achieve good results.

We should be measured by our performance, not the number of hours we spend at work. Productivity and effectiveness are the key measurements that outline the business case. However, there are a series of personal factors at play also. Remote working may be a suitable alternative for you or your team but it is an individual decision. It does take additional effort, specific skills, new systems and strong communication, but remote work can add value. It is not for everyone or every role. Yet it can be a positive avenue for increased engagement, flexibility and productivity.

I have enjoyed the flexibility and opportunities presented, but recognise that it remains an ongoing effort to blend work and home life.

In fact, this is one of the greatest ‘wins’ in my mind. I have the opportunity to work during times that suit my family and I the best. That may be in the evening or very early mornings, but the flexibility and freedom is something I genuinely cherish. The 9-5 workday is a thing of the past. However, I am quite strict in setting a number of hours to work each day. This is a point I am hearing more and more from my friends and clients. It will be very interesting to see how organisational cultures are impacted in years to come.

When some people think of the workplace of the future, they envision futuristic-style holograms having a meeting or robots cooking lunch for everyone in the office. Increasingly, though, the workplace of the future is looking more simple — people having the flexibility to work remotely from home with teammates all around the world. With that in mind, the question is no longer “is remote work here to stay?”

It seems like remote work might even be the new normal.

There’s one statistic that remains unequivocal each year: remote workers almost unanimously want to continue to work remotely (at least for some of the time) for the rest of their careers. This year, 98 percent of respondents agreed with this statement. Also, it seems that once someone gets a taste of working remotely, they tend to recommend it: 97 percent told us they would recommend remote work to others.

There are always challenges that come with remote work, though they vary from person to person. Over the past three years of putting out this report, we’ve seen two unique struggles remain in the top three: the difficulties with collaboration/communication, and with loneliness. The primary benefit of remote work has remained the same for the past three years straight in our report: flexibility! (2)

Leaders must recognise the change that is happening around them and adapt, otherwise they are at risk of becoming obsolete.

With all that being said, we are still in the early stages of remote working being fully accepted. There remain many genuine obstacles and perception issues with people working outside of the office. The ‘taster’ that most of us have had so far this year has provided an opportunity to test these waters. The increased scale and profile of remote working has changed organisations forever. In what way and how sustainably…that is yet to be seen. Without doubt the role of the leader is critical in the success of remote working environments.

Doing what we have always done will no longer cut it. I can’t wait to see how it all plays out.

 


 

CoachStation develops leaders and managers, including those whose teams work remotely. In fact, in 2012 we foresaw the growth of remote working and associated leadership impacts. As a result, we created a development program for managers specifically designed to enhance remote leadership skills. This is something we are both passionate and experienced in.

The program contains a mix of mentoring, training and coaching to reinforce the key areas that are important to develop in order to effectively manage a team remotely, including:

  • Understand and apply management and leadership theories, practical skills and competencies to effectively lead a remote team.
  • Recognise where the needs and situations differ between local and remote employees.
  • Understand how to relate and connect with team members who you do not physically see every day.
  • Use technology and tools to the best advantage.
  • Apply learned techniques, skill and abilities in areas such as communication, building trust, accountability, structure, measuring effectiveness and employee development.
Contact us today if you have leaders who will benefit from improving their skills, capability, confidence and competence. The benefits are proven and the investment is worth it.

 

References:

(1) Remote working: Still part of the tribe or left out in the cold? – Fiona Smith, Australian Financial Review

(2) The 2020 State of Remote Work – Buffer

Late last year I ran a poll via LinkedIn asking the question: what is the most important leadership trait, skill or attribute that you would like to see developed and improved in 2013? I was very pleased with the number of responses, receiving 226 votes. What was most satisfying was the effort many people put into the supporting comments of which 49 added to their vote with their thoughts.

There are many well-balanced, thoughtful and insightful people in my network and I thank you all for taking the time to add to the discussion. I will add that the 3 or 4 foolish people who took the time to repeatedly add very little constructive thought and feel the need to use domains such as LinkedIn polls to vent and argue with each other about trivialities is disappointing and diminishes the process for others. I do not understand it, however recognise that some people really do miss the point when it comes to value-add and sharing. Thankfully they are in the minority.

For the vast majority who voted and left comments, this blog is dedicated to the excellent and thought-provoking insights. I did not initially intend to write a blog on the topic, as the poll was created for my business needs however with the high quality comments provided, when summarised and presented on one page, really do add value to the relevance and position of leadership in our world today.

CoachStation: LinkedIn Leadership Poll

Clearly, I had many options that could have been included as leadership attributes and skills, however with a limit of 5 criteria and specific reasons for including those listed, the results were quite fascinating. Interestingly, although the results were quite even it was the ‘leadership soft-skills’ and self-awareness based attributes that were deemed as most important to focus on.

As the comments are in the public domain, available to all  I have kept each contributors first name with their individual comment – my favourites are:

I believe that most people issues start with their own mindset. If everyone would work harder on themselves first they would be in much better shape to lead others. As John Maxwell teaches in his newest book “The 15 Invaluable Laws of Growth” every person needs to start with the development of their own personal and professional growth plan. We all should be on a “growth” journey and that will vastly improve our leadership abilities.  David – Voted for Self-Awareness (Honesty, Growth)

I’ve worked in too many companies where communication does not flow down to those that need to implement changes. Therefore productivity is effected when work is done that does not meet new company guidelines and time is wasted having to fix work and bring it up to the new standard. I’m not saying that the other areas are any less important but feel that as change is our constant companion in the workplace, communication skills are key to developing a happy, knowledgeable, productive workplace. Dale – Voted for Communication Skills & Ability

It is surprising how much of self-awareness (honesty/growth) is missing across key leadership level – any good literature has tonnes reported on this. Its almost like honesty/trust/growth/respect was to flow downside-up or follower-to-leader and not the other way. Call it benign oblivion or conscious side-stepping, people see through this. And question how these people made it to leadership positions in the first place. Evidently, people-who-matter are equally part of it.That said, people will not recognize us as leaders behind our backs short of this. Amit – Voted for Self-Awareness (Honesty, Growth)

I think too many leaders today lack the foresight of vision and this translates into poor communication skills. Great leaders have always been able to “see the future” and engage people into bridging the gap, no matter how large or big the obstacles may be. The problem for leaders in setting great vision is covering the massive failure that can follow, and as such leaders look to hedge their bets, to the point where there is no vision, no communication and no leadership in sight. I say give it a go, envision an outcome for yourself or for your company and start engaging people in the vision – it’s the only way I know of to create massive change. Peter – Voted for Communication Skills & Ability

Emotional Intelligence would have been my answer. Self-awareness took my vote because at least that is an element of EI. Leaders with exceptional EI can learn to coach others effectively, but you can’t coach others effectively without exceptional EI. My second choice was communication skills but only because of how self-awareness (and EI) impact our communication. Great leadership is all about how well we are able to manage relationships with those around us. And we can’t manage relationships without understanding ourselves, managing ourselves, and understanding others. I believe that all of our organizations would be remarkably better places if our collective EI was increased by 10%. Nearly every employee in the world knows what makes a great leader. So why is great leadership such an uncommon practice? The answer is that very few people understand what EI is and the impact of developing our EI competencies. The “way” we interact with others matters. And self-awareness is that first step. Mike – Voted for Self-Awareness (Honesty, Growth)

Having a high level of self awareness is a key trait to have for those in leadership roles. It enables the leader to diminish those blind spots that are often career blockers. Marcia – Voted for Self-Awareness (Honesty, Growth)

There is little benefit in being adept at all aspects without the ability to communicate your knowledge, understanding and ideas. Communication is a very broad term and its not only about what YOU think, so to be more accurate, true LISTENING is a skill that is often overlooked, a bad practitioner not only misses the boat but often leaves others feeling disregarded. Dave – Voted for Communication Skills & Ability

Until and unless a person is not able to communicate properly I don’t think he can be a good leader, without communication skills a person can be a good employee or a smart worker but to be a LEADER he/she has to be absolutely brilliant with both internal & external communication capabilities. Raheel – Voted for Communication Skills & Ability

I believe that to lead, manage, communicate appropriately and coach other people, it is fairly fundamental that a leader has a high level of self awareness about themselves and others. One must lead and self manage themselves first before you can lead other people. Employees can be taught different management, coaching and communication skill & techniques but the fundamental building block is self awareness. I don’t believe you can excel at the other areas without a high level of self awareness. Alison – Voted for Self-Awareness (Honesty, Growth)

I voted for Communication Skills & Ability because without the ability to communicate effectively, one cannot be a good coach. Good communication skills also requires honesty to be an effective communicator. Management also requires excellent communication skills as does Leadership. So, the ability to communicate effectively and concisely, allows all of the other traits/attributes to be able to grow successfully. Sharon – Voted for Communication Skills & Ability

Self awareness provides an individual a road map that promotes personal and professional growth. More importantly, this gift provides an honest self appraisal that allows an individual to learn the importance of collaboration and input from a mentor. Suzanne – Voted for Self-Awareness (Honesty, Growth)

This was insightful. I ultimately voted for the self-awareness piece. From my experience, leaders who are not aware of their own strengths, weaknesses and others’ perception of them are often unable to sound and be authentic. This translates into the questioning of their intent and motivation, which leads to mistrust at many levels. I have to understand me and my skills first before I can be influential with others. Shirley – Voted for Self-Awareness (Honesty, Growth)

Coaching potential candidates for future leadership positions to ensure organization’s continuity & prosperity is the most important trait of all great leaders. Being able to retire knowing that what you have accomplished remains in good, capable hands is vital for a distinguished leader’s peace of mind once he hands over the fort to his properly groomed successor(s). Communication skills are also important but I believe that it constitute part of good coaching as well. Without good communications coaching can not be performed well. Therefore, I find some overlap between Communications & Coaching skills. Adel – Voted for Coaching Skills & Capability

Management skills and application. I especially find applying what you know and getting others to follow suit is rather daunting to me as leader. After all the fine speeches and charts, when you get to the nuts and bolts then only you found your inadequacies may be disastrous. Michael – Voted for Management Skills & Application

I am reminded of James Collins’ “Good to Great” in which he went in length arguing that one of the key characteristics that differentiates great leaders from mere good ones is how great leaders invest in grooming their successors. It is not enough that they succeed. They also want to ensure that, when the key is turned over, the next generation can continue to thrive and lead their companies down the path of prosperity. Evan – Voted for Coaching Skills & Capability

Communications because it is the base from which the other options start. If there is anything, at any time, we could progress, it is always communication. Brad – Voted for Communication Skills & Ability

These are the comments that resonated with me the most. What are your thoughts?

No matter the input you have or your yearly goals, I hope that 2013 brings you all that you are looking for, continues to challenge you in the right way and by December you are better off for having developed your skills, capability and mindset through your choices throughout this year.

Teleworking, Remote Management, Virtual Leadership – no matter how it is described, the need to provide leadership outside of the traditional work environment is becoming more prevalent each year.

CoachStation: Leadership and Remote Management

Teleworking and the associated challenges and benefits of leading a team who may not be located in the same site, is becoming more prominent in business as a result of technology, recognised cost-savings and employee attitudes. There are many potential benefits, however it adds significantly to the requirement for leaders to be even more effective in how they operate and to continue to develop new skills within the modern work environment.

Leading remotely can add to the challenge of building a team with the structural reality of many modern businesses and organisations requiring distributed or virtual teams. Technology, globalisation, organisational expectations and culture, management and leadership styles, along with many other factors must be taken into account. The leader in today’s environment should be able to strategise and connect, developing and connecting with their team in a meaningful, engaged and results-oriented manner.

In a recent article titled Out Of Office, the predominance of teleworking was highlighted as a key national trend and growth strategy for many organisations and the Federal Government.

Among its (the Australian Federal Government) eight digital economy goals for 2020 is the aim of doubling the number of staff who have a teleworking arrangement with their employee (from about 6 percent now), so more employers and employees can reap the social, economic and environmental benefits of remote working. Ahead of Australia’s first National Telework week in November, here are some telework tips:

  • 26 percent of professionals believe it is a right to work remotely: whether they can work anywhere, anytime, with any device, is a precondition of joining a company.
  • 52 percent of Australians would sacrifice additional salary to work where they are most productive and happy.
  • Teleworking drives different organisational behaviour – one of trust, but also tighter managerial processes and stronger leadership engagement because your workforce is distributed rather than onsite.
  • People still need company culture, so they will usually telework one or two days a week. There’s no real optimum, it depends on what your business needs.
  • Teleworking can lead to a reduction of perhaps one desk in three. It can be done quickly and inexpensively. (1)

If this expected growth comes to fruition, the skills and abilities of leaders will need to not only keep up with the plan, but remain ahead of the growth, as remote management has such specific and unique requirements. I spent several years in national leadership roles managing teams based interstate, which provided many challenges. When I review my own development timeline however, I recognise that those years spent in virtual leadership were some of the most important as they have shaped the leader I am today. I see communication and the tools applied by my team members to provide regular updates as two of the most important forums for success.

Developing systems for your team to be able to communicate their progress, update regularly and have a ‘virtual open-door’ to find a method of contact, as required, go some way to making remote work, work. The fact that the employee saves time and cost with less travel time can be offset by the challenge of working in the home. Technology, Occupational Health issues and physical attributes all need to be considered, but ultimately teleworking is about productivity, flexibility and meeting both business and personal needs.

I believe that the growth of teleworking and associated leadership impacts is so great I created a development program for leaders specifically designed to enhance remote leadership skills.

The program contains a mix of training and coaching to reinforce the key areas that are important to develop in order to effectively manage a team of remotely. Key focus areas include the ability to:

  • Understand and apply management and leadership theories, practical skills and competencies to effectively lead a remote team.
  • Recognise where the needs and situations differ between local and remote employees.
  • Understand how to relate and connect with a team member who you do not physically see every day.
  • Use technology and tools to the best advantage to minimise the impact of leading remotely and maximise the key principles of remote leadership.
  • Apply learned techniques, skill and abilities in areas such as communication, building trust, accountability, structure, measuring effectiveness and employee development.

One of the key challenges for remote workers is the lack of social interaction that would normally occur when employees are located together. This is a very real factor however some employees have stated that this can be a benefit also, where the time that is spent with their broader team-mates tends towards more focused and specific interactions, with fewer opportunities for time wastage. Clearly a remote team member has to be trusted and the critical nature of communication is enhanced in this environment. In fact, many leadership skills become heightened, or at least the need does, when managing a virtual team.

Virtual teams have added value over face to face teams in many ways. We can tap into resources that otherwise would not be accessible. Working remotely allows organisations to better access talent, knowledge and local expertise all around the world and give round the clock service to customers: synchronising people, time and opportunity.

In addition, virtual teamwork saves costs since the need to travel decreases. The argument of sustainability – reducing the carbon footprint – also becomes more and more important for any organisation. (2)

An organisation that decides to increase its teleworking presence should also ensure that its leadership model and ongoing employee / leadership development factors in the special requirements of leading a remote team. If it doesn’t, then you may find the challenge greater than the reward!

As far as I am concerned all of us should be measured by our performance, not the number of hours we spend at work. Productivity and effectiveness are the key measurements that outline the business case, however there are a series of personal factors at play also. Telework may be a suitable alternative for you or your team but it is an individual decision. It does take additional effort, specific skills, new systems and strong communication, but remote work can add value. It is not for everyone and there are limits to numbers within an organisation that are able to work remotely, but it may be for you.

On a personal note, since taking on my business, CoachStation, in a full-time capacity earlier this year I have found it a relatively constant challenge with my three daughters who now find Daddy at home more often – I think they believe I am on a permanent holiday! I have enjoyed the flexibility and opportunities presented, but recognise that is it an ongoing effort to blend work and home life.

In fact, this is one of the greatest ‘wins’ in my mind, where I have the opportunity to work during times that suit my family and I the best. That may be in the evening or very early mornings, but the flexibility and freedom is something I genuinely cherish. The 9-5 workday is a thing of the past however I am quite strict in setting a number of hours to work each day. The difference is that I love what I am doing so much, it no longer feels like work.

What are your experiences with remote management or telework? Do you plan to take on more teleworking employees in the future? Has teleworking and/or remote management been a benefit or hindrance in your organisation?

 

(1) Out Of Office: AFR BOSS Magazine; teleworkaustralia.net.au

(2) Can Remote Leadership Skills Be Learnt: