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.
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.
(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