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.
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?