Remote work is not new. Every salesperson travelling through the country selling their products since before you were born can tell you that. I myself have worked with distributed, remote teams for years. However, with COVID-19 hitting our work life, what had been the exception for the white-collar workforce has become the default. While fully remote workplaces will probably only stay a standard option for jobs whose almost entire value generation is happening in front of a screen, like software developers, hybrid work won’t go away.
In a world where many managers still follow command and control practices, their tools and learned capabilities clash with the new reality. As a result, they experience a loss of control, are alienated by the perceived lack of company- and team culture, and can’t wait to get all their people back into the office. The workers, however, seem less open to returning to the regular five-day-per-week offices, and the job market for hybrid and remote positions is large enough for many of them to switch, even during a recession.
How to react as a leader? How can I embrace remote leadership and assume its advantages while tackling its disadvantages?
The parts of this series
One of the critical tools for successful remote leadership is effective communication. In a remote work environment, it is essential to communicate clearly and frequently with others to ensure everyone is on the same page and working towards the same goals. You can do this through various channels, such as email, video conferencing, and instant messaging, which we will discuss in more detail in the second part.
Another vital tool is setting clear goals and expectations for employees. This can be done through regular check-ins, setting clear performance metrics, and providing regular feedback. It helps employees understand what is expected of them and allows managers to track their progress and identify areas for improvement. Having this as part of your regular working model enable you to make sure you can align on the outcome, not the output of the employees, and ensures you are not staying in micromanagement practices, which would be draining for you and your employees. We will look much deeper into that in the third part of this series.
In addition to setting goals and effective communication, fostering a strong company culture is crucial for remote teams. Your teams can do this through regular team-building activities, recognition and rewards programs, and creating a sense of community among employees. It is the task to avoid individuals or single locations becoming islands that are disconnected or alienated from the rest of your organisation. With near- and offshoring, this was already a critical management exercise in the past, and getting this right is hard. Part four will talk in-depth about it.
Finally, as a remote leader, it is crucial to focus on your own well-being and productivity. This means taking breaks, setting boundaries between work and personal life, and staying organised and focused. By taking care of yourself, you can be a more effective and supportive leader for your team. The last part of this series will help you there.
As said, we will dive deeper into these topics, but to understand what action items to take, let’s investigate the pros and cons first. So this is what we will focus on in this first part.
Advantages of remote
Why would we strive for a remote working model at all? Isn’t face-to-face interaction the most valuable asset an organisation can have?
While direct social interaction has many advantages, remote work also has notable benefits. Benefits significant enough to have made it a continued hiring argument for some job areas even after the Covid lockdown.
The most significant and highlighted advantage is time. Not being required to commute will give most European individuals almost an hour per day1, and especially with kids, the morning routine becomes much less stressful. It also provides people (especially parents) with much-needed opportunities for time management. For instance, you can now do your laundry when working from home rather than having a break at the coffee machine. Organised well, that means you can have a free evening and wouldn’t run from work to housework.
What many people appreciate on top of that is the higher amount of autonomy and self-determination you are given. By the mere fact that you are sitting alone, structuring your work independently, comes the freedom that, until then, primarily self-employed people enjoyed.
Finally, in jobs where focus time is essential, being at home undisturbed from the noise in open space offices has also provided benefits to workers requiring time to think deeply. If you have a room at home providing you with space and quiet time, you can work undisturbed for hours. This might be one of the reasons why productivity has increased in remote setups2 3, sometimes drastrically so4.
For organisations, there are benefits as well. Other than the apparent cost drivers like office space, the option to hire talent all over the country or even the world has shifted the levers for small businesses in less attractive locations.
On top of that, flexible working models can improve Job Satisfaction and Health5 of employees, thus reducing churn.
However, there is no light without shadow, and remote work has some cons.
Disadvantages of remote work
The feeling of freedom and autonomy, a highlight to many employees, is a scarecrow for many managers. They feel the same, but this translates into a loss of control for them. They need help to track how efficient and effective every individual in their workforce is and lament the lack of transparency.
Also, for workers, there are trade-offs. For example, an underlying notion of being required to be constantly available, combined with blurred lines between private and work life, can increase stress in people and lead to burnout as studies have found6.
There is also a lack of creativity when sitting at home without any external impulse. Networking inside the organisation, which often drove innovation and high-performing teams7, is much harder in a remote setup.
Many people are also highlighting the lack of communication and loneliness8 as elements of remote work they are struggling with.
And finally, Teambuilding can be considerably more challenging in a remote-only setup. That is particularly true for onboarding, but also creating and maintaining a solid team spirit had been considered harder by many.
What to make of it
Luckily, none of the disadvantages is a new problem for leaders. Organisations solved those elements in the past, for instance, with near- and offshoring, and we will look at how we can apply existing tools, combined with some new kids on the block, to mitigate the impact of the drawbacks.
We will also examine how you can work effectively with individuals and teams, fostering a strong culture and creating a team.
And we will look at you and help you be your best in your remote leadership time.
Hopefully, at the end of this little exercise, you will have some ideas on improving your remote leadership style and finding some tools to tackle issues you have had.
Note, however, that this series is not a “you should do remote work”-manifesto nor a step-by-step guide for implementation. Instead, it’s merely a collection of tools and processes helpful for teams working in an environment that supports remote work, namely software development. And it is most relevant for you if you are in a leadership position at a company that has decided to follow remote work models.
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EUROSTAT: Average Commuting Time ↩︎
GPTW: Remote Work Productivity Study Finds Surprising Reality: 2-Year Analysis ↩︎
Forbes: Workers Are Less Productive Working Remotely (At Least That’s What Their Bosses Think) ↩︎
Apollo Technical: SURPRISING WORKING FROM HOME PRODUCTIVITY STATISTICS (2022) ↩︎
Forbes: 3 New Studies End Debate Over Effectiveness Of Hybrid And Remote Work ↩︎
wrike: Avoiding Stress and Burnout when working from home ↩︎
HBR: The New Science of Building Great Teams ↩︎
Buffer.com: State Of Remote Work 2021 and Buffer.com: State Of Remote Work 2022 ↩︎