Leadership and Remote Workers

The 2020 COVID-19 pandemic brought with it the necessity for companies to socially distant leadership and remote workers. Even with the sudden boom in remote working, the general relationship between leadership and remote workers has not changed. Many of us have been working with remote teams for quite sometime. What has changed due to the 2020 pandemic is the number of roles moving to remote. This means many who did not come up with remote experience and culture are now part of a remote workforce.

What are Remote Workers?

Traditionally in business, remote workers are employees and or contractors that do not work on premise in your offices. In popular usage remote workers has also meant those working in remote areas like farmers or ranchers. For the purposes of our discussion, remote workers do not necessarily need to be working from home just not where the management (or client in case of contractors) is located. If it is impractical to see the person face to face in person they effectively are remote.

Work from home

How does remote working work?

Remote working normally requires connectivity with your “office” network, video and or audio conferencing, and task tracking for accountability.

Does remote work actually work?

In short yes, leadership and remote workers have been working together for decades. In my field of technology it is VERY common place to hire off-shore developers to work for and report to a home office here stateside. That said, the model for remote work has already been proven and has been an on going trend due to the world becoming more connected.

I think generally when people are concerned remote working DOESN’T work they mean for roles that traditionally have been in house under the nose of supervisors and managers. These roles are not necessarily incompatible with remote work but are more a victim of immature remote leadership, systems, processes, and cultural expectation for these employees to be working remote and independently.

The Relationship Between Leadership and Remote Workers

As we just eluded to, leadership must mature and adapt to remote working. What you did in office IS NOT ENOUGH to successfully transition people remotely. You can think of the stage many roles are in now as lift and shift. This is a very minimum viable product version of remote working that allows the business to stay operational. But these early transitions are by NO means designed around remote working. What they need to get to is a state of systems and processes designed specifically around remote interactions.

A clear challenge for leadership is the need to plan for and support a progressive learning curve and adoption scheme. Be sensitive and prepared for the friction of change. The closer your workers were to brick and mortar in person operations the harder it is going to be to transition to a cloud based digital environment. Make sure adequate systems, training, and support is allocated to assist in the transition from on premises to remote working.

Example: Remote Learning in Schools

A good example of this learning and adoption curve is happening with schools right now. For traditional classrooms (non online schools) there were huge hurdles in hardware availability and software adoption. Worldwide many families still have only a single computer and poorer internet than required for video streaming. Many teachers will have had little experience with the idea of the cloud, zoom, and virtual networking.

Leadership needed to take notice of these challenges in transitioning their schools and classrooms and many did. You probably noticed your school districts going on break at the start of the pandemic or policies like no grade lower than what you had when you left the classroom. These are just some of the steps leaders have been taking to plan for and mitigate fall out from the paradigm shift ahead. Software and systems had to be moved, hardware provided to students and teachers, and people needed to be trained in a new way of doing things.

Empty classroom

Even once the environment has shifted to digital the interactions a teacher and student can have has changed. Trying to do the same lesson plan as you would in a classroom doesn’t work. Imagine trying to sub divide your class into small groups or teams to work on team projects. This isn’t going to work, you either can’t facilitate this type of sub grouping technology wise OR critically you must give up transparency and oversight if you allow them to break from the main channel.

What are the kinds of companies that hire remote workers?

You might think only tech companies can hire remote workers but you would be mistaken. Pretty much every company these days needs to be a tech company to some extent. That said, the things a company needs to hire remote workers is basically #1 roles that can be remote and #2 the ability to support remote working environments.

A company must have roles that can be remote

Most roles that produce things digitally can be moved remote. If your employee works mostly on a computer they can be remote. More broadly, ask yourself, is there an agency or contractor market that offers this type of work? If the answer is yes then that role can be remote. As a general rule of thumb, if you can find it on https://www.upwork.com/ then it can be remote.

In addition to the Upwork rule of thumb, anyone who manages those remote roles should be able to be remote. Effectively, if a person can turn something in digitally, it can be reviewed digitally.

What do remote workers need?

Remote workers should be given access to multiple communication platforms for real time and near real time communication like Skype or Slack. Additionally, they will need a way to join or host meetings most likely in Zoom, Google Meet, or one of the many other meeting programs. Next they will need some way to track tasks and assignments, project management systems like Asana or Jira are great for this but your company may also use proprietary tracking software for their specific widgets. Finally they will need a secure environment to work out of.

Why do companies not like remote work?

Companies generally don’t like remote work because there is less control of the workforce. Security risks become higher, productivity risks become higher, and culture can suffer as it is diluted. Additionally, in certain cases the perceived operation expenditure per employee or unit of work produced can go up – but as we will discuss in our pro’s and con’s section this is not always the case.

Why companies should let employees work remotely?

For many companies, moving employees remote was the only way to stay operational during the quarantines resulting from the 2020 pandemic. During this transition, many roles that were traditionally on location were moved remote. What leadership and remote workers will learn from this FORCED move is that there is a great economy of scale and opportunity with remote work but it does come with an increased requirement for accountability.

Remote workers has been a thing since consultancies and agencies first popped up on the scene. Globalization and connectivity has only increase the pace. And what we are seeing now is really just the immediate realization of a long term trend towards remote working.

With the new economy of work remotely or don’t work at all, many people and businesses are starting to learn the pro’s and con’s of a distributed workforce.

What are the pros and cons of working remotely?

Remote working for the organization is a trade off between tangible control and technological control. For the employee it is often the difference between freedom and comfort vs accountability and conformity.

What are the advantages of remote working?

For employees it is definitely about freedom. Freedom to work from anywhere is a millennial’s dream. Even more so if you can be paid something like California wages while living in the mid-west or maybe even another country where that money goes much farther.

Scale is maybe the greatest advantage of remote working for employers, but it won’t happen overnight. As organizations learn to automate and enforce though technological systems of accountability rather than manual ones they will long term see increased efficiency of operations expenditure and management time allocation. The next big one for the organization is the decoupling of local geo-economic factors from the workforce. Put simply, if you can do the job from home why do you need to live in an expensive city (or even country). Sounds a lot like outsourcing right? Well it is, moving everything to remote has further opened the door and conversation around the need for a geographically centralized labor force.

What are the disadvantages of remote working?

Let’s not beat around the bush the big one for every is the idea that remote workers are less productive. This CAN be definitely be true when remote working is left up to chance. But it is important to remember that this notion is shared between workers AND employers. As such, there are many employees who find added stress and effort to prove they are being productive without doubt.

Are employees more productive working from home?

As an employer my #1 recommendation here is DON’T LEAVE IT TO CHANCE. If all you do is move workstations into the cloud and take meetings in zoom rather than a conference room, don’t be surprised when productivity tanks. But if you start designing your interactions, check ins, and transparency around a remote working environment then you are well on your way to long term success.

Why working from home is a bad idea?

As an employee working from home has its own hidden costs. You need a stable location to work out of and often need to supply your own computer and internet connection. While that may not sound outrageous to many of us here in the US, it is important to remember this is a global pandemic where families living in 1 room houses or who have only 1 computer for a family are ALSO moving remote. Even here in the states this can be an issue, many of us buy or rent homes with an 1 extra office space (myself included). Well, if both income earners are working remotely now that just got cut in half.

Managing remote employees

Your goal as a manager needs to be to engage your team and help them drive independent performance. Hopefully you have already taken my advice when it comes to transitioning your team into the cloud. But when it comes time to manage remote employees it is important to have PLANNED interactions with a purpose that drives performance. Since there is no more running into someone at the water cooler or in the hallway you as a leader need to MAKE these interactions happen intentionally.

leadership and remote workers

How do you engage employees who work remotely?

At a high level (overseeing mostly other management) in the organization this needs to be about intentional and productive engagement. Lead by example, those workers who want to show they are being productive BEFORE anyone can ask for a report be that person. As remote working has low VISIBILITY the need for HIGH TRANSPARENCY is paramount.

At a lower level (overseeing a greater number of individual contributors) planned accountability and performance metrics will be key. You cannot leave things to chance, and you absolutely should not wait until things are turned in to find out if they are good or bad. Just like your leaders above you, you will want to lead by example. Make sure your workers know what you are looking for and what success looks like for them. Make sure they KNOW you can see when they are delivering and when they are failing. You don’t want to micromanage remote workers but you DO want to make sure there is a system of accountability where they can independently achieve success.

Is it cheaper to have employees work from home?

In the short term probably not, most companies will have had to invest in infrastructure, software, and training to move employees remote. In the long term YES, it will be cheaper to have remote workers from home. Once we are out of the learning and transition curve the gaps in productivity will close. As management adjusts and automates economies of scale will start appearing. And of course, as working from home becomes another extension of outsourcing and off-shoring talent the cost of workers will decrease due to the larger supply in the global job market.

servers that make up the cloud

What is the best way to work remotely?

Treat working remotely as an exercise in trust and accountability. You must be clear and on the same page with your managers on what constitutes success for your position. When you are working remotely stay focused on your work. Get ready in the morning just like if you were going into the office. Be MORE communicative with your managers and teammates to let them know where you are at on a project or tasks before they can even ask. Follow up in writing when given directives. If you know what you need to get done and you make it easy for your teammates and managers to see it is being done with limited oversight you are now the ideal remote worker.

How can I stay productive working from home?

As a remote worker your goal is to manage expectations about your delivery BEFORE people can ask you about it. Be proactive about where you are at not just so your team knows but so you feel that deadline as a commitment. Keep your workspace clean, manage expectations of your mangers and family, and be very conscious of your commitments. Focus is just like a muscle the more you exercise it the better it becomes. When it comes to working from home for most employees this is a new environment with WAY more distractions than we are used to at the office. You may be competing with your family or spouse for the office / internet. You may have young children at home who can’t figure out their zoom meeting ids for school. No one is going to fire you for taking care of a crying baby, but they definitely won’t like hearing about it in the rears.

remote workers and childcare

What is the most challenging aspect of working from home?

For many learning to be independently productive is going to be the biggest challenge. If you are luck and are in a good organization your leadership is thinking about this and how to help you achieve it. If you are NOT so lucky, it will be on you to make sure you demonstrate what an ideal remote worker should be.

Is it time to let employees work from anywhere?

I firmly believe it is time to let employees work from anywhere. We have finally reached the point technology wise where cost effective desktop and workstation virtualization is possible and internet and mobile connectivity is nearly ubiquitous in major cities. What was lagging behind is the people and processes to support a remote workforce and a prioritization to move there. With COVID-19 our collective hand has been forced to make those changes and as companies mature their remote work models I expect many jobs will remain remote forever.

Remote working and the future

Why remote work is the future

Remote work is the culmination of globalization, mobile, and cloud technology. Why does it cost $200,000 for an engineer in Silicon Valley, well just because they are in Silicon Valley. For the same reasons we have been shipping call centers overseas for decades we will see a decentralization in other office roles, it is at the end of the day more cost effective.

Let me know your thoughts on leadership and remote workers?

For many of us a team of remote workers is new ground. For others, it is just another day NOT at the office. Let me know what you think about the new economy of leadership and remote workers today https://nathanielkam.com/contact/. Looking for more business articles you can check out our planned topics and most recent posts on the homepage https://nathanielkam.com/.

Leadership and Remote Workers in the Current Economy
Article Name
Leadership and Remote Workers in the Current Economy
COVID-19 may have brought with it the necessity to socially distant leadership and remote workers immediately but the trend to remote is nothing new.
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