Previously published on Forbes
The number of people working from home (WFH) is on the rise. This is due, in large part, to crazy traffic (Seattle traffic is so bad these days!) and the increased use and affordability of laptops and cell phones. Many people no longer have to go into an office to connect and get their jobs done. They can commute from the kitchen to their home office in minutes and be up and working with minimal stress.
Rebecca Bakken writes, “Statistics show a steep increase in the number of remote workers in the United States. According to the Society for Human Resource Management’s 2017 Employee Benefits Report, more than 60% of companies offer telecommuting benefits.”
Remote work seems to be working. Stanford professor Nicholas Bloom found that employees working from home were 13% more productive. They also found it easier to concentrate because the work environment is quieter, and they were less likely to take sick days or prolonged breaks. And of course, a remote staff means less time commuting for the employee and lower real estate costs for the company.
Personally, I love working from home. As an introvert, I don’t need a whole lot of conversation in my workday to keep from feeling lonely. If needed, I will take a break and go get a bite of lunch out there in the fray at my local grocery store. There are plenty of people there to perk me back up. And then I can go back home, head down and get tons done.
But I have team members who feel lonely and somewhat isolated. They need more connection. So we implemented team workdays, where we invite the entire team to gather for a full day every month. This becomes the way we catch up in person and exchange big chunks of work, as needed. During the rest of the month, we are on video conference calls or working collaboratively in Google docs.
How skilled are you as a leader in managing a virtual team? It does take a bit more intentionality than the dusty “management by walking around.” At Henley Leadership Group, we consider ourselves experts in collaboration. We’ve worked with thousands of people, training them in the complex skills required for true collaboration. But now the bar has been raised. How do we collaborate (code for work brilliantly together) in the global age where many people are working remotely?
Here are three tips to help you lead successfully in the world of remote employees.
1. Stay connected, both informally and to get stuff done.
As a general rule, connect more than you think you need to. Pick up the phone. Don’t always have an agenda, something to tick off your list. Be interested in what is going on in the other person’s world. Chit-chat—remember how to do that? Be people who care about each other and want to talk and listen to one another.
I go for a three-mile walk every morning that takes me 52 minutes to finish. During that time, I call my team members. I call it a “walk and talk.” It’s a great way to stay connected before we all begin our day working from our home offices. Of course, we sometimes talk about projects and work stuff, but because I’m walking, we don’t get too deep into the details. There is no screen sharing.
2. Meet face-to-face from time to time.
You have to get eyeball-to-eyeball every now and then. I call this “team advances.” You invest in flights and hotels and travel with the idea that your team will advance in shared information, decision-making, psychological safety and relationships. Make sure these face-to-face advances are well-planned and focused, but make room for people to be people. Don’t have a 12-hour day planned with agenda items to check off. Give people time to rest, refresh and have some fun.
Use your team advance to keep people focused and connected to the work that matters. Ensure they know the larger purpose of the work they are delivering.
3. Use great tools.
We live in a time of amazing resources. Here are some of the tools our team uses, but there are plenty of options out there. Figure out which ones work for your team.
· Scheduling: Doodle, Calendly
· Team Communication: Yammer, Slack, Google Hangouts
· Managing Projects: Asana, Jira
· Video Conferencing: Zoom, AdobeConnect, GoToMeeting
Managing a remote team is one of the unique challenges of our time. You have to take the skills and tools you learned to lead a team in an office building and get more creative. I know you are up for this challenge. And you may just get more productivity as a result.