By Wayne Turmel
According to Webster’s Dictionary, the word “work” can be used both as a noun (“activity in which one exerts strength or faculties to do or perform something”), and as a verb (“to act or operate effectively”). One issue often shared between remote project managers and teams is the strong placement of “work” in terms of the verb. Instead of valuing the team members’ work and its overall quality and outcome, we often look to see if our employees are present at the desk, regardless of what is happening with the project. We worry about whether people are working, rather than focusing on the work.
This might seem like nit-picking, but it actually speaks to your whole philosophy as a leader. Managers who focus on working (as a verb) tend to be labeled “micromanagers”. Managers who focus on the quality and overall project work done as a team tend to back off a bit and focus on outcomes, rather than minute-by-minute details.
Here are some signs you might be focusing too much on whether people are working, rather than doing good work:
- You worry that remote workers “spend all day on Facebook”, instead of focusing on a project assignment
- When receiving emails from your team, you immediately check the mailbox to ensure the message came from the work server. Email responses sent from phones or tablets mean team members “…might be answering emails in line at Target, instead of being at their desks.”
(That’s a real quote from one of the people in our “Creating Remote Teams” class!)
- Same goes for time stamps. Are people answering emails during traditional business hours, or are they getting to them late at night or early in the morning?
- When you surprise them with an unscheduled call, you “never get them at their desk… they’re always somewhere else.”
For even more tips and resources on managing remote teams and employees, check out our Remote Leadership Certification Series!
These four signs mean you are focusing on WORK as a verb, instead of your team doing WORK (this time as a noun). In these cases, “work” means sitting at a desk (or whatever) and (hopefully) performing tasks. If someone isn’t performing a specific task at that moment, they’re “not working.”
However, that kind of thinking will creates chaos for both you and your team. First of all, you don’t know what people are doing when you’re not there…you can’t. While it might make you a little uncomfortable, if we think about how we do non-physical labor, it is far less worrisome. After all, we all have times when we are productive, and other times when we’re not at our best. Some people are early birds, while others do their best when the house is quiet, kids are in bed, and silence allows the employees’ brains to really do great work. As long as your employee consistently delivers high-quality work in a timely matter, why should it matter if it’s done during typical business hours of 9-5?
Instead of making sure your team is showing up to do WORK, try holding employees accountable for consistent, high-quality WORK being accomplished.
- Set incremental, measurable goals and milestones. Are they being met? Then, relax!
- Monitor each person’s behavior, in terms of how it may be impacting others. If people are not responsive to teammates or customers, there may be a problem. If one person’s work style isn’t impacting others negatively, then it’s not a big deal.
- Are both you and the employees clear and comfortable with the expectations? Do you have a plan for checking in and getting the information you need to function as a leader? This isn’t an unreasonable expectation—they have a vested interest in their manager not being a complete nervous wreck.
- Trust, but verify. Don’t overreact to the first unanswered phone call or IM, but watch for patterns of behavior that can negatively impact others on the team, customers, or your blood pressure. When metrics aren’t met, it might be a sign of potential trouble, but you’ll have no way of knowing if you don’t have accountable standards for both yourself and your team.
As a leader of a remote project or team, are you focused on working, or on the work?
About the author:
Wayne Turmel is the founder and president of GreatWebMeetings.com, and the co-founder of the Remote Leadership Institute. For 20 years he’s been obsessed with helping managers communicate more effectively with their teams, bosses and customers. Wayne is the author of several books that demystify communicating through technology including Meet Like You Mean It- a Leader’s Guide to Painless & Productive Virtual Meetings, 10 Steps to Successful Virtual Presentations and 6 Weeks to a Great Webinar. His work appears frequently in Management-Issues.com. Marshall Goldsmith calls him “one of the unique voices to listen to in the virtual workplace”. Follow him on Twitter at @greatwebmeeting!