by Chuck Chapman, Content Strategy Coordinator
It’s sad, but it’s true. Some leaders view their employees more like children than professionals. In their minds, if they aren’t watching every second, work won’t get done. And don’t even think about allowing people to work off-site or remotely. How in the world will any work get completed without the expert “supervision” provided by such “leadership”?
This is a big reason why some organizations shy away from utilizing remote work forces. They’re under the misguided assumption that if the leader isn’t present, some combination of Animal House and Risky Business will break out. Instead of projects getting completed they’ll be paying good money for their employees to party.
According to Kevin Eikenberry and Wayne Turmel, co-authors of The Long Distance Leader, even if this assumption were true for an organization, it speaks more about the leadership and what’s not present than it does about wayward employees. And while this can be an issue for “micro-managers” of co-located teams, it really becomes a problem for those leading remote teams.
Wayne says that during their research for the book, they found this attitude all too present, especially among senior leaders:
“If we ask the individual manager, most of them are pretty confident that their people are doing what they’re supposed to do because they see the results every day, and the work gets done. Where this becomes a major concern and one of the major blocks to allowing people to work remotely is with the senior leaders who have never dealt with this situation before.”
Many of today’s senior leaders learned their management skills at a time when working remotely was a foreign concept. Than can create some uncertainty with how to deal with remote employees. But Kevin Eikenberry thinks the location issue isn’t as relevant as it might seem:
“If they’re not getting their work done, it’s not just because they’re not in the office, if you’re not watching them every minute anyway, which you’re not. You’ve got to have some ways to know if they’re getting the work done or not, and it really shouldn’t matter about the location.”
So what’s a reluctant leader to do?
Say you’re a leader and you’ve been thrown into situation leading a remote team and you’re not entirely comfortable with it. It’s something different than what you’ve done your whole career. How do you get past some of these “overprotective” attitudes and get the most out of your remote team?
Set clear expectations
Everyone needs clear expectations to be most successful in their work. Done well, clear expectations help us understand what is required, and what success looks like. If it is possible, expectations become even more important when working remotely, because there will be less chance for causal interaction and informal feedback. As a Long-Distance Leader set expectations about what needs to be done, the quality and timeliness how how it will be done, and how you want to communicate about all of this with your team members.
Remember too that expectations run both directions – make sure you know what your team members expect/need from you too.
Don’t just give out assignments without having ongoing communication. And by all means, don’t communicate with remote employees only when there’s a problem. Kevin says these should be “check-ins” not “check-ups.” The purpose of the communication should be to encourage, clarify and offer assistance as a leader, not to monitor and “stand over” an employee making sure they’re on-task.
You want to identify potential problems or roadblocks before they become a problem. Done right, they should help work get done, not merely enforce the rules. They allow the leader to serve as coach and facilitator rather than “hall monitor.”
Get rid of micro-managing tendencies
As Kevin pointed out earlier, this attitude isn’t just about location and process. It requires a change in mindset. Wayne says, “If you are prone to micromanaging or trying to micromanage people, you’re going to have to get over it simply because you can’t do it. It is physically impossible to micromanage people at a distance. It’s really about creating the right mindset, which then allows you to create the processes, which allows you to be successful.”
If you’re new to remote leadership, or if you’re trying to establish policies and practices to ensure your remote team is successful, then you’ll want to read The Long Distance Leader: Rules for Remarkable Remote Leadership. Kevin and Wayne combine time-tested leadership principles with their own experience leading remote teams.