Productive Leaders

Ph.D., CSP, CDR, US Navy Ret.,
CPAE Speaker Hall of Fame

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Leading Remote Teams: Talent is Everywhere – Is Your Leadership Everywhere, Too?

Last week I met a Human Resource Director who commutes to Colorado, once a month, for five days. The rest of the time she works from her home. In London. Yes, London, England.

The workplace is changing. Corporations understand that they have to take advantage of employee talent wherever those employees live. Smart leaders understand that future workforces include people who are geographically distanced, as organizations search for and hire talent all over the globe.

It is hard enough leading people you see every day.  It can be more difficult to lead teams when employees are working from different locations and timezones.  Remote or teleworkers may struggle with feeling isolated, neglected, or ignored if they are not in the office.

However, even people who work in the same building are feeling more isolated, as technological communication replaces human contact.

Leaders and managers need to be mindful of how changing work environments affect employees. Change is stressful, even for people who like change, and the pace of change is accelerating.

What can leaders do to keep people focused, productivity, and connected?

Encourage More Interaction

Some remote employees go weeks without seeing any of their co-workers face-to-face. More people working as contractors, working from home, from offsite office spaces, or in other countries means a bigger pool of talent and greater efficiencies, but it also creates a loss of understanding in other areas. There are all sorts of technologies that allow workers to interact through instant messaging, video chats, and voice memos, but these methods are not the same as face-to-face interaction.

When you talk with someone in person, you perceive more about the meaning of what they are saying, and you have a connection that simply cannot be duplicated.  I love speaking in front of live audiences because something magical happens when you connect in person.  Leaders need to recognize that while our co-workers may irritate us, we retain a sense of belonging when we see them.  We need the connections. Connection spur innovation and collaborationship. 

Leaders who actively encourage conversations keep people better connected. It is easier and faster to use technology to convey information, and as a result, people feel more isolated.

Dave Loggins (not to be confused with Kenny Loggins), had a song in the 1970s (he was before his time) called Crowd of Lonely People.  The song describes the feeling some people get when they spend so much time working alone.

This can happen with both traditional and teleworking workers.  Traditionally scheduled employees may be surrounded by people, but still feel isolated. Interaction for everyone is critical.  

Schedule Time
Leaders who see their teams everyday don’t need to formally  schedule time to talk as often as those who lead remote teams. Some people who work away from headquarters may feel as though they are “out of sight, out of mind,”  They may feel forgotten.  It is up to the manager to schedule daily, weekly, or other regular time to communicate.  It is easy to get so caught up in daily events that supervisors may go weeks without actually talking to their people.  

Create Distinguishing Events
When I was a Navy chief of police, we had a mandatory holiday party. It was during working hours, but people still complained. Some of the more introverted team members weren’t excited about seeing other people’s families, and Type A personalities simply thought the event was a waste of time.

Most workplace functions have these kinds of events. Some people who attend have a really good time, others are fairly happy, and still others claim misery.   The frivolity is more about creating a distinguishing moment – a time people remember outside of the normal work day. Chip and Dan Health, authors of Switch, call these peak moments – events that break up the work routine that people remember.

As leaders we need to create these moments that celebrate accomplishments and, ideally, are meaningful and enjoyable.

Hold Work Retreats
Another possibility to consider is a content-filled, enjoyable retreat to work on organizational issues and get to know each other better.  Spend a few days together for meaningful training on leadership, communication, strategy, industry updates, and innovation and collaboration will organically develop.  If that is impossible to do in person, hold a virtual retreat when people video conference in for a full day.  


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