Leaders, Are You Ready to Manage Remote Teams?

Workers want to be remote but is your management team prepared?

Is there a talent shortage?

We struggle to attract and keep talented people.

A gathering of technical leaders and city counselors convened recently to talk about our workplaces. We spoke on the increased challenge of finding qualified people. People are needed to fill engineering, product, and management roles at our respective companies.

Questions bounced across leaders as they learned about each other’s hiring needs. Though each company had different talent requirements, we had a shared problem. Our group of companies aren’t the only ones struggling to add great talent to our teams, though.

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

What is high quality talent?

Business leaders have raised alarm bells on the shortage of high-quality talent. Executives have called the search for high-skilled talent a strategic global priority. McKinsey & Company define talent as “the sum of a person’s abilities.”

Elaborating on the definition, it is an individual’s wisdom, motivation, experience, learning mindset, and opportunity for growth. We can understand the uniqueness of talent needs that CEOs are seeking.

What do CEOs say is critical to success?

76% of CEOs in PwC’s 19th Annual Global CEO survey said, “a skilled, educated and adaptable workforce” is critical to success. To add to the problem, almost half of the CEOs plan to expand their workforce.

The issue is escalated due to the demand for a competent workforce during a time of limited talent. More businesses need educated, experienced people. With the increased urgency for knowledge-based expertise, it’s a (talented) candidate’s market out there.

Working remotely: the pros and cons of working from home - Vox

What is flexible work?

A flexible work practice is a talent management strategy organizations have implemented. Work flexibility provides employees with the choice of where and when to work. The flexibility of where to work could be from home or in a coffee shop. Workers can connect to their companies through technologies like the internet and cloud-based collaboration tools. Workers can choose compressed work weeks or untraditional corporate hours like 7 pm to 3 am.

What do people look for in an employer?

In a 2003 study, 62% of people ranked compensation as the number one reason for choosing an employer.

In 2016, Deloitte found pay as the key criteria from a global survey of 7,900 millennials from 29 countries. Though renumeration is the primary driver, the runner up is quality of life.

Quality of life is achieved when stress-levels are low and individuals have balance across work and personal plans.

A 2019 report by Robert Half highlighted the changing mindset of today’s workers. It showed that 88% of workers rated flexible work as a coveted perk and most respondents in the Buffer’s survey said they would work virtually if afforded the option.

This is a marked change from my own experience in 2005. I worked for The Loyalty Group, operating the airmiles rewards program. When the company planned its HQ move, the option to work remotely was offered. The sentiment among my colleagues then was of displeasure. The response today would likely be different.

Is a flexible work program the answer to the talent shortage problem?

So there’s the magic bullet, right? Offer a flexible work program and candidates will come clamouring. I read journal after journal, articles until my eyes blurred. I searched for peer reviewed evidence that flexible work could be an indisputable answer.

My answer? It’s complicated.

If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it – Tom Hanks

Managing a flexible workforce is hard. The early years of telecommuting were the 1970s, the rise came in the 1990s, and the boom began in the late 2000s. In 2019, U.S. companies are leading the path in offering alternative work options. But globally, the majority of companies don’t.

Which companies are leading in remote work?

Newly formed companies are more likely to offer remote work. OnStartUp analysed the 2018 Global State of Remote Work and concluded startups are ahead in their flexible work practices. A reason is it could be easier for these companies to establish a new culture without existing baggage.

For more established companies, there could be significant effort to change work style perceptions. Traditional in-office companies will face issues related to practices in management, human resources and performance.

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Is your company ready for remote work?

Leaders looking to introduce remote work can start assessing their readiness with these eight known challenges:

Executive Buy-In

A new culture fostering flexible work must start with the CEO. When there is executive leadership support, people managers are more likely to execute the program well. The U.S. federal government agencies recognized their management team inconsistently supported flexibility and called on consultants for advice. To lead by example, they mandated executives to occasionally work from home.

Examples of companies without executive support are Yahoo and Best Buy. Both these companies publicized improved productivity and morale gains when they first implemented work flexibility. They have now called their remote workforce back. Executives at these companies said it was a necessary step due to loss of collaboration and struggling company performance.

Flexible Leadership

Research highlighted there are six competencies of great leaders. They are communication, relationship building, team motivation, feedback delivery, and measurement by performance. Beyond the core, the flexibility leadership theory declare leaders who can adapt new information are better equipped to build new work habits. Studies of remote manager and employee relationships deemed new leadership and communication methods are critical to avert worker well-being issues. Managers who are not yet competent in these skills may miss the expected gains from a flex work strategy.

HR Partnership

The human resource team is critical to the success of flexible work practices. For established companies, a commitment to cultural change management is expected. HR not only needs to be part of implementing and monitoring, partnership with management is also important during the planning phase.

Performance Management

Companies are likely to have untrained leaders who can manage remote workers. A framework to measure and monitor performance targets can lessen impact of leadership issues. The results-based approach could provide a fair assessment of work outcomes by eliminating biases.

Remote Work Eligibility

It is unlikely that every function and role could be successful in working remotely. A 2018 study reported remote workers are engineers, product and IT specialists. Their salaries range $50,000–100,000 suggesting intermediate to mid-career level professionals. There is, however, divided research on types of jobs better suited for virtual work.

Some evidence suggests that independently driven roles are more successful in remote environments. Examples of self-sufficient positions are representatives in call centres and sales. Team oriented positions like programmers and project managers rely on teamwork. Some researchers argue remote work can hinder team relationships and reduce innovation.

Flexible Policy

A flexibility program without engagement rules risk occurrence of unfair treatment. Existing companies could refresh policies to enable flexible working preferences. Workers and managers operate more successfully with clarity on core business hours, communication methods, technologies, and safety.

Work-Life Balance

Managers play a role in ensuring remote teams have work-life balance. Managers could request feedback from workers about their sense of balance and encourage ‘disconnecting.’

Remote workers report that they take less than three weeks of vacation even when they have unlimited. Buffer’s survey respondents are “on” all the time. The result suggests remote work may not be the answer to improving the quality of life.

Worker Well-Being

Remote workers with low teammate interactions report feelings of loneliness and alienation.

CTrip, a travel organization, ran a controlled pilot study of remote work. They subsequently offered the opportunity to everyone in the company. Surprisingly, some employees from the study declined. Those who declined in order to go back to the office cited loneliness as their reason.

Managers could alleviate feelings of isolation by checking-in often. They could share in-office discussions to prevent remote workers from feeling excluded.

Summary of how to decide if your company is ready to lead remote teams?

The workplace is evolving, that’s visible. Workers’ mindsets are changing, that’s evident. Competing for talent with non-financial incentives like flexible work is an opportunity. Systematically resolving known issues can help companies avoid costly plans to deploy then recall remote workforces.

The first step is to analyze an organization’s flexible work readiness level. Using the themes identified by researchers, management can self-assess their organizations to design a unique workforce based plan.

Literature for organizations to assess flexible work readiness is in short supply. Most virtual work resources are for individuals already remote working or considering it. A document series by Brittnee BondCoLife, aims to share stories of digital nomads and their employers. It is an inspirational source of current success stories.

Research on the future of work is active and growing. We should see more materials surface to assist business leaders in delivering new work styles to their organizations.

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