Leading Remote Workers: Is It Really Any Different?

Three people in person conducting a meeting with four people joining online.

Mike Meyers, Chief Information Officer | July 8, 2021

Most of us by now have read many articles about managing remote workers. There are myriad tips, tricks and advice floating out there. Most of it is good stuff – connect regularly, provide feedback, have empathy, allow flexibility, evaluate performance and not hours worked, etc. I’ve come to wonder if this is how we should have been managing in the first place, regardless of work location or the status of a global pandemic.

Are things different today than they were before the pandemic? No question. We’ve all gone through the ups and downs of the pandemic, even if we haven’t had a health scare ourselves. I certainly have felt video conference fatigue and have missed in-person interactions. At the same time, I also took advantage of working from home, the chance to see my kids for a few more minutes during the day, or take a quick walk to clear my mind. But what about leadership? Have my obligations as a leader fundamentally changed during this time and into the future? Leadership has never been about tracking the whereabouts of our team members and watching over their comings and goings. Maybe it’s an oversimplification, but leadership is really about providing a vision/cause/direction worth following and then surrounding yourself with great people who can help drive it into reality. After all, without something worth pursuing, leadership quickly becomes hollow.

To lead remote workers effectively, we need to connect with our team members. We need to provide clarity on the direction and expectations and communicate with them regularly. When leading in-office employees, we need to do the exact same thing – connect with the team, provide clarity, and communicate regularly. The ‘what’ of leadership doesn’t change. The ‘how’ of leadership likely does need to look different with more remote work.

If our leadership consisted of tracking hours and ensuring our people were in their seats from 8 to 5, we needed a change regardless of a global pandemic. We get what we measure; if we measure hours to judge performance, that’s what we will get – hours. Generally, team members are responsible for doing a job and delivering for our clients, not putting in the time. So, let’s be careful not to take a step backward on the ‘what’ by developing a new ‘how’ that looks more like managing time than performance.

I’ll admit, like many things, this is much easier to say than do. It is easier to track and manage hours than real productivity and contribution. Above all else, it takes a lot of trust to transition to a performance results mindset. The payoff, though, is well worth the effort in levels of engagement, two-way trust, and results.

Think of this new reality as an opportunity to assess how you are doing leading your teams and measuring what matters.