Many in the business community believe that people will be working from home even when we are given the “all-clear” to reopen the economy. Some experts predict that by the end of 2021 a third of the workforce will be working remotely at least several days a week. Certainly, remote work offers perks in terms of bypassing long commutes, crowded public transportation, and child care expenses – not to mention potential health risks.
Successfully leading a company that is working offsite takes skill, sensitivity, and insight. After several weeks of quarantine and stay-at-home, some corporate leaders have fared much better than others. So, what makes remote leadership successful?
You hired them; now let them do their job. Many company leaders balked at the idea of their employees working from home before the COVID-19 crisis descended. Perhaps they thought it necessary to keep a watchful eye on the staff to ensure a productive workplace. Perhaps, some leaders thought, working from home would encourage workers to shirk their responsibilities, work fewer hours, and decrease productivity.
As much as employees hated to be micro-managed at the office, they resent it equally at home. Calling for updates in the evenings or hounding workers on weekends is not only ineffective, it breeds resentment.
Instead, a CEO should set clear goals and expectations each week and let the staff do its job. In my own companies, I am finding that C suite to midlevel management has improved dramatically since early March when we first implemented steps to work remotely. While it took some time for all concerned to find the rhythm of working from home, now I see my employees putting in long hours each day and being more productive.
I also am finding that more employees are showing initiative, asking for extra work or projects, and submitting high-quality work in a timely manner.
CEOs who invested in the ability for their teams to work remotely prior to this pandemic had an edge if they’d already designated an ongoing channel of communication, via email at the least but preferably on audio or video platforms.
Such top-down communication from leadership is probably the most critical tool to bringing about remote work success. The last thing a CEO wants is for her or his offsite staff to feel disengaged, or worse, ignored. Employees should feel that the leadership cares about them, especially at this time of heightened uncertainty.
As part of our remote structure, I implemented a twice-daily standup, and encourage employees to start with a morning agenda and update each other throughout the day, which I find significantly increases productivity. We end the week with a wrap up and go over the following week’s priorities. Data sharing is essential.
I require my employees to turn on video during client conferencing so that clients can see that they are engaged throughout the meeting. Further, I urge workers to look presentable and polished for video meetings and dress as if they are at the office.
More than ever, CEOS must remain focused. It’s easy to become overwhelmed by the uncertainty of the economy, the business community, and the future of individual industries. With so many changes afoot to how we manage our operations, and so much adapting to do, we may get caught up in the minutia of the day to day.
Remember your strategic plan and overall direction. Everyone has a finite amount of energy and resources; let your managers manage details. It’s critical that leadership keeps in mind the big picture, especially now. Prioritize!
Discipline and Structure
Working from home requires discipline. Company leaders should encourage employees to find a quiet space where they can work each day, as opposed to moving from room to room which can be distracting and disruptive. Their regular routines should include set hours, fresh air and exercise, and plenty of sleep… along with periodic breaks to avoid eyestrain by staring at a screen too long, and to maintain a clear head.
CEOs who realize that a work-life balance to reduce stress is essential will find themselves with healthier, happier, and more productive workers.
As CEOS we must be aware of the negative psychological effects of working from home. We are social beings, and working remotely, if we aren’t used to it – especially for those of us who live alone – can be difficult and detrimental emotionally. It behooves company leadership to be sensitive to the strain so many people are under.
Much of that strain is financial. The money crunch so many families are feeling shouldn’t be minimized. In my own companies I have implemented a policy to address financial security and am providing a benefit to my employees who are ill from the coronavirus… something I urge other corporations to consider.
This is not to be dismissive of the pressure and anxiety we CEOs may be feeling, too, if our own company is bleeding profits or even going under. Our own physical and emotional wellbeing must be a priority too.
Making Tough Decisions
The best leaders are those who are willing to make tough decisions when it comes to employees. Of course, we want to be understanding and sensitive to a worker’s individual circumstances and do our best to help and accommodate.
During this pandemic, difficult changes may be necessary to ensure the stability or growth of a company. Perhaps you furlough a percentage of your staff, by mandating a leave of absence or by reducing hours per week or even days per week. (Be mindful of employees with exemptions under the Fair Labor Standards Act; you may find that furloughing an employee for a full workweek is a solution, since the FLSA states that exempt employees do not have to be paid for any week they don’t work.)
General layoffs may be necessary. If so, make sure to communicate to employees that they are not to blame. To soften the blow, look into continuing benefits for a period of time wherever possible.
Finally, with entire departments being reorganized around working remotely, it may become apparent that certain positions are redundant. Eliminating one or more positions resulting in a permanent cut in headcount (i.e. a reduction in force) may free up essential revenue.
Even if you’ve proceeded with the best of intentions you may find that employees you’ve furloughed or temporarily laid off will not be reinstated when the COVID-19 crisis is over.
As CEOs we recognize that our employees are our most important asset. If there is one thing the coronavirus has taught us, it is that sensitive and insightful leadership is required more than ever.
Written by Dr. Jim White. Have you read?