The past few years have seen a revolution in the working environment, including a radical shift in attitudes to remote working.
As many as 50% of office workers are reluctant to go back to their old ways. They may not have made the mental leap to permanent home working, but they’re clearly open to flexible arrangements and working in remote teams.
So what happens if you accommodate their wishes? Can they be as productive as they were in their offices? And what happens to motivation?
The received wisdom was that remote work is a killer for collaboration and productivity, but it turns out there’s little proof of that. The key factor is not the workers, but the people who manage them. How you lead your team – and how you support and nurture the progress of each team member – is what makes the difference.
So whether remote working is temporary or permanent within your organization, what can you do right now to make it a success?
Put yourself in the spotlight
If you feel you can’t trust someone to work without supervision, ask yourself why. Is your attitude actually based on a previous failure to support them, such as leaving them to complete a task without adequate training?
Has that lack of trust turned you into a micromanager, stifling the very creativity and independence you’re supposed to value?
Understand your team
The key to motivation is providing just the right level of guidance and support. Work out what inspires individuals and what helps them do their best work.
Look at successful past projects and what roles people played, how communication was organized, and how goals were achieved. Discovering unique talents – the ones that don’t make it onto CVs – can help you deploy your resources more effectively.
The challenges of working in a pandemic have created strong bonds between team members who feel they know each other better by talking to each other at home. But over-reliance on emails and video calls can also lead to misunderstandings and friction.
Danger signals such as missed deadlines, and complaints about other workers, should be seen in the context of individual attributes and group dynamics. Which team members make things happen, who takes control and communicates well, who is a natural team builder, and which employees are the strategic thinkers who drive your projects forward?
Create virtual support structures
In the medium and long term, you need to set up the ‘working from home’ (WFH ) equivalent of everything you would have in a bricks-and-mortar office, in terms of well-being, employee engagement, and performance.
The best time to start is now. Pay particular attention to workers who find it difficult to manage their time or get motivated without the environment they’ve been used to.
Know when to hold back
When a team operates from multiple locations, managers need to ensure communications run smoothly, taking particular care of time zones. You may even need written guidelines to set out the rules of engagement.
But at the end of the day, most people do their best work if you trust them to get on with it.
In reality, the principles and tools that help to nurture productivity in remote teams are not so very different from the principles and tools that work face-to-face.
As business leaders, we just have to think a little harder, and plan a little more.