By Jorge Valdés Garciatorres, PMP
“Remember that we choose to follow leaders based on the way the leaders make us feel. Remote associates are no different. You just have to concentrate on ensuring that your remote people feel included, supported and part of a team.”
As companies take necessary precautions to keep their staff healthy and safe, remote work has become the new normal.
Some organizations have already worked this way, and the pandemic has only intensified the pace. Others may be thinking about it, and others may have never considered this option and perhaps are struggling to keep things going in the midst of the crisis.
In any case, there isn’t one right way to do remote work. However, whichever method suits your project teams best, leadership and communication play an important role in the process.
The benefits of remote work
In a totally empirical, non-formal study that I am conducting on my own (my grandma used to call this “curiosity”), I have been talking to and gathering information from my students, colleagues, friends and relatives, and sharing my observations with them. Throughout México and other locations in Latin America, it seems like most people are more happy than not about working from home. Among the aspects they are enjoying the most are:
- They can save money on commuting and other expenses.
- They can spend more time with their families.
- They have more time for themselves, in some cases up to four hours daily.
- Some can eat better while at home.
- Some are finding more time for exercise. One of my interviewees even told me that during one weekend, he and his wife ran for the equivalent of a marathon on the treadmill.
- Most are participating in webinars or online classes.
The drawbacks of remote work
When I ask about the downsides of this modality of work, there are also several answers:
- They perceive a more intense rhythm of work.
- They note a dramatic increase in their number of meetings.
- Some of them are struggling to find a place at home where they can concentrate.
- Some of them report weight gain since they are eating more often, and moving less.
- Most have told me that they find it more difficult to balance personal life and work.
At this point, most of them complain about the way their leaders are following up with their assigned duties. They feel like they are being micromanaged. Their project leaders are asking for updates several times during the day. Again, in some cases this is almost not present, but in the majority of my chat partners it is recurring.
Based on my experience doing remote work for nearly 15 years, I’d like to outline some lessons learned for leading remote teams. I am focusing on the day-to-day phase of remote work, assuming that at this point all of you have passed the implementation phase:
- Set the ground rules and expectations with your team, and establish new ones or modify some of them, as needed.
- Trust in your team. Perhaps not all of them need close supervision. And for those who are less mature, tell them that you are there to help. Establish a system of responsibility and accountability that doesn’t rely on you hunting them down at every turn for updates.
- Show empathy and compassion. In the program I am leading now, for instance, nearly 45 percent of team members live alone, and being alone for eight weeks (because of the lockdown) is difficult. Nearly 30 percent are suffering an overnight transformation in their daily habits. As a leader, you must help your team navigate their personal circumstances to move a project forward.
- Establish a daily or a biweekly virtual standup. Ask each of your team members how they are doing. Let them know that you are here for help if they need something.
- Read your team and schedule one-on-one conversations when needed. Show genuine interest in the individual and then get straight to the point.
What are some practices you’ve implemented to ensure your remote project team is working at full capacity?