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Pass the Remote

Optimize Blog - September 24, 2012 - 1 comment

According to the tech experts, data-driven innovation enabled by advances in global communications infrastructure is going to force through some significant changes in the workplace and the way in which many of us will do our jobs in the future.
According to IBM, by next year there will be 1.2 billion connected consumer electronics devices in more than 800 million homes with the ability to connect globally. In the work environment policies such as “bring your own device” are becoming more popular as the functions on consumer devices allow for more business use.
Over time, “always on” computing capability through networked chips embedded into everything around us means that our mobile devices, Google goggles and even active contact lenses, will be the gateway to virtual work spaces and therefore an entirely different way of collaborating with colleagues, clients and partners.
The prospect of working with people you’ll never actually meet and communicating with virtual colleagues are two of the potential scenarios identified by leading thinkers into how workplaces will evolve by 2025.
Sampling views from a panel representing Imperial College London, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), the University of Washington, other international academics, research has just been published that point to dramatic changes in the workplace as we know it.
Forget whether it’s practical to bring your own technology devices to work – in the future, you may not even have an office. Because of greater connectivity and hugely dispersed workforces, humans will mimic the organized chaos of a bee or ant colony.
Groups of workers will be organized digitally across the globe, and kept in touch with this in-built technology that’ll allow us to work on the move whenever we choose. Exciting? Scary? You choose, but what does this mean for the modern leader?
This is an interesting development for the role of the leader where a connection to the team is an essential way of developing engagement and a focus on the delivery of results. How can this be achieved from a virtual standpoint? Those of us that have managed remote teams will understand that the requirements in leading remotely rather than locally are significantly different but this virtual environment will make this the norm. Here are some tips to consider.
1. Communicate better and more often
Managers of a distributed workforce need broader and deeper communication with their employees. Employees not in the same area can feel isolated, and may well have trouble adopting company standards and procedures. They can even develop into “lone wolves”, who are unwilling to work in teams.
Increased communication counteracts this tendency and helps each employee feel a part of the rest of the company. Whatever the technology, communication is essential. Remote managers will need to make sure that they are accessible to their employees via multiple avenues.
2. Establishing respect
The leader must not fall into the trap of over-compensating for the lack of real time oversight which can result in overbearing micromanaging.
When leaders have the employees’ respect and respect their employees in return, everyone benefits. The leader needs to work hard at achieving respect – doing what you say you will do, providing honest and open feedback, providing clear and unambiguous goals to name but a few.
3. Building a team culture
Employees in a distributed workforce will have trouble feeling like a part of a company or a team. Undoubtedly feeling included is highly important to the success of company initiatives and overall motivation and morale. A neglected culture is a destructive thing.
Remote managers need to be intentional about building a team community and culture for their employees. We can do this by fostering intra-team communication, creating partnerships among remote employees for projects, and by forming virtual water coolers and opportunities for small talk, re-living past successes, humour, and experiences. Having clearly defined values and behaviours is key.
4. Creating accountability through self-monitoring
One of the biggest challenges will be how to ensure that, without micromanaging, the job gets done. Many leaders can overcompensate for the inherent disconnect of the remote environment by trying to control every aspect of their employee’s day. This is counterproductive because it trains employees to be dependent on ever-present management, when a remote employee actually needs the exact opposite skill.
Remote and distributed employees need to be able to work independently, and the leader’s role is to provide or enable those skills. The leader needs to help them be self-motivated by providing clearly outlined goals, making them responsible for results, and generating individual accountability plans with a self-monitoring system.
5. Training
In a remote worker world underperforming employees and mis-hires can slip under the radar much more easily, and this can be very expensive. On-boarding therefore will need to be thorough. Initial training should be conducted with face-to-face mentoring either by the manager or team peers to ensure that the employee can work independently as soon as possible.
For all remote employees, on-going mentoring and training is critical to keep them connected to the company, goals, and team. It also creates an opportunity to identify performance issues before they escalate too far.
6. Resolving conflicts
Resolving conflict between remote team members can be more difficult and take longer because there is less opportunity to build relationships and find common ground. Avoiding good, productive conflict is also very tempting for remote teams that don’t have to interact daily.
It is important to address performance issues with individual employees as soon as possible. Some remote managers try to ignore these issues until a more convenient time (out of sight, out of mind), but this can be devastating to a team’s morale.
So, whether you already lead a remote team or want to prepare for the inevitable future state, leadership skills will need adapting as technology, attitudes and expectations change. The future looks exciting and leaders that can adapt will continue to be successful

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1 comment

  1. This article contains extracts from an upcoming research paper entitled Future Laboratory.

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