How to Ensure Accountability of Remote Workers

(Part 3 of 5)

“I’ve allowed four of my staff to begin working remotely two days a week,” commented a manager, “but I still worry that some may spend too much time, gaming, mowing their lawns or taking kids to the park.”

Some managers hover over remote staff by employing rigid work schedules, screen checks, end-of-day-work reports, and time logs.  Such practices are more likely to alienate than to engage employees.

Several companies successfully employ some version of a “Results-Only-Work-Environment” (ROWE) where employees are paid for output—as indicated by KPI’s, metrics, dashboards, checklists, proof-of-work—rather than hours worked.

Fortunately, apps such as Sococo, Slack, Asana and Basecamp are very efficient tools for allowing managers to “trust but verify” remote worker collaboration and output.

One manager reported, “In our Monday video conferences, I ask team members to list six or seven of the most important tasks they wish to finish.  The following Monday we review the lists.”  Between Monday’s the manager and team members rely on the Sococo app to cooperate on challenges, surprises, updates, and whatever.

Bottom line—if you cannot trust your employees to work when you are not watching them, you probably need to get different employees.



How to Close the Communication Gap with Remote Workers

(Part 2 of 5)

“I worried that I was missing out on something,” explained a newly-remote employee.  And surveys confirm that remote workers are more likely to feel left out.  Suggestions for closing the communicate gap include: 

Rules of Engagement.  Select, from the large pool available, communication apps (Zoom, Slack, SKYPE, etc.) and agree on:  the best times to contact each other, preferences among texts, email, phone, video conferencing, and a schedule for group and one-on-one (1:1) meetings.

Accessible Materials.  Make appropriate files and materials available to all team members at all times via a sharing app such as (pick one) Basecamp, Dropbox, Wrike, etc.

Periodic Video Conferences.  Replace regular, onsite-meetings with (weekly or biweekly) video conferences.

Structured 1:1 Check-Ins.  Schedule daily (or weekly) 1:1’s with each team member to confirm common purposes. 

Virtual Water Cooler.   Adopt a chat room app that allows team members to visit with anyone about anything at any time—personal news, vacations, latest movie, customer issues and whatever.

Remote Social Parties.  Schedule quarterly remote social events such as:  meet our pets, pizza parties, video games, vacation tips, and the like.

Face-to-Face Time.  Bring the team together for discussions, planning, and/or team building at least a couple of times a year, even if some have to travel from far-away-places.

In time, most remote members will feel as “connected” as if they were in the same building.



How to Manage a Remote Workforce

(Part 1 of 5)

“Although I was unsure how the shutdown would impact my work, it only took me a few days to get comfortable working from home,” commented a long-time employee, and I for sure don’t miss the forty-minute commute and the scramble for parking.”

Although you may not have noticed, working remotely (from home, a co-working space, a coffee shop, or anywhere in the world) has been trending for several years.

More than 40% of us worked remotely at least some of the time prior to COVID-19 and that number has more doubled in the last 15 years.

Dell reported $12 million savings a year in less office costs, and Global Workplace Analytics calculates that companies can save more than $10,000 per person annually by allowing employees to work anywhere.

As remote working benefits both employers and employees, the trend will likely increase.  However, being out of the office does introduce leadership challenges.

Some managers fear that employees being out of sight will also develop into being out of mind.  Concerns about work measurement and accountability arise, communication and collaboration become more critical, and remote workers report feelings of isolation and loneliness.

Future blogs offer suggestions for managing a remote workforce.


Under Pressure, Effective Leaders Slow Their Metabolism

During a passionate discussion regarding a warranty issue with an important customer, comments bounced around the conference table like ping pong balls.

“I think the customer abused the product.”

“Our assembly instructions were very clear.”

“My team offered help many times; they said they did not need help.”

“We are probably going to have similar problems with other customers.”

“I say let the attorneys resolve the issue.”

Under pressure, some leaders (like athletes) rise to the occasion and perform superbly.  Others “choke” and flounder.  What is the difference?

Stressful events arouse primal instincts which encourage fight (attack weaknesses) or flight (protect yourself by escaping).  These forces, in current society, may lead to rash decisions and/or destructive behaviors

In the discussion on warranty issues, voices grew louder, more persistent and even harsh.  Defensive comments flourished and non-verbals leaned aggressive.  Suggestions focused on blaming the customer (fight) or establishing procedures designed to protect the company (flight).  There was little effort to summarize or analyze rational options.

High-pressure performers slow their heart rates, breathe normally, relax their muscles, remain calm and speak confidently.  Frenzied actions appear to slow down. Important data separates itself from jumbled facts.  Clouds dissolve.  Murky situations clarify.  The path forward opens.  Winning decisions and productive behaviors occur.

Effective Leaders Make Hard Decisions

An administrator of a group of professionals said to me, “My team knows more about their responsibilities than I do.  I rely heavily on their input for major decisions.”

“Are there times when your team disagrees?” I asked.

“Oh sure.  But we talk it out.  Sometimes, when there are strong opinions, we may postpone a decision until we have more information.”

When I talked to team members, I got a different perception.  One said, “Our administrator does not like to make decisions.  We discuss and discuss.  Sometimes we put important decisions off too long.”

Another said, “Eventually, we grow weary of discussing and agree to things we may not even support.”

I think many leaders, under the guise of participative leadership, allow discussions to continue to a numbing point.  Fatigue sets in and members accept a compromised, water-down decision just to get rid of it.  In addition to a weakened decision, members show little passion for executing.

It is important, I believe, for leaders to get input from their team members when making complex decisions.  However, decision making is a key responsibility of leadership. Effective leaders collect data, offer suggestions, seek input and then make clear and unequivocal decisions.

How to Survive an Inept Boss

As Samuel described his former leader, “He just didn’t know what he is doing.  He trusted no one and tried to control everything.”

“How did you handle it?” I asked.

“I focused on doing my job well.  I did not want to give him any basis for criticizing my work.”

“Did employees complain about the leader?”

“Absolutely, constantly.  I listened but did not offer advice.

“Did you have a candid conversation with your manager about how he could improve?”

“I didn’t even try.  I knew he wouldn’t listen.”

“Did you go around your manager to talk to higher ups?”

“I did not.  I assumed they knew.  And if they didn’t know, I don’t think they would have listened to me.”

“Why didn’t you quit?”

“I liked my job.  I liked the company and I had bills to pay.”

The employee further explained that he would often help others with their work challenges, and many started coming to him with their questions.  In spite of their frustrations, the team performed fairly well.

Efforts by employees to “fix” an inept leader’s faults rarely work.  While quitting is always an option, a better initial strategy may be to continue performing well and help others.

Coaching Tone May Make A Difference

Elsie admitted that she had a tendency to procrastinate and get distracted. Her manager said, “Elsie, I expect you to verify all invoices, complete payments on time and enter data into the computer accurately.  Otherwise, there could be consequences.”

Elsie improved for about four weeks, then she drifted into carelessness—making mistakes and missing deadlines.

The manager said, “I like Elise but I get frustrated because I have to spend too much time micromanaging her.”

Eventually, Elise’s manager was transferred. Her new manager commented, “After observing Elsie’s performance for a couple of weeks, I sat down with her and in a friendly way worked out checklists and deadlines for completing her tasks.  At least weekly, I reviewed with Elsie her work.

The manager “thanked” Elsie for even her slightest improvements and patiently noted mistakes.  Elsie quickly apologized and immediately corrected the errors.

After about four months, Elsie’s performance, while not perfect, became much more reliable.  “Eventually,” her manager said, “I got acceptable performance from Elsie by asking her to give me weekly updates on her metrics.”

Elsie said, “My first manager made me very nervous.  I knew he didn’t like me, but I really like my current manager.  I don’t want to disappoint her.”