Recently, Wayne Turmel sat down with Tom Crea on his podcast “Your Evolving Leadership Journey.” Wayne and Tom discussed a number of challenges facing remote teams and their leaders today. You can catch the full episode here. This is the second part of that interview. You can read the first installment here.
Tom: What are the biggest worries for remote leaders?
Wayne: Good leaders worry about different things than poor leaders do. The biggest one is what are they doing? And they’re not asking “are they working?”. Their bosses are. If you talk to the VP of a large company about teleworking, he’ll say, “Well we have to make sure they’re working” and “We have to get value for our time” etc., etc. But if you talk to the managers of those people, they’ll tell you those people are working because they know what’s getting done. They’re less concerned that people are “working.” They just don’t know what people are working on.
There was a Harvard business review study. They found that people who worked away from the office are more productive and get more done. That sounds like a beautiful thing, but there are a couple of things. They found that people who work from home are more task-focused, but a little less concerned with reaching out to the rest of the team or collaborating. That makes sense because people tend to focus on what they’re measured on. So if you’re being measured by the number of tasks you complete…that makes us tend to get super-siloed.
The second thing is, yes, people who work from home get more done, but they also tend to work longer hours. There’s a 30 second commute, and so people are answering emails while they’re still in their jammies and having coffee. And then they see an email question after dinner and say, “Oh, I’ll just take a minute and respond to this.” The dilemma is how to keep your remote workers from burning out while at the same time accurately tracking the work being done. This is especially difficult with hourly workers.
Tom: Yes, that dilemma between tracking activity versus tracking output.
Wayne: I’ll give you an example. I do a lot of writing as part of my work right and I can sit at my desk and stare at that blank piece of paper and nothing’s happening, right? Or I can get up and go for a walk and noodle stuff and think about it and come back and sit down and in 20 minutes it’s done. One of those is considered working. The other one is not. But if I’m being measured by “if you’re not logged on, you’re not working,” I’m not being effectively managed.
Tom: How do time zones add to the problem?
Wayne: Well, if you’ve got people working in different time zones, there might only be 4-5 hours a day when everybody is “on the job.” If you need coverage for the customer, if you need to be able to respond, you do have to start saying, “Hey, somebody needs to be at their desk at this time because we need somebody who can respond.” It becomes a complicating factor.
We’ll be looking at the rest of this interview in coming posts. You can catch the entire interview on Tom’s podcast site.
You can also get Wayne and Kevin’s book, The Long-Distance Leader: Rules for Remarkable Remote Leadership. It’s the definitive guide to becoming a successful remote leader.