By Wayne Turmel

As leaders, we need to constantly educate ourselves and that can seem a bit onerous. Business books are so darned serious, and it’s not like we have a lot of spare time to dedicate to self-improvement. Not to be snarky about it, but it’s a little disheartening to think that 42% of Americans didn’t read a single non-fiction book last year, and 28% didn’t read a book at all.

While we’re sure that if you’re reading this you probably aren’t among that depressing number; there’s no doubt that few of us are doing all the research and learning we would like to. So, I’m going to make a somewhat silly recommendation: Read “The Martian,” by Andy Weir.

Of course, if reading takes too long, you can always use the “audio-visual” version: (watch the movie.) We won’t rat you out. Either way, there are some things you can learn about working remotely from this entertaining story of a very smart guy, stuck in a very bad place.

  • If people are engaged and motivated, they can get a lot of work done without supervision. So, you’ve been left for dead 40 million miles from home with limited resources and you’d like to survive. You’re probably not lacking for motivation here. Mark Watney needed to stay alive, but if he concentrated only on immediate needs (like breathing), he’d die of starvation so he laid out a plan that maximized both short term goals (like respiration) with long term goals (planting potatoes for the calories). Then he executed that plan.
  • Let them know you’re alive. In the ultimate example of “out of sight, out of mind,” the team at NASA was trying to save the rest of the crew. They assumed (never assume!) Mark was dead, so didn’t take him into account in their planning. On a far less drastic scale, this happens all the time. It’s easy to forget to include someone on an email, or think of Bob as a resource when you seldom hear from him. You need your team members to be proactive when it comes to being included in planning and communication. After all, Mark reached out to them, not the other way around.
  • Have a communication plan. First, no matter how bad your company’s network is, you’re not trying to have a WebEx meeting with 20 minutes lag time, so stop complaining. Secondly, the demands of interplanetary communication meant that Mark and the NASA team had to schedule communication and stick to it.
  • At some point, people want to meet face to face. It matters. It certainly would have been easier and more budget-friendly to keep Mark on Mars. After all, he was alive and functioning. They could have simply dropped him food and supplies and kept him there indefinitely. Yes, I’m kidding, but imagine how your people feel being left alone ALL the time, and only being connected by electrons. While you CAN run a team without people getting together in person, once in a while, it’s worth the investment.

Unlike in The Martian, none of these things are actually rocket science, and the stakes are considerably lower than in the novel—few people die from being left alone at work. But like in Andy Weir’s book, it takes planning, effort and everyone doing their share to pull off great things. You can learn something- including ways to fertilize potatoes you never really thought of.

Best not to dwell on that. But if you are looking for ways to help your remote teams, check out this great resource or any of our other special reports here.


Wayne Turmel--The Remote Leadership Institute

Wayne Turmel
Co-Founder and Product Line Manager

Wayne Turmel is the co-founder and Product Line Manager for the Remote Leadership Institute. For twenty years he’s been obsessed with helping managers communicate more effectively with their teams, bosses and customers. Wayne is the author of several books that demystify communicating through technology including Meet Like You Mean It – a Leader’s Guide to Painless & Productive Virtual Meetings, 10 Steps to Successful Virtual Presentations and 6 Weeks to a Great Webinar. His work appears frequently in

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