Of all the people predicting doom and gloom when entire organizations began to work from home, none were doomier or gloomier than CEOs. Many had resisted implementing wide-ranging work from home options. They had to implement remote work in practically no time, often without a real plan, and hope the company didn’t implode in the process.
What were they so worried about? When the subject of telework came up, the responses used to be things like this:
- We have no idea if people are really working or not. I mean, how do we know we’re not paying them to scroll Twitter all day?
- Our culture is so special and unique, how will we stay a team if we don’t see each other every day?
- It’s going to cost us a fortune in IT costs, right?
- Won’t professionalism go down the drain? It will turn into Lord of the Flies if we don’t have STRUCTURE!
- Will we be able to hold it together for a month or two until we go back to normal?
While each of these concerns had and has some legitimacy, and heaven knows the transition to remote work has been bumpy, something has surprised a lot of these leaders. Work has gotten done, and people have maintained a high degree of productivity and engagement.
Some aren’t so surprised
That seems to surprise the CEOs and VPs of organizations more than the middle managers and supervisors. Why was the rest of the organization more prepared than the people at the top?
This is only my opinion, but it’s based on a number of conversations I’ve had over the last four months. Remember, these are generalizations. Your mileage may vary:
- Senior Leaders tend to be (trying to say this politely) more senior. The longer and more successfully you’ve done a job, or worked in a certain way, the more likely you believe that is the correct—often the only—way that job can be done. Their employees beg to differ.
- Senior leaders tend to lag the rest of the organization when it comes to processes and technology. If you’ve ever watched an intern set up a Zoom call for the VP of sales you’ve seen this phenomenon. To be fair, these folks achieved an awful lot before Microsoft Teams existed, and likely don’t use them every day. Many didn’t realize how much home-office technology has changed in the last year.
- A lot of senior leaders hadn’t worked from home for an extended time before and didn’t have visibility to how people get their work done every day. A large number have said they plan to work from home themselves occasionally, going forward.
The biggest reason it came as a surprise is kind of sad, but has a huge upside.
Many senior leaders wildly underestimated their people’s willingness to band together and just make it work. This is huge. Instead of everyone watching Netflix all day and ignoring calls from their managers, people actually worked harder. They overcame resistance to using webcams, they staged virtual happy hours. Sadly, some ignored other duties or put in many longer hours in order to be good teammates and help the organization get through a rough time. A number of CEOs I’ve spoken to have been humbled by how much their people care and are willing to put out discretionary effort when it mattered most. Hopefully this informs some of their decisions and policies going forward.
In a perfect world, the level of engagement and caring shouldn’t have come as a surprise. Yes, some of it was people desperately trying to keep their jobs. But even optimists were surprised at how well this incredibly stressful, badly-timed experiment has worked out.
Senior leaders are now realizing that the workplace is going to look very different in a post-Corona world. Working from home is possible, and more people will demand it. Workplace teams and office configurations will need to be reassessed.
They may even get more time with their own families. Shocking, huh?
For more insight on trends in remote work and the skills necessary for organizations, teams and individuals to thrive, make sure you’re subscribing to our Remote Work Resources newsletter.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
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 Management-Issues.com.
Wayne, along with Kevin Eikenberry, has co-authored the definitive book on leading remotely, The Long-Distance Leader: Rules for Remarkable Remote Leadership. Wayne and Kevin’s follow-up book, The Long-Distance Teammate, offers a roadmap for success not just for leaders, but for everyone making the transition to working remotely.