by Chuck Chapman, Content Strategy Coordinator

Remote worker videoconferencing with team

I grew up in an era, raised by Baby Boomers, that emphasized certain characteristics for being successful in the workplace. While things like honesty, punctuality and attention to detail are timeless traits that will be valued in any era, the advent of remote work has put a premium on some different characteristics than those that might have been valued even a generation ago.

Results matter more than process.

You’ve probably seen the Seinfeld episode where George gets a job where has absolutely no idea what his duties are. He’s handed “The Penske File” and told to work on it. George dutifully shows up to work every day and “works” on the file by sitting in his office with the file on his desk.

This kind of “going through the motions” mentality was once pretty prominent (and still is in traditional office settings). Workers were able to maintain the appearance of “busyness” but in reality, were not always very productive. This was the result of a cat and mouse culture created by micromanaging leaders who carefully observed and catalogued “on task” behavior. The focus wasn’t on successful outcomes, but on a religious adherence to processes. Bathroom breaks and trips to the coffee pot were eyed suspiciously, while flipping through files was deemed “productive,” even if it was just for show. The leader/worker relationship became adversarial and not about productivity and teamwork.

With remote teams, the processes are far less important than outcomes. Remote leaders need to set clear, defined, and achievable goals with their teams and hold them accountable. If that means that Employee A can get the task accomplished while picking her kids up from daycare during “business hours” or Employee B produces good results despite having spent an hour talking with a repairman, so be it. The bottom line is the bottom line: Is the work getting done in the time frame allotted? Everything else is irrelevant. Micromanaging was never good leadership, and the demands of remote work have made this dynamic a relic that needs to be discarded.

Intrinsic motivation is necessary.

So, since going through the motions is simply not an option in a results-oriented remote work world, that means the motivation for the worker has to change, too. Not long ago, many if not most workers were inspired by a series of behavioral incentives. Certain behaviors drew “attaboys” and back slaps while others drew cross looks and reprimands. With remote teams, much of that kind of operant conditioning communication simply isn’t possible.

Without the carrot or the stick being present on a regular basis, what motivates the worker to do good work? It has to be internal. On remote teams, the worker must be concerned about something bigger than just him/herself. There’s loyalty to the team, desire to please the leader, and of course, pride in work well done. All of that must be present for people to succeed in remote work settings.

Pavlovian response/reward motivation just won’t cut it in a remote setting. Leaders have to seek out team members who are intrinsically motivated during the recruitment process, and then lead by appealing to big picture ideals and meaningful work.

Be able to think outside the box.

In fact, remote workers sometimes have to create the box (or at least a temporary box while IT fixes the old one). A generation ago, most teams were very much top-down oriented. Each descending level worked from a well-defined list of tasks and instructions handed down to them. It was all fairly rote. Show up, tick off the items on the checklist, go home. Lather, rinse, repeat daily.

Working remotely demands thinking that goes beyond following a set of instructions. The effect of distance with remote teams means that, even though you’re connected through email, instant messaging and phones, there’s no guarantee that someone is going to be available to answer your question. You can’t just be-bop over to the boss’s corner office and ask a question when the process gets bogged down.

The successful remote worker won’t have their productivity threatened when processes break down. That can happen a lot with remote teams, whether through communication or technological problems. Workers who can think and problem solve independently are able to continue being productive, while workers who can’t do that put up the “out of order” sign and wait for help to arrive. The latter mindset just won’t cut it in today’s remote work world.

So, while a lot of the core traits of successful workers will always be the same, the move toward greater numbers of remote workers means a shift in mindset is in order. We have to discard much of the linear, “assembly line” mentality of the past and adapt to the demands of a work world where teammates are scattered across the globe and being asked to produce at speeds that dwarf those of a generation ago.

If you’re new to the remote work world and want to improve, I encourage you to take a look at our e-course Maximizing Your Productivity as a Remote Employee. The two hour investment of your time will bring tremendous results. And if you’re a leader of a remote team, we can structure this and any course to meet the needs of your entire team.

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