Remote Work Thoughts and Insights | First Three Months

Hi there, friends! It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything here, so I’m jumping back in with a few collections of discussions, thoughts, and insights, starting with my own foray into remote work. I’ve finished three months of remote work for the Army now – back in May, my family and I jumped from Washington D.C. down to Orlando to continue my current roles in the Army, just closer to family. It’s been a great experience – largely thanks to very supportive leadership and lessons learned from teleworking during COVID – and I’ve been doing my best to capture lessons I’ve learned about leadership (and being led) while working remotely.

Here are some of the thoughts and insights I’ve captured so far, both my own and those contributed by friends and colleagues on my LinkedIn discussions:

  1. Remote work requires a supporting culture. Some offices are ready for it (and embracing it for all its possibilities) and others are extremely ready to snap back to “the good old days” of pre-COVID where everyone was in the office. Regardless of the culture you’re working in, you have to be ready to be a squeaky wheel and remind people that not everyone can attend that in-person town hall or social event.
  2. We don’t exercise good performance management. Both in-person and remote work requires good performance management. In-person has allowed us to reward input based management (e.g. “you must work x hours”) and this management style not only doesn’t result in good performance, but doesn’t work when people are remote (unless you resort to Orwellian surveillance – but ugh). Instead of inputs, we need to focus on outputs and outcomes in order to evaluate people’s performance.
  3. We need a combination of communication tactics to get the message across. I both work remotely and manage remote teams. All of this contributes to people feeling left out without deliberate communication. We’ve found the best success using a variety of communication techniques – newsletter-like emails, recording meetings, sending minutes, deliberate small group syncs, coffee talks, and 1:1 catch-ups, scheduled and unscheduled. And I bug my bosses routinely for feedback. You can’t overcommunicate in this environment. And different methods are more likely to get the information to stick.
  4. We can absolutely overuse meetings. It’s a reflex action from an organization that is input based and wants to see people work – schedule a meeting, because then we can see people work, right? But anyone who’s been in a meeting or two knows that it takes a special kind of meeting to actually get work done. Give people time to work, and utilize all those other methods of communication we just discussed.
  5. Boundaries are extremely important here. We’re able to work much longer and more flexible hours working remotely than with our previous commutes. A lot of us even return to work after our kiddos go to bed. But creating space to disconnect from work and connect with family and friends and just do something other than work is critical for wellness.
  6. Be as transparent as possible. I make my calendar visible to my entire team and all my bosses, and I put everything on it – especially when I’m going to be out of the office or inaccessible. At those times, I leave a point of contact on the team who WILL be accessible. I’ve also started blocking off time when I’m going to be working on particular projects, not only to show people when I have actual planned work time, but to make sure that time doesn’t get overtaken by meetings!
  7. Remote work doesn’t work for all positions. I get accused of being a remote work evangelist sometimes, and I have to remind people that I just advocate it as an option if it a) makes sense for the job and b) makes sense for the person. But it just doesn’t make sense in all scenarios. It also doesn’t make sense to manage the entirety of your workforce the same way. If we’re going to be successful, we have to optimize the way we attract and employ talent, which means the 9-5 office construct is not the only one we should consider!
  8. Good leadership is good leadership. Whether your people are right in front of you or not, good leadership techniques are pretty universal. As someone commented on one of my posts, remote work is like regular work – you have to learn, adapt, and take care of people, whether you’re dealing with them physically or virtually.
  9. Conversely, bad leadership in person is extremely bad leadership remotely. I think enough people have seen that in action during quarantine that I don’t have to elaborate.

All that said, I find it odd that there is still as much resistance to remote work as there is. When I worked in my office in the Pentagon, I was physically separated by a long hallway from everyone else in my office and from my supervisors. I could sit at my desk and except for the occasional drive-by, if I hadn’t actively gone out to see people, no one would know whether I were sitting at my desk or not, and unless they were attending meetings, except for the minutes and summaries I sent back, no one would know I attended those meetings. And yet that physical office environment sets up a larger expectation of trust than a work from home environment.

The same goes for “distractions.” There is a large courtyard in the center of the Pentagon where there are picnic benches, Adirondack chairs, and plenty of places for people to sit, sip coffee, talk on their phones, and relax. There’s shopping throughout the building, there are restaurants, there are Starbucks everywhere (or at least there were before COVID – I think they have one open now). Lots of places for people to wander off. Yet we treat that as acceptable. At the same time, I have heard people complain that someone wasn’t available for a call because they were mowing their lawn or walking a child to school. Down time at the “company” is somehow more acceptable than what I would consider more productive down time at home.

What insights and challenges have you all discovered during remote work and telework during quarantine, or while implementing telework/remote work/hybrid work protocols in your organization?

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