Remote Work Thoughts | First Two Years

This past weekend marked two years since we packed the family into our car and drove from Northern Virginia down to the Sunshine State to kick off our part of the Army’s remote work pilot. Still working for the Pentagon back then, just from 860 miles away.

I reflected on some of those early findings and experiences here.

I’ve been reflecting on the total two-year experience a lot lately – lessons learned, pros, cons, best practices I can collect and share with my teammates as we roll out our remote and local remote work policy at Army HRC, and that we can share more broadly (we’re working on a hybrid work handbook to help the command and others with planning).

So what does remote work look like for me after two years?

Not a lot of change to my findings after the first three months:

  1. Remote work requires a supportive culture.
  2. We don’t exercise good performance management.
  3. We need a combination of communication tactics to get messages across, whether in person or remote.
  4. We can absolutely overuse meetings (see here).
  5. Boundaries are extremely important.
  6. Be as transparent as possible.
  7. Remote work doesn’t work for all positions.
  8. Good leadership is good leadership.
  9. Conversely, bad leadership in person is EXTREMELY bad leadership remotely.

The biggest thing I’ve learned, is that you need that support (Point 1), and people have got some FEELINGS about remote work. When I worked for the Pentagon, people were for the most part supportive of what we were doing and how we were working. Now that I’m working for Fort Knox, there’s a much bigger spread of opinions, from the supportive to the doubtful to the openly hostile. I think a lot of that is due to organizational culture and the fact that Fort Knox itself is a lot more remote of a location – the in-group/out-group mentality is strong and there is a lot less willingness to trust anyone perceived as an outsider.

So one of my lessons learned, as we put together our remote work handbook, is that we need to have solid onboarding processes for everyone, not just folks who are in-person or remote, and that we need to do some work on team building and inclusion. And sometimes you have to remind people to put their big boy/big girl pants on, remember that we’re a team, and that we’re all trying to do good work.

I think it’s also worth pointing out that my remote work is, well, not that remote!

Like a lot of the other directors and div chiefs at HRC, I spend a lot of time on the road and the rest working from my home duty station (my home). I’m actually in a sort of hybrid situation, working between home and an office, just that the office is one I usually have to take a plane to reach.

But we’re all kind of working that way – where we go between engagements is just a lot less important these days thanks to digital collaboration tools.

My team is spread out across different ends of the scale. I have folks who go into the office every day, I have folks who almost never go into the office unless we have a team activity. And when I say office, it’s the office nearest them – I only have a couple folks who are actually stationed near our higher headquarters in Kentucky.

And we all work differently, but come together as the project requires – we work where we work and how we work because of project outcomes, and the rest is secondary.

The chart below shows the percentage of time over the past two years that I was actually at home (60%) and other work locations, and how much I was on leave (11% – which makes sense if you consider we get 30 days of leave a year and I’ve been trying to burn up use or lose leave). DC (15%) and Knox (7%) take the majority of my time, with Austin showing up not too far behind them (3%), and everything else – visits to various Army installations, industry and academia collaborators, and other required travel – binned in the smallest bin (4%). That’s a pretty decent travel schedule.

The point of distributed work and getting location independent, as my amazing #FutureOfWork mentor John Willison keeps reminding me, is about giving people the opportunity, encouragement, guidance, and tools to work where and how they are most productive, both apart and together.

It’s not about a particular type of work. It’s about no more one-size-fits-all workplaces, both in terms of the talent we manage and the way we work so that we do what we need to do in the way that we’re most productive.

I should add that we’re more productive when we’re happy and healthy, which can definitely be influenced by where/how we work!

How is your organization supporting remote work, hybrid work, distributed teams, or other kinds of flexible work?

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