How To Successfully Lead Teams Through Work-From-Home To Work-From-Anywhere
According to a new study from Pew Research, more than half of people who have been able to work from home (WFH) during the pandemic do not want to return to the office full time once the pandemic is over. While many employees might not be returning to the office, they also won’t need to exclusively WFH once Covid-19 is under control. Business leaders need to think beyond WFH and prepare to lead teams that are working from anywhere (WFA).
As an executive coach for global organizations, I’m witnessing the shift to a WFA culture. Many senior employees have already moved to smaller towns and even remote farmland. They’re also working in multiple locations. People are starting to think less about how to set up one productive work space at home and more about how to set up a seamless and intuitive digital workspace they can take with them anywhere.
Preparing to lead a successful WFA team begins with taking the lessons we’ve learned during the Covid-19 pandemic, homing in on the positives – such as increased connectedness and communication – and developing areas that need improvement – such as utilizing effective performance metrics and having tough conversations in a virtual space.
Recent research shows that teams operating in different time zones experience a reduction in synchronous communication. Based on his team’s findings, researcher Prithwiraj Choudhury recommends that organizations adopt more forms of dynamic, evolving, asynchronous communication through platforms like Slack and live documents where employees can share early-stage ideas on their own time without the “pressure to present polished work.”
One of the biggest issues I’m seeing executives face is finding time to be creative and develop big-picture concepts. Establishing a place for asynchronous brainstorming is a relatively quick and simple way to boost creativity within an organization, because it caters to each individual’s time zone and thought process. Posing a question or topic in a Google Doc or Slack channel collects immediate and ruminative ideas over time, allowing concepts to develop more fully.
Synchronous communication is still important, and leaders need to be deliberate about scheduling and holding synchronous brainstorming sessions. Especially during the early days of the pandemic, it was easy for teams to become short-term and task focused in their day-to-day operations. Scheduling synchronous brainstorming sessions as weekly or monthly tasks ensure that they actually happen.
Choudhury noted that people in remote organizations have trouble asking questions and getting help, which becomes a bigger issue as more companies transition to WFA. This problem stems in large part from the fact that workplace knowledge is not explicitly written down where it’s easily accessible. Instead, unwritten rules inform most day-to-day operations.
These informal office dynamics are much easier to navigate in person, but they still create barriers to communication and productivity in most organizations. Experts often note how important body language and facial expressions are to communication, but people can actually rely on these nuances of in-person communication too much – at the expense of expressly codifying guidelines and expectations.
WFA provides an excellent opportunity to get extremely specific about policies that were once vague and left up to interpretation. It may be a good idea to lean toward overwriting expectations accounting for a wide range of scenarios that may or may not happen, because this reduces uncertainty and empowers each team member with a sense of agency and control.
Leaders also need to get better at writing job descriptions and then revisiting and evolving those descriptions based on the talents and skills of the individual hired to fill that position. In a WFA environment, employees should know exactly what they are expected to do on a given day, how they should budget their time and how their performance will be measured with purposeful, clear, simple metrics.
WFA teams need leaders who are thoughtful and caring in how they deliver messages. Each person on the team may have different arrangements based on their job and personal circumstances, so leaders need to prepare to have effective and compassionate dialogues about which employees may be able to WFA and which may not. Tough performance conversations require the same personalized attention.
While there are certainly disadvantages to having these conversations virtually, there are also advantages. For example, it’s easier to have your notes beside you in a virtual meeting, so you can cover all of your important points with carefully chosen language. However, virtual meetings require more follow-ups and check-ins, since you won’t be able to organically follow up in person.
Informal socialization is another important tenant of successful WFA. I’m seeing a lot of leaders hosting formal events such as virtual town halls, but less formal, random employee meetups with executives, or what Choudhury calls “community collisions.” These are just as important. In an office setting, an employee who bumps into an executive on the elevator might be too nervous or short on time to initiate a conversation. But the virtual realm can feel much less formidable.
The great news is that platforms enabling virtual communication are becoming much more intuitive and integrated. Leaders do not have to personally orchestrate all of an organization’s technology, but they do have to understand how the technology works so that they can guide their employees. The true value of WFA is that the more adept we become in the virtual world, the more freedom we’ll have to work from anywhere around the globe.
Originally posted at Forbes.com.