What are the issues and opportunities of people working remotely?
Fast Company reported on a study conducted by Google with 5,600 employees over two years. The study results are encouraging and it also challenges traditional thinking about managing remotely.
They report that distributed teams perform just as well and yet are more frustrated in their role. All Google employees (local or remote) have specific and measurable quarterly goals. I believe this contributes to their effectiveness and ability to compare results. In addition, the study recommended addressing three issues:
It is very important to be respectful of the different time zones and vary the schedule for group meetings. Spreading the inconvenience around to all team members helped reduce some of the frustration in remote locations.
We find our individual clients in Europe and Asia appreciate our willingness to adjust our schedule for conference calls and video-conferences. It is also important to be very clear about the time in the relevant time zone. Respect for holidays and different shifts in “daylight savings time” also shows respect.
Remote relationships require more conscious effort to build across remote teams. There is the obvious absence of hallway connections experienced in-person. There are also differences in weather, sports teams, working environments, social obligations and norms across cultures and locations.
Making a choice to spend some social time in the group, preferably with video or video chat (to see nonverbal signals) significantly contributes to people feeling they know each other and are seen by other team members. Periodic “Day in My Life” picture presentations can be fun and very helpful. Celebrating birthdays and other events is another way to connect.
People who work remotely often feel they are being ignored by the boss, even when they get the same amount of attention as the people working in the same location.
Understand Location Context
One of our clients spent time each month on understanding the work environment across all of his team’s locations. They would rotate which location would be highlighted. The location would have five minutes to present an aspect of their work life and another five minutes on Q&A.
For example, one team member shared photos of his trip to work in the morning. The team member, Vigit, took multiple modes of transportation to get to his office. It took him at least an hour and often longer. Most surprising to people in other locations was that Vigit carried his work shoes until he reached the office (where he put them on) to avoid getting them dirty on his commute. The next month, another location provided similar insights.
Another way to enhance cultural understanding is to identify the national holidays and to honor the heroes in each culture (and why they are celebrated).
Expectations – Measure of Success
One key to the Google study and the ability to manage remote teams is to have clear, measurable expectations that help people be productive and successful … locally and remotely. “Expectations” is one of the seven attributes of authentic executive presence in our book, “Seeing Yourself as Others Do“.