Working With Remote Team Members

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It’s most often those companies who surprise you with their conservative opinion regarding working from home from whom you expect it the least. Yes, folks, even companies within the IT field are convinced that working from home is not an option! If you’re a manager who is convinced that working from home is not possible, here’s my answer to you:

Have you closed your company or department during the Corona pandemic? I bet you didn’t. I bet, suddenly, it was possible to work from home. If you didn’t close your company, if your whole team (or a high percentage of your team) worked from home during the lockdown, you just created the strongest counterargument against yourself – congrats, and welcome to 2020! Let me quickly guess which reasons you could have to still be convinced that working from home is not possible for your team:

  • Your current control mechanisms are based on physical presence.
  • You do not like to have video calls or remote conferences.
  • You have no idea how to know whether everyone’s working as they should.
  • You mistrust your team and think that they will lay on the sofa instead of working properly.

Have I guessed correctly? While we’re all on the same page that some jobs require physical presence, there are many jobs that don’t. However, let’s first go through the perks of working together in one location – with all that hype around working remotely, I have the feeling that these get overlooked sometimes.

Perks Of Being In The Office

  • Higher amount of contacts: While you would be very surprised (and maybe scared to death) if you met a colleague on your way to the bathroom at home, this is quite normal at work. You will have a little chat here and there, maybe stay a bit longer at the coffee machine. This is a large part of the office atmosphere, that will be missing if everybody is working remotely.
  • Larger impact of body language: Whether you are participating in a meeting, having a one-on-one, or talking to a colleague in the social area – you can rely on their body language as an important part of the message that they want to bring across. Only a low percentage of what is understood is based on words alone. If everyone is working remotely, we need to compensate for what we’re missing – without even knowing how much we relied on it usually.
  • It is just… nicer: Yeah. I know. It feels cozy to be around your colleagues, right? Being at home the whole time is not for everybody.
  • Usage of established office behaviors: Although digital devices have been all around us for years, many office behaviors still have not adapted to them. Assigning tasks via email or video call is possible, but why bother with this if I can just walk over and ask my colleague personally? Writing an email or calling in cases where personal contact is possible is also sometimes seen as lazy, shy or strange.

These are some of the things that will be dearly missed with remote team members. They don’t have to be missed – but it’s up to you as the manager to take the first step and bring them into the digital age! Working remotely has some perks on its own, let’s review them quickly.

Perks Of Working From Home

  • More flexibility to integrate work and private life: The lives of your team members are as diverse as you can imagine! By allowing remote work, you can support everyone with having as much flexibility for their private life as possible. There are plenty of reasons why working from home my improve their stress levels or give them a bit more time to breathe – maybe it’s that the kindergarten is around the corner and collecting the children is much easier, maybe it’s because they can spend their break in their own garden which improves their mood visibly.
  • Taking care of family members or children: If someone lives with their elderly parents and wants to have lunch with them (maybe needs to be the one preparing lunch for them, too), working remotely will reduce their stress levels immensely. The same accounts for smaller children that cannot go to the kindergarten. Be it due to a pandemic (we all have first-hand experience now due to Corona), or because the child is a bit sickly. Working from home allows the parent to still rock down some of their working hours, even if it’s not a full day because the child needs more snuggling time than usual.
  • No commuting: Commuting, for most of us, causes stress. Additionally, commuting times of up to one hour are not unusual in bigger cities! Imagine having two additional hours of freetime every weekday – if this does not immediately lower your stress level, I don’t know what would.
  • Easier concentrating: This is certainly not true for everybody, but for some of us, concentrating in an office full of people is hard. If you get interrupted frequently, concentrating on larger tasks might be hard. I always worked from home for everything that was related to budgeting and revenue calculations – it simply was not possible to do these complex calculations in an office where someone would ask me if I have a minute every five minutes.
  • More diverse working times and structure: Everyone works in a different way; and some of us are simply not made for office hours. While I love to get up early and work in the morning hours, my husband will not be as productive during these times as he is in the evening. Working from home allows him to start early with his colleagues, take a longer break during the afternoon hours (where we spend time in the garden), and go back to work in the evening to work on his projects. This would not be possible if he had to commute to work – he would work through the afternoon where he has an all-day low, and spend his most productive hours at home and not working on his projects.

Leading Virtual Teams

In post-corona times, every manager should ask themselves what they have learned from the weeks in lockdown. Yes, you maybe have missed the perks of being in the office – but ask yourself the following: Has everybody missed those, or is it just you? If it’s just you (or only half your team), forcing everybody back to the office means that you will take something away from half your team that they really, truly loved. And where they realized how great they can work in this new, digital age. Here’s my advice: Do not misuse your power by forcing everybody back to the office. You will regret it because you might lose long-standing, important employees.

Instead, ask yourself how you can get the best of both worlds. If there’s no pandemic out there that requires everybody to work remotely, you can of course come back to your beloved office. And I am sure, some of your team members will do the same. Because this is also what diversity means: There are people who enjoy being in the office and who don’t want to sit at home the whole day. Some of us will have issues with procrastination if they’re sitting at their kitchen table instead of in the office…

In most teams, the ideal state will lead to the following scenario: You do have an office space, where everybody can come, but they might also work from home flexibly. And here’s the bad news for you as the team leader: Establishing this new working environment is your job – and it’s a hard one.

So, how can you do it? This will be the topic for the follow-up post.

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