Leading the way — from outside the office

Making the case for executives and flexible work options
By David Potter
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 03/11/2014

In the ongoing debate about flexible work arrangements, the camp in favour of telework — or “workshifting” — has clearly taken the upper hand. The conversation is changing from whether companies should adopt workshifting to how they should do so — and just how much value it brings.

But what about the leaders who are tasked with managing a team remotely? Is it appropriate for executives to workshift?

Like many employees, executives at companies of all sizes are mobile by nature. Whether they’re running a tech startup or a global manufacturing company, executives are rarely chained to their desks. They’re too busy meeting with their teams, customers, partners and suppliers. As a result, leaders are often the most avid adopters of mobile work.

For more and more people, and executives in particular, work is no longer a place you go — it’s a thing you do. And whether in the office or out, executives are expected to lead, delegate, motivate and supervise their teams.

Maintaining a unified, productive corporate culture and team can be challenging when leaders work remotely, but those challenges can be overcome by adopting the following rules:

Check in and give positive feedback: People who work from home can often feel unnoticed. Executives should schedule biweekly or monthly virtual meetings with each team member to discuss their projects and those items that are still in the pipeline. It’s about giving positive feedback for work that’s well done and reassuring teams by recognizing the work they accomplish, even when you can’t see them working.

Don’t miss out on water cooler talk: As a leader, it’s important to instill confidence among employees and promote a common vision. This can be a challenge at any organization and success often comes down to transparency and communication. Even for teleworking executives, it’s important to establish a regular cadence of communication both to stay current on projects but also to be human. Make sure to add time into meeting agendas for common chatter. Ask about people’s weekends, families and interests. Allowing time for less formal, water cooler talk can help keep teams connected, invested and feeling valued.

See and be seen: When they aren’t physically with their teams at the office, leaders must look for new ways to build trust and effective relationships. Any facetime employees can have with executives helps build morale and trust, making them feel like their work is being noticed. Whenever possible, use video conferencing. Not only does it facilitate team bonding, it can also improve meeting productivity. Video allows people to make eye contact and helps ensure the individuals involved are on the same page.

As anyone who’s ever been the lone voice on a conference call to a boardroom full of people can attest, the ability to see and be seen dramatically changes the dynamic of the conversation. It reduces miscommunication and increases engagement.

Stop spying, start collaborating: Technological advancements were the catalyst for the workshifting movement. To make the most of remote workers, managers have to use tools that keep their staff visible and accountable. Social collaboration tools, such as Podio and Google Docs, can provide a virtual environment for people working together with common goals.

From an executive perspective, this provides a central place to delegate and monitor the progress of projects and tasks without having to micromanage teams.

Know when to go into the office: Though workshifting offers many benefits, there are occasions when it might not be in an organization’s best interest. Leaders need to evaluate the changing needs of their business and adapt accordingly. Certain roles naturally lend themselves to flexible work arrangements. But roles built around product management, marketing and sales all act as touchpoints for other teams and require a huge amount of personal interaction, which can make working from home difficult. If an executive manages teams that require a lot of hands-on guidance or interaction, it may be best to be in the same physical location.

Organizations of all sizes are recognizing the benefits of workshifting. A company reaps the rewards of a highly mobile and agile business with increased productivity and lower costs, while people have the flexibility to choose the ideal time, place and device for their work.

This is especially true for executives. Technology is making it easier for them to manage productive teams wherever, whenever. With the right tools, a home office or hotel room becomes just as productive as a corner suite — and unexpected meetings don’t have to put an end to a long-planned vacation. By workshifting, executives can easily stay on top of a company’s, and their own, best interests.

David Potter is a Toronto-based marketing manager for Canada at software company Citrix. He can be reached at david.potter@citrix.com, @dlpotter or, for more information, visit www.gotomeeting.ca.

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