Are you a leader who has never believed in working from home? Like Marissa Mayer, former CEO of Yahoo! and my last corporate boss, you think that employees need to be in the office to get the job done. The trouble is with millions of workers now being told to work from home, working from home simply has to work. It’s time for a mindset shift. I must add it is also the time to express the utmost compassion as we navigate this new way of working. We are all suffering different degrees of loss and how you serve as a leader will be remembered.
You may remember Ms. Mayer’s bold move in 2013 ordering all remote workers get back to the office or quit. Some reports suggest it was a much-needed effort to trim the workforce. Whatever the reason, it caused a huge uproar and admonishment from the likes of Richard Branson that it was a step backward.1 There is an abundance of research that confirms productivity and other measures are often improved when employees work from home, but that’s not the point of this post.
In 2008, my then leader became my last solely because of her conviction that employees must be in the office. My kids were three and five years old, and their dad had a demanding job requiring an almost two- and half-hour commute. I had worked from home successfully one day a week, for about a year and was performing well, but that didn’t matter. I was told I had to be in the office every day.
I had started to suffer some symptoms of burnout: headaches, trouble sleeping, low energy to name a few, and wanted to keep contributing if I could preserve my energy by continuing to work some of the time from home. I appealed to my boss’s analytical mind sharing an audit of my responsibilities which revealed that 90% of my interactive work was conducted over the phone or by email and only 10% was completed in person. Nope. Her reply to my offer to work from home 50% of the time was a hard “No”. I found it somewhat ironic that we were working for a company that sold the technology that enabled remote work.
Back to you. Let’s look at some of the concerns leaders have about people working from home. And by concerns, I really mean fears. Fears are based on beliefs, and it is those beliefs we must question, understand, and deal with. Along with each concern, I’ve included some questions you might ask yourself to help shift your thinking.
1. I can’t get anything done when I work from home, so how can anyone else?
Here you might be extrapolating your own beliefs about what works for you as being true for others.
- Am I being fair in thinking others will have the same challenges I do?
- How might I confirm that an employee is performing adequately?
- What communication could help me?
- What about different reporting?
- How will I bring this up if I am concerned?
2. I had to come into the office, so my team should, too.
In this case, you might be craving a sense of fairness.
- Is it reasonable to expect conditions to stay the same?
- Is it fair to restrict employees as if they are?
- What do I need to let go of to see this as an opportunity
3. If I can’t see someone working, how do I know they’re working?
This mindset reflects a lack of trust and possibly a need for control. It may have something to do with your own work style, but not necessarily. Note, the answer does not lie with an increase in remotely tracking work through random screenshots. Autonomy matters.
- What is causing me not to trust this employee?
- If there is a valid reason, can we build trust, or is this indicative of a bigger problem?
- If there isn’t, what can I do to experiment with trust?
- If I’m micromanaging, what effect could this have on my team?
4. I don’t think the team will collaborate effectively working from home.
There is no doubt in-person contact is the richest form we have but with video communication readily available we have a close second. Random interactions won’t happen, but it doesn’t mean you can’t encourage them.
- What can I do to stimulate informal communication?
- What formal initiatives could help encourage more effective collaboration?
- Could I improve psychological safety?
- Could I create more time to be creative, explore and experiment?
- How can employees be encouraged to build relationships at varying levels and across the organization?
5. We won’t have enough role modeling of leadership skills.
My former boss explained to me that this was her primary reason she wanted me in the office full time. We know from watching politics that leaders can be very effective from afar. So let’s not limit leadership by geography.
- What skills do I want to see shared?
- Between whom?
- In which other ways can this happen?
If you’ve been reluctant to embrace working from home, you owe it to your team to think more positively. Your team needs you to believe in them right now. It might require some creative thinking and thoughtful communication, and it will be worth it.
In April and May, 2020 I will be offering Live Q&A Zoom calls every Monday at noon EDT to answer questions on better working from home, personal productivity, and organization. Sign up by visiting www.clarekumar.com/workfromhome. You’ll receive my top “Three Ways to Better Work from Home” download and be invited to sign up for the session of your choice.
I also have a few spots open for private group coaching for individuals and leaders. Book a call with me to find out more.