Let’s work remotely! But First, Read This

By Charlie Solorzano | Jose Ruiz 

If you’re still reeling from a whirlwind week, you’re not alone. Last week started like most normal weeks until most mass events began to cancel, and we all raced to find the last available toilet paper roll at Costco

So here we are. Let’s work remotely! The technology is there. Many of us have interacted remotely for many years. So are we ready? Now, what do we do?

Many consider this as the most significant experiment and feasibility in the history of remote work, as it seems that it will take at least 30 days for things to get somewhat back to normal. “Social distancing” is the recommendation to avoid the spread of COVID-19. 

With Coronavirus, it’s not clear how long people will be at home, which poses additional problems and new challenges for businesses who aren’t used to supporting a remote workforce or even doing the majority of their work digitally. 

Working remotely is not about being tech-savvy or having the right tools. It’s about being effective as a team when we are not in the same building. It’s about achieving communication and coordination without being in front of each other. Most importantly, it’s about the clarity of expectations and accountability so we can make independent decisions and judgments.

Here are some key things to take into consideration to help lead your remote teams.  

First, listen. 

We know great leaders are great communicators. So comunícate and lead. But first, listen. Pay close attention to yourself every time you are conversing with someone remotely. Are you paying attention to him or her? Are you keep checking your mobile for new text messages, emails, tweets, or statuses? Are you showing disinterest, like sighing or checking the time repeatedly? 

Single task and video

The best way to stay focused and increase your listening awareness is to use video communication instead of chatting, texting, emailing, or calling. The technology is there, so use Zoom, GoToMeeting, or Facetime. Look people in their virtual eyes and truly connect. 

Mind your environment

In a busy and noisy environment, no one can listen well. It is simply impossible and easy to recognize. Whenever the noise and privacy level of the environment changes, find a more quiet place. Removing physical distractions is crucial for a good listening session to occur. 

Focus on goals, deadlines, and accountability, not tasks

The most critical component of leading, and not just managing a remote team is to be effective in communicating goals, deadlines, and responsibility, not tasks. You will go crazy if you try to control someone else’s time and supervise their tasks remotely. Spend your energy in making sure expectations are aligned and understood. Don’t just broadcast your expectations. Have your team repeat and paraphrase what everybody expects from them.

 Define the expected level of problem-solving

A few years ago, I walked into our lobby and saw that a plant was drying up and dying. I asked the lady that helped us with the cleaning to help me water the plant. She did. A few weeks later, the plant was again drying up and dying. My initial request was at a task level. I asked for the plant to be watered. I did not ask someone to assume the responsibility of watering the plant and I did not ask someone to supervise the watering of the plant. Ideally, I should have skipped the specific instruction of having someone water the plant and requested someone take on the responsibility of caring for the plant. I could have become upset and argued that it should have been assumed and implied, but the onus was on me. I did not clarify my expectations of what the problem was and how I expected that problem to be solved. Explaining the expected level of problem-solving is essential under any circumstance but is critical when managing remotely.

Eventually, these tough times will pass, and we will all be free to go back to work in our offices. Hopefully, we will go back with a new way of interacting and with an increased level of collaboration that will help us be more effective and productive. 

Carlos Solorzano serves as Managing Partner of Brakston Grey, a division of Alder Koten that focuses on high potential professionals and managers on a development path for executive positions, and is a member of the firm’s maquiladora, and supply chain & operations practices.