The Telecommuting Challenge

Telecommuting isn’t a new topic. Under the right conditions theZenith Space Command Remote (00)re are many advantages for both employees and employers.

At both ends of the spectrum there are jobs that are impossible for telecommuting (i.e.: manufacturing) and there are jobs that are perfect (i.e.: some accounting tasks). We find the challenges in that grey blob in the middle. Those challenges can be our opportunities.

My good friend Rajesh Singh started a recent thread on LinkedIn asking about telecommuting.
(Read the full thread here.)

But, as I read the comments, I realized that as is often the case the question frames certain assumptions and we don’t think through the “real” problem.

Rajesh Singh
Vice President – L&H Products Strategy & Ops at Swiss Re
Yahoo’s CEO banned work-from-home all together in 2013 arguing that speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home. On the other hand, Richard Branson says, unless you have a technical job like flying an airplane, you can probably do it from home. Personally I prefer to work from office but appreciate the flexibility of working-from-home now and then. Any views?

The interesting aspect of this question is how the comments assumed the premise:
the remote work discussion focused on it only as an HR policy question.

Let’s pick it up and take a look at it from another angle… a perspective that you and I can not only discuss, but on which we can also take action.

Yes, it is hard to deal with people you don’t see every day. However, the challenge isn’t that they are remote employees, the real challenge is that you are the remote leader.
I think the most important task of any leader is building culture… a culture that minimizes uncertainty, makes employees feel safe, and gives them purpose.

It isn’t easy to convey that culture to people you rarely see, so my primary instinct is that I want people physically around me. I prefer that immediate, face-to-face contact, so I can personally mold culture and build trust.

But then, I realized… I create and curate just that kind of culture on LinkedIn and Facebook every week.

So, it can be done. There are tools that exist.

I think the main reason telecommuting has been difficult to implement is that the leaders and managers apply tools and processes, but miss defining the underlying purposes.

Let’s break it down a bit and categorize those tools and processes in a more functional, strategic manner. We need to use those remote tools to:

  1. project culture (our leadership role) to our employees
  2. give them their resources (our management role)
  3. and finally, make sure tasks are getting completed (our supervisory role).

As basic and fundamental as this segmentation seems, it is often missed.

The leader, manager, supervisor categorization lays out a way that you can troubleshoot your relationship to your remote staff. Everything is not a leadership problem, so applying a “leadership solution”, whatever that may be, is a waste of time and probably doesn’t address the problem.

Remote employees can be value creators for an organization, but we have to give the tools to succeed and make them feel a part of the company. Combining an atmosphere of trust, respect, and giving them control of their life balance is truly a recipe for building mutual loyalty while at the same time saving cash in brick and mortar capital investments.