This column is part of Globe Careers' Leadership Lab series, where executives and experts share their views and advice about leadership and management. Follow us at @Globe_Careers. Find all Leadership Lab stories at tgam.ca/leadershiplab.
It's been a slow death for the office cubicle, but with employees' increasing demands for flexibility, 2016 looks to be the year that nearly every company will have a remote work policy. This is something that employees are demanding; a recent survey found that 43 per cent of employees would choose a flex work arrangement over a raise, and successful leaders are taking notice. Arianna Huffington, co-founder and president of Huffington Post and Bernadette Wightman, president of Cisco Canada are both well known for encouraging flex hours and remote work policies. They understand that organizations can realize success and find happy, more engaged employees by discarding the traditional office model. Yet there is still much debate about whether a team can be properly managed if they're not within sight. Does a team have to be physically visible for a manager to be effective? Not if you know your team and have a strong relationship built on clear communication. Here are three things that managers need in order to enact effective 'visible' management, remotely.
Retire Productivity Misconceptions
What's holding many managers back from embracing flex policies is the widely accepted, archaic belief that employees are most productive when sitting at their assigned desk, under the watchful eye of a manager. A remote work environment cannot be effective or successful if a manager doesn't trust their remote employees to do the work they've been assigned. Much like with micromanaging, when you assume the worst of your employees you've inadvertently set them up to fail before they've even had a chance to prove themselves. The irony of it all is the traditional office has been found to be an enormous time waster, with mundane office tasks such as inefficient meetings and constant interruptions wasting upwards of three hours per day. Compounding the issue is the fact that employees spend on average seven and a half hours per week commuting. In order for 'visible' management to take place, a manager must be prepared to accept that work can be completed effectively and that teamwork can take place in a non-traditional (nine to five) environment.
Establish clear communication policies
A change in perception is not as daunting as it may sound. Whether your team is working within or outside of an office building, basic managerial and leadership practices remain the same. Managers who sit locked behind their office doors are just as 'invisible' as a remote employee who does not check e-mail or follow up with his or her team. Whether your employees are within an office building or working remotely, communication is the key to effective management. Managers should clearly define expectations and deliverables, set check-in dates and progress meetings should be scheduled to ensure expectations are being met – all of which can be done remotely via phone or online meeting tools. In short, the strength of a manager comes more from her or his ability to communicate, collaborate and be flexible in their approach to work, rather than her or his physical presence.
Power communication with the right technology
Of course, it would be naive to say that phone calls and e-mail are all that an organization needs to enable proper communication in a flex and remote workforce. Mobile technology is the lifeblood behind remote management and is feeding the workplace revolution across the world. From virtual apps and desktops, secure file sharing to collaboration tools such as texting and FaceTime through tablets and smartphones, these are the essential tools organizations needed to support flexible working. With these tools and technology in hand and a fresh perspective, managers can remain 'visible' while allowing employees to benefit from a flex workspace.