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Don’t Be Afraid of Working — or Leading — Remotely


No longer is the land of cubicles the only way to get work done for many businesses. Even as the cool new open offices take their place in the Indianapolis landscape, another way to get work done is taking hold–not only in Indy–but around the world: working remotely. Job seekers, take note.

Working away from a traditional office, with leaders and team members separated by miles, time zones or even countries, is a business model that more and more companies need to gravitate towards to stay competitive. Why? I think, people want it. Workers today rank flexibility higher than compensation in things they look for from an employer. Smart businesses know that keeping their employees happy, and letting them know they’re appreciated, is paramount to having them perform to their potential.

Remote Leadership
© Flickr User Steven Parker

I’ve been with the Kevin Eikenberry Group since April, and I’ve been working remotely with the Director of Marketing, my direct supervisor, ever since. Although in the beginning I would forget where she actually is (Virginia), it’s all working out smoothly.

How does she manage me from afar? A few ways: We Skype, a lot. Why not just pick up the phone? Skyping is better than a phone call because we can have our hands free to use our computers, and we often share screens.

We email several times a day, with me asking questions or seeking clarification on a project, and her answering those questions, setting expectations, and periodically asking for updates.

We both seem to have a sense when email just isn’t cutting it. After more than three or four email exchanges on the same topic, we head to Skype to clarify. I have found this way of working to be ideal. I don’t need to be in the same building with my boss to get work accomplished.

How is remote leadership different?

As virtual leadership becomes more and more common, guidance is being sought out on how to do it just right. The Kevin Eikenberry Group developed a series of seminars on the topic with Wayne Turmel, president of Wayne is an expert in remote leadership, and the author of Meet Like You Mean It: A Leader’s Guide to Painless and Productive Virtual Meetings. When asked what the biggest misperception about remote leadership was, here’s what he had to say:

“That it’s somehow radically different or more difficult. What we need to do as leaders, (coach, set expectations, encourage)–all that good stuff hasn’t changed. What’s different is that we’re forced to do it using technology rather than face-to-face. So it’s HOW we do some of those things, rather than WHAT has changed.”

The biggest benefit? Turmel says:

“The ability to do things in real time. You don’t have to wait days to get everyone together, (if you can do that at all.) You can now start to make smart choices about when you meet as well as about how you meet. If you look at these tools from what they CAN do, rather than as a barrier to success, you can do amazing things. Time is no longer the constraint it once was.”

Remote Leadership
© Flickr User Greg Dunlap

A few recommendations:

1. Have a good foundation of leadership skills built already. Leadership, and leading well, is hard. There are a lot of moving parts and skills to master. If you’re shaky on the basics, brush up first, then move on to virtual leadership.

2. Be considerate of other people’s time. Do not just pick up a phone, or start a Skype session without scheduling an appointment with your employee, (or your boss) if at all possible. Barring any emergency, of course. If it can’t be handled by normal email interaction, the other person may need a little time to prepare. It’s professional courtesy to give them that time – even if it’s just 20 minutes from now.

3. Don’t be afraid of the technology. There is a wide variety of tools out there to conduct business remotely. Many have specialties and features that you will want — or not want — for your particular goals.

4. Meet face-to-face regularly. Now, this can mean twice a year (but make sure this happens.) In my case, I met my new boss about a month after I was hired. That was great, because I simply got to know her better. We’ve since worked together in person again, as she spent a few days recently here in Indy. Although I don’t think it’s integral to the success of the relationship, it’s important.

Employers who allow their people to work remotely give their team members more than just flexibility; they give them confidence as well. When you hire someone to do a job, believe they’ll do it until they give you a reason not to.

Interested in learning how to lead remotely? Check out the Remote Leadership Certificate Series with Wayne Turmel and Kevin Eikenberry.

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About the Blogger: Laura Neidig works for the Riley Children's Foundation as Senior Communications Officer. She also serves as Marketing Liaison with the Indianapolis Monumental Marathon and is a 4-time Emmy award winner.


Tue, August 5 2014 » Corporate Culture, Leadership, Technology Tips

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