Remember Management by Walking Around? A spontaneous cruise of the office was an effective strategy for evaluating a variety of business indicators. You could assess how people were communicating, determine where the vibe registered on the stress meter, and take the opportunity to connect personally with employees.
Now that remote work makes a casual stroll through the cubicles challenging, I suggest an intentional approach. Make time to audit the impact working from home is having on your organization.
Objectivity and curiosity are entrepreneurial characteristics that I enthusiastically endorse. The desire to be fully aware of the strengths and weaknesses of your team drives this type of evaluation.
My colleague, Joanna Pineda, CEO and Chief Troublemaker at Matrix International Inc., shared this valuable advice. “Early in our relationship, my executive coach reminded me that every CEO gets the organization they deserve. If your employees aren’t working well together and your office is siloed, you may not have created this situation, but you are allowing it to happen.”
While most employees enjoy the flexibility of working from home, physical separation can, for a variety of reasons, be problematic for some staffers. Don’t let “out of sight” become “out of mind.” It’s smart to discover where barriers are going up before they become full-blown roadblocks.
Determining what you want to accomplish is the first step. Your audit might explore any, or all of, these seven areas:
- Technology systems
- Policies and procedures
- Professional development
How you present this initiative to your employees is critical. Policing remote workers should not be included in your goals. Operate from a position of trust and the desire to build a positive culture both inside and outside of the office.
If performance issues have been a problem, keep an open mind. They might be related to supervision or a poor hiring decision. Performance, however, differs from morale, although the two are related. Part of the task will be to identify whether working from home is the root cause of issues.
Several years ago, I interviewed Stuart Meyer*. At that time, Stuart was CEO of the National Barbecue & Grilling Association. He was also one of the first association leaders to manage a fully remote workplace. Stuart cautioned that control and trust are the greatest barriers to success. “We must stop the punch-clock mentality and the belief that if we let staff out of our sight, they’re going to be doing anything other than working,” Stuart advised.
If you don’t already have an understanding of your remote team’s effectiveness, it’s probably wise to take a broad approach. Then, as you learn more about their challenges and opportunities, you can narrow the scope. You may also decide that your situation is complex and should be handled with assistance from a third party.
Identify Your Team
The HR staff could take the lead on this project. IT specialists will also play a significant role. But, to create enthusiasm and buy-in, appoint a special oversight committee. It’s wise to involve a cross-section of employees. Include both senior and junior staffers. New hires can be valuable in providing a unique perspective. Don’t forget volunteers. They are impacted by your staff’s proficiency as well.
IT deficits equal a rocky road for remote work. Fortunately, subpar technology is a problem that can be fixed. The entire team should have up-to-date hardware with sufficient processing power, a high-quality camera and speakers, and a reliable, fast internet connection. If you don’t have the budget to provide these resources, you probably need to rethink staffing and business models.
Those are the basic requirements. An appropriate workspace as well as adequate office supplies are also important for comfort and productivity.
Circulate a checklist of home office essentials to evaluate whether these fundamental needs are being met. Even if the law in your state does not require employers to reimburse these items, providing that support demonstrates concern for individual well-being and expectations for peak performance.
Cloud connectivity, project management systems, and meetings platforms with transcription and note-taking functions are software prerequisites.
Review Policies and Procedures
If you’ve been playing catch up since the pandemic, give a review of remote policies and procedures priority on your to-do list. Setting clear expectations gives employees confidence and promotes fairness and equity. These are a few areas to consider:
- Who is eligible to work remotely?
- How is the schedule for days out of the office determined?
- What hours are people expected to be “on the job”?
- What are the requirements for calendar and file sharing?
- Are there safety considerations?
- How are cybersecurity protocols implemented?
- How are people expected to communicate?
Every organization is different. Some groups will be able to take a more flexible approach than others. Don’t try to write rules in stone, circumstances change. But do begin with clear documentation that is available to everyone.
Use Data to Assess Productivity
Data can, and should, guide your management decisions around remote work. Review your organization’s strategic goals, team KPIs, and performance evaluations. If possible, compare the remote team’s results to their previous in-person performance.
A 2021 article from Deloitte recommends looking at productivity with a focus on outcomes. It makes perfect sense to evaluate achievement over labor hours and activities. Determine whether teams are delivering the anticipated results. But watch for effective performance as well. Assess whether employees are using the software and systems to the fullest extent.
David Caruso, whose company HighRoad Solutions, has been remote since 2005, made this insightful observation about productivity. “I know that our employees don’t need an office manager looking over their shoulders to be productive. They are doers, but they don’t always complete the task in the way that I expected or as the job was done in the past. It’s a good experience to let go of the reins and see what gets accomplished. The attitudes are fresh, and work gets done in ways that are unique to each individual.”
Collect Data and Feedback
After you’ve covered the process issues, it’s time to get to the heart of the matter, your people. A well-constructed survey is a good beginning. The willingness to solicit feedback demonstrates respect for employees’ opinions and concern for their engagement with the organization.
Questions can cover the seven areas listed in the goals section above. To ensure that people complete the survey, keep it short. You may want to spread your evaluations over time, distributing a separate form for each topic.
Provide a mix of multiple-choice and open-ended questions allowing for individualized responses. Anonymity is imperative. If respondents don’t feel safe answering honestly, your effort will be wasted.
Follow the survey with targeted in-person interviews based on the results. These sessions should be designed to find solutions to challenges or develop new initiatives. Conducting small focus groups promotes engagement and allows employees to collaborate and co-create strategies for improvement.
Don’t keep the results under wraps. Document and distribute the findings for all participants to see. Even if some areas are less than favorable, transparency is the foundation for trust, new attitudes, and a positive culture. Negative findings will be balanced by the solutions that you and your team will implement moving forward.
Management by walking around may no longer be an option, but these strategies are designed to deliver the TLC your team needs to be successful no matter where they are located.
*Stuart is currently Founder and Chief Storyteller at Social Frequency Media and, Composer, and Producer of the Art Scores Gallery Project. Read interviews with Stuart, Joanna, and David in our Association 4.0 books.