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Leading Remote Workers Here to Stay

By Cheryl Cran – Author and Speaker on Leadership & Future of Change in the Workplace

Communication & Leadership Keynote Speaker Cheryl Cran at The Sweeney Agency Speakers Bureau

We are hearing leaders talking about ‘worker re-entry’ into the physical office and we are also hearing workers say they are stressed about what that means.

At NextMapping we have conducted a number of surveys of both leaders and workers over the past year and throughout the pandemic and a recent survey asked the question, “do you want to return to working from an office?”.

Over 80% of respondents said that they do NOT want to return to working in a pre-pandemic office reality. Many leaders I have been talking with have expressed concern about worker morale when there is a mandate that workers must return to the office.

The challenge that companies are faced with right now is how to engage workers to feel safe going back to the office environment AND how to set up a remote work policy that is customized to the individual workers needs.

Pre-pandemic many companies resisted remote work saying that it was too complex and that it couldn’t be done. Fast forward to 2020 and Covid sped up the future of work reality of making remote work ubiquitous.

The problem now is that the ‘genie is out of the bottle’. In 2020 it has been proven that many jobs can be done remotely and workers now have direct experience of it as well.

A common challenge we hear from leaders we consult with is that it is difficult to engage, motivate or lead worker performance virtually.

Pre-pandemic many leaders were operating in a somewhat traditional model of having workers in the office, being able to monitor performance by being nearby and to be able to manage team dynamics in ‘one place’.

Remote work has definitely changed the game for leaders as to how to monitor performance.

The leadership skills needed to conduct a performance discussion face to face are the same ones needed to conduct a virtual performance review however there are nuanced differences too.

For example when you have workers in the office leaders have the opportunity to catch workers doing things right and to be able to coach and mentor real time.

With virtual work – workers performance is measured in metrics and reported results and requires leaders to have more virtual face time with each worker.

Pre-pandemic leaders have known the importance of having regular one on one meetings with team members for the purpose of coaching and support. In the leading remote reality the need for virtual one on ones and consistent coaching is an absolute necessity to keep workers engaged and at peak performance.

Research has indicated that remote work is here to stay. Companies such as Twitter are planning to stay remote post pandemic.

Rather than mandate a return to work approach I think leaders need to look at their entire work structure to see how they can create a hybrid work environment that is attractive to their workers. Worker attitudes have shifted greatly over the past decade – we are moving from a ‘live to work’ attitude to a ‘work to live a great life’ mentality.

Companies that insist on having workers return to the workplace risk losing top talent to organizations who have led the way towards a permanent remote work or a flexible hybrid work environment.

Covid created a lot of disruptions and those disruptions have created many shifts in peoples values. Over 90% of people we have polled since March 2020 have said that they now value family time than ever before.

Leaders would benefit from looking at worker values trends and how this is going to impact the future of recruiting and retention. Workers are no longer wishing for work/life balance they are literally designing their lives around it.

For example rural migration during Covid is at an all time high – when asked why people are moving to rural locations the response include larger house for the money and to have a home office. Anecdotally I have a leader client who decided to move to a rural community so that she could work remotely and no longer commute.

So with human values shift a major trend it is clear that leading remote workers is here to stay. Leaders have an opportunity to see this reality as an opportunity and not a threat. The more agile leaders can be about ensuring they match up workers choices of ‘where they work’ to how the work gets done the bigger the competitive advantage.

A great starting point is to crowdsource your entire workforce – ask them what they want.

From there have a dedicated focus of interviewing every employee about the ideal work arrangement that he or she wants. This is a much more customized approach to work structure than the typical ‘top down’ approach of the past.

Once you have gathered data on worker ‘wants’ focus on designing hybrid options that work with your industry requirements and it is noted that not every industry can even offer remote at this time.

The next stage is to design options for how workers can work – ie/ full time remote, part time remote, 1 day a week remote etc.

Many leaders ask how all of this will shift everything worker related including compensation, performance metrics and more. The answer is everything must be reimagined, reconfigured and reorganized to meet a fast changing future.

The bottom line is that leaders need to accept that being a leader will never be the same and requires increased agility, adaptability and creativity to meet the challenges of worker attitude shifts in the coming years.


    About Cheryl Cran

    Cheryl Cran is the Founder of NextMapping™/NextMapping.com, and CEO of parent company Synthesis at Work Inc. She is author of nine books on the ultimate leadership skills needed to be future of work ready – and is recognized as the #1 Future of Work influencer by Onalytica.

    To Learn more about Cheryl Cran contact [email protected]

    Derek Sweeney is the Director of Speaker Ideas at The Sweeney Agency. www.thesweeneyagency.com. For 15 years Derek has been helping clients find the right Speakers for their events. Derek can be reached at 1-866-727-7555 or [email protected]