Remote Work and Coronavirus: Preparing to Lead from a Distance
Dr. Laura Hambley, Work EvOHlution
Working remotely is not a new concept, with distributed work, telework, flexible work, and mobile work programs being implemented. Drivers for these “new ways of working” (which are not so new anymore), include saving real estate costs and enhancing employee attraction and retention. Work-life wellness, saved commute time, and productivity are among the many benefits to employees. Now added to this list of benefits, in light of the COVID-19/Novel Coronavirus outbreak, is the need to prevent the spread of illness.
Most of my career has been spent researching and helping leaders, employees, and teams become highly effective when working remotely. Despite many jobs now being amenable to remote work, at least part of the time, the rates of remote work are still much lower than I would have predicted when I began my research in 2003.
Back then, videoconference technology was old-school and bandwidth issues proliferated. Today, technology enables many employees to connect from home after traditional work hours. Yet many organizations still demand a full-time presence in the office. At present, only 24% of working adults in America work from home a portion of the time (American Time Use Survey from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2018).
With the recent outbreak of COVID-19, instances of being quarantined in one’s home for two weeks are becoming increasingly common. Organizations are requiring people to work from home rather than come into the office after having returned from travel in affected areas. However, most leaders have not been properly trained in managing from a distance. More often than not, managers resist work from home options for their team because they are unsure whether they can trust their employees to be productive. I refer to this as equating “bums in seats” with productivity.
The COVID-19 outbreak is now forcing organizations and employees to test out remote work arrangements. This necessitates a broader discussion about flexible work, and the benefits of incorporating some degree of working from home into amenable roles. Although remote leadership requires additional skills and capabilities, leaders can and do learn to become skilled and trusting when it comes to managing from a distance.
If you are concerned that you do not have the right processes or knowledge to manage a distributed workforce, then Work EvOHlution’s team of Industrial/Organizational Psychologists, along with our allies, can help. Supports are available for those forced into a distributed work environment that they may feel unprepared to manage. Using the right assessments to tap into key skills required of distributed leaders, then supporting leaders and teams through training and coaching, pays off in increased productivity and engagement. It’s time for more organizations to empower people to work when and where they’re most effective, and not limit flexibility to pandemics.
LAURA HAMBLEY, PH.D., R. PSYCH
Dr. Laura Hambley is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist based in Calgary, Alberta. Laura is co-founder and President of Work EvOHlution, which creates innovative assessment and developmental supports for mobile/remote employees, leaders and teams. Work EvOHlution was profiled in Scientific American Magazine in 2016, and serves clients globally, working with small to large organizations across industries. Since 2004, Laura has published extensive research on the critical success factors for effectively leading distributed teams and has developed and delivered workshops on distributed teams for organizations, universities, and international conferences. In addition to Work EvOHlution, Laura co-founded Canada Career Counselling (Toronto/Calgary), the Leadership Success Group, and leads a team of Workplace Psychologists across Canada.