Articles

Leading Remotely? Spend Less Time Managing, More Time Enabling

May 07, 2021 - By Ian Munro, Director, B Bus Sci (IS Hons) M Com (IS)

I have met many managers who cling tightly to the belief that people need to be managed. One manager I worked with held so tightly to this belief that even when the rest of the organisation had implemented remote working policies he told his team that the new policy literally didn’t apply to them. We had a couple of debates about his situation; specifically about my suggestion that maybe he should reconsider his view. I don’t think I was making much headway if I’m honest, when quite suddenly in early 2020 the government stepped in and made it very clear that working from home policies applied to everyone in his company – his team included.

His position stemmed from two considerations:

  1. Most people in his team could not be trusted to work unless they were being watched. He would routinely wander around the room to see what each person was doing and would politely suggest shorter coffee breaks if he felt people were losing too much time to conversation.
  2. He acknowledged that there were probably a couple of people (not more) in his team who could manage their own time and productivity even if they were at home, but it would be outrageously unfair to let them do so when everyone else was instructed to be in the office where they could be more effectively monitored.

As it turns out, he, and many other managers in his position were proven wrong. Across our client base people turned out to be generally more trustworthy than anticipated working remotely, and whilst the second consideration is possibly valid, it became irrelevant because there was no-one left in the office to be unfair to.

But I believe he missed the critical point in the first place: the only productivity you should ever be managing is your own productivity.

Legitimate leaders don’t manage productivity, they enable it. Legitimate leaders empower people to take responsibility for their circumstances – including their own productivity. Legitimate leaders ensure that their people have the means and the ability to do a great job, and they hold their people accountable for doing their best work. How do they do all of these things remotely? By paying close attention to how they spend their time and where they direct their attention. Even though they’re remote, they continue to use every opportunity to carefully “watch the game”. Some examples:

  • Scheduling time to proactively set and review expectations and standards
  • Attending online meetings as a guest (rather than participant) to gain insights for online coaching sessions
  • Carefully reviewing the content of work produced, but also taking time to interrogate the process for getting there
  • Using screen-sharing technologies to collaborate and teach

These are just a few examples of the many opportunities leaders have to engage and grow their people at a distance. I will concede that growing people remotely is out of most of our comfort zones, but with a little focus and creativity it’s far from impossible.

Ian Munro
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