Thursday, 6 September 2018

Working remotely is all the rage in top organizations around the world, but does it work for CEOs or other top executives?

While some companies insist that their business couldn't run without the C-Suite in the office every day, others are more open to having their top executives work remotely. There are some benefits to this flexibility, such as attracting a broader and potentially more tech-savvy pool of executives, but companies also may need to make adjustments to keep workers engaged and incentivized.

Growing numbers of remote workers

Trends show that more and more workers are working independently and remotely. According to a recent poll by NPR and Marist, one in five jobs in the U.S. is currently held by a contract worker. A 2012 report based on 2010 U.S. Census Bureau data showed that 7 percent of employees were working exclusively remotely and 10 percent were working from home at least one day each week. That figure is expected to increase to about half the workforce within 10 years.

While policymakers are grappling with the implications this may have on retirement, healthcare, paid leave, and other benefits that have traditionally been offered by employers, companies are dealing with the trend in different ways. As the legion of contract or freelance workers increases, younger managers and leaders may begin to demand more flexibility through remote work. But there's something of a disconnect.

Even though working remotely has become fairly common for non-executive employees, many companies often still insist on traditional office hours and in-person meetings for C-suite executives because of security concerns and the impact it would have on efforts to cultivate a collaborative environment.

Some companies are even reining in remote work altogether. Last year IBM changed its remote work policy and started directing employees to work from offices, citing efforts to improve collaboration and innovation. Yahoo, under Marissa Mayer, was another prominent example of an abrupt change of remote work policy. Aetna and Best Buy have implemented similar moves.

Part of the reason behind the dichotomy may be because companies are uncertain about the impact of remote work. Studies about productivity and working remotely show a range of conclusions as well. While some studies show that remote work improves productivity, other studies show the opposite – that working remotely inhibits productivity and efficiency.

Making remote leadership work

Whatever companies decide, the trend is unmistakable – remote work is increasingly common and likely to become more so with the rise of the freelance or gig economy. Thanks to technology, companies can now be run with all remote employees, including the CEO. Some examples of all-remote companies include Dave Dupont of TeamSnap, an online platform for managing, coaching or organizing team sports, and Joel Gascoigne of Buffer, an all-remote company that runs a social media management platform.

But to make remote leadership work, there needs to be some adjustments. Here are a few of the key considerations:

1. Focus on written communication. Communication is always important, but remote CEOs and other top executives need to think about it a bit differently. Without in-person meetings or informal watercooler chats, written communication takes on a whole new level of significance as well. CEOs who run teams remotely emphasize the importance of writing skills.

Business development, financial  planning, constructive criticism and project strategy all need to be communicated clearly and concisely via emails, chat or other written forms. This might sometimes mean over-communicating, and that's a good thing.

Sharing greater detail and context help employees fill in the blanks about how and why something is important. Of course, phone and video chats play a role as well, but since the bulk of communication is likely to be written, strong writing skills are a must.

2. Trust your employees. Just as remote executives need to display certain qualities, so too do remote employees. Remote companies emphasize the importance of self-driven employees who are able to see the big picture and manage their time well. Remote work gives workers autonomy, which can either work brilliantly or backfire. The key to making it work is to trust employees and give them space to do their work.

3. Create a strong company culture. This might be more challenging for companies with many employees and executives scattered geographically, but is no less important. Investing time in employee morale and development is just as important for remote executives, if not more so. Companies can get creative in thinking up online social events that involve everyone. Efforts to get people together face to face once a year helps as well.

Remote work isn't for everyone or for every company, but finding ways to adapt could help keep your company ahead of the curve.

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