February 22, 2010

The Ability to Lead Remote Employees Will Become the Next 2.0 Skill

Winter Olympic fever has enveloped my beloved city of Vancouver, but I’ve managed to take a break from the action to opine about an issue that clearly needs more than a mere blog post to help modify or even evolve.

Whether small, medium or large in size, organizations have been or are set to grapple with remote based leadership issues. I believe there are some compelling reasons why this is going to snowball quite soon, as mentioned below, but more importantly there are some Enterprise and Learning 2.0 implications to consider as well.

In my opinion, three of the main causes to affect the issue of remote based leadership include:

  • Outsourcing/Offshoring

    • At least in Canada, two key points were raised in the study entitled “Basic Trends in Outsourcing and Offshoring in Canada” although the points are nothing new – simply put, outsourcing and offshoring continue to increase.
      • Point 1: There has been a trend to service outsourcing. Service outsourcing has increased in almost all industries. The rate of growth was highest in service industries
      • Point 2: Business services represent the largest category of service inputs being offshored by Canadian industries, followed by financial services and insurance services.
    • IMPACT: formal teams continue to shrink at ‘headquarters’ but virtual teams continue to grow between outsourced work to contractors, service firms, etc. as well as BRIC countries
  • Home-Based Offices/Real Estate Contraction (telework option)

    • According to the 2008-2009 World at Work Salary Budget Survey, telework continues to be one of the fastest growing options being made available to employees, growing from 30% of US companies and 25% of Canadian ones offering it in 2007 and growing to 42% and 40% respectively in 2008.
      • Telework is easily being used as an option to reduce real estate costs, helping save bottom line dollars for any sized organization
    • IMPACT: More and more employees have the option to, or are encouraged to work from home thus separating the physical team and creating a virtual team
  • Mergers & Acquisitions

    • According to both KPMG and McKinsey, the global M&A business is, well … back in business
    • IMPACT: Mergers or acquisitions often lead to restructuring, which can often lead to new team members, but mergers and acquisitions are often national or global in nature, thus team members are welcomed into the fold with different area codes

What has this got to do with Enterprise 2.0 and Learning 2.0?

The traditional water cooler is all but empty because no one is around the office anymore to refill it, and thus, the way in which people lead must also change.

Ask yourself these questions:

  • Do you set up time in your calendar to randomly phone, email or instant message team members?
    • Do you have an IM platform that allows this? (presuming you have a phone and email)
  • Do you create idea factory web-jams over asynchronous means to instil a sense of virtual brainstorming?
    • Do you have a wiki or alternate platform that allows this?
  • Do you post quips and updates on your whereabouts, initiatives, questions or thoughts?
    • Do you have a micro-blog option that allows this?
  • Do you track project updates and discuss options in an open manner with all team members?
    • Do you have a collaboration or document management platform that allows this?
  • Do you post illustrative thoughts, issues or ideas about the team, the business, etc. for discussion?
    • Do you have a blogging option that allows this?
  • Do you post short, informal videos about anything business related that the team could benefit from?
    • Do you have a YouTube-type system that allows this?
  • Do you engage with your team face-to-face, even if not physically face-to-face?

There obviously are many more questions to ponder and post, and I’d encourage you to do so, but the bottom line is that teams are going to increasingly become virtually segregated and leaders need to act differently.

Leaders must shift their thinking, they must re-think their style, they must suspend past assumptions and they must embrace new ways to address the obvious fact that:

  • Outsourcing and offshoring is not going away
  • Teleworking is on the rise
  • Mergers and acquisitions are set to increase (again)

Embracing the cultural change components of Enterprise and Learning 2.0 (which I refer to as Learnerprise from time to time) are clear steps in the right direction.

Now, back to the Winter Games.

9 Replies to “The Ability to Lead Remote Employees Will Become the Next 2.0 Skill”

  1. Dan, I completely agree – one other reason I’d add is a slight variation on yours – a more dispersed and/or fragmented workforce in general. I think we’ll see a variety of work arrangements in the future (not just p/t or f/t workers) due to the shrinkig local labour pool coupled with continued demand for work-life balance, which means greater reliance on virtual work. Leaders will also need to take into consideration time shifting.

    What do you think?

  2. hey there @holly – work arrangements is totally in line with how I was thinking above. Although I like to refer to it as ‘life-work’ balance, because frankly speaking, my life comes before work. 🙂

    Leaders most definitely will have to sort out how a way in which they keep track of their various team members, as well as their schedules, etc. A leader who isn’t interested in the well-being of their team, well … they just aren’t a leader to me in the 2.0 world.

  3. Dan – great ruminations. I would add these points:

    New levels of trust are necessary. I am aware of managers that will just not allow people to work for them unless they are not physically in the same building at the same time.

    Dealing with the fact that some people (for example, straight out of college living with roomates or in a one bedroom apartment) could go “crazy” working remotely all the time without live peer interaction. However, other populations may be more willing to embrace work at home as a true benefit to the job.

    I’m actually working on a longer article about this topic, if you want to ping me offline. And, hello Harold J!

    Gary Dietz gdietz@elluminate.com

  4. What we all understand as “job” will, I think, continue to change.

    I think increasingly people with skills and time will coalesce around a purpose, problem, objective, etc., negotiate who does what by when, agree on how to hold each other accountable and assess when the objective is met or problem resolved, and then move on to the next thing. And much of that will be done online, from different locations, using various configurations of tools, platforms, telepresence etc.

    The mass customization of (knowledge) work ?

  5. Oh .. and deciding how to (and whether to) address this won’t be comfortable for any of todays’ organizations. But the issues and pressures won’t go away, as you point out.

    It will probably be harder to address the longer we wait .. but then again, maybe it gets easier to address when it’s no longer optional to wait any longer ?

  6. All of this makes so much sense. So how do we help leaders be comfortable with dispersed and distributed leadership – especially during crises. How does a leader look into the eyes and soul of his team during a crises when they are in Halifax and Hong Kong? I think that work is done at Dan’s electronic water cooler – in the quiet times. ‘Cuz its the water cooler relationships I call upon when the pooh hits the fan! Gotta go and IM some people!

  7. Dan,

    thanks for bring this very important topic to the forefront. In our current setups we seem to have taken this almost for granted but don’t realize how critical it is to efficiency of a team. I have seen cases of such teams which have been effective, due to all the above reasons you listed, and also ineffective with a bunch of frustrated team members and loads of mis-communication because managers don’t use social networking tools. In some cases are not ever seen on IM. Nothing can be more frustrating than to have to send an email to clarify a minor issue and wait for 24 hrs for the response. I find this most relevant. I may blog to add to what you’ve written.



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