It feels like a gross understatement to say that the pandemic has changed the future of work.
Unemployment, remote work, shifting industries…you get it. I’m not saying anything you haven’t heard about many times over already. I do want to drill down on a particular aspect of leading remote teams though. How do you know when anyone is getting work done?
In an in-person office, we start with the assumption that if you’re at work, you’re getting work done. Rightly or wrongly. Even if you accomplished nothing during the week, you could say, “I was here.” (Bad) Leaders can therefore fall back on “butt-in-seat management” wherein visible attendance equals valuable output.
This obviously gets trickier in a remote environment! There isn’t an “office” to show up to on Monday morning. Sure, most companies have some kind of communication tool like Slack. Unless your leader is really nosy though, they probably have little idea when you’re actually around.
So, what do leaders do? And, how can we, as teammates, help?
“Butt-in-seat” meets remote work
Faced with this scenario, there are a few obvious options.
- If I can’t see that you’re working in an office, I’ll use monitoring software. Then, I can virtually “see” when you’re working.
- I’ll manufacture check-in points throughout the day that force you to be around (daily stand-ups, frequent meetings, etc).
- I’ll trust you.
We can all agree that the third option is far better than the first and second. No one wants to feel spied on all day. Similarly, no one wants to feel trapped in useless meetings. If Dan Pink’s Drive taught us anything, it’s that teammates value autonomy in their work. That feeling is robbed if someone is constantly looking over our shoulder.
It’s hopefully (painfully) obvious that great leaders (remote or not) start from the implicit, trusting assumption that everyone wants to deliver high quality work. They then create a motivating vision, direct teammates towards engaging tasks, and measure output not input.
Again, this whole system starts with trust. There are many things leaders can do to build this trust amongst their team, but I want to talk about what the individual teammate can do to further that trust.
Remote employees have to get good at demonstrating their value to an organization. One piece to this puzzle: Make your work easy to find.
Why make your work easy to find?
To further this trusting relationship, we, as teammates, can do two things:
- Consistently deliver high quality, valuable work to the organization. ✅
- Report on it regularly, and make those reports visible and easy to find. 🔎
The first piece is obvious. The second perhaps less so. Here’s why this is important.
When your work is hidden:
- No one knows what you’re working on so you spend precious 1:1 time with status updates.
- You can work for weeks only to find out no one is aligned on the desired outcome.
- You’re effectively working in a silo so no one knows how/where/if you need help.
- Unless you’re keeping private notes, performance reviews become a test of memory. “What did I do last quarter?”
- No one knows exactly what you’re working on so there’s less accountability.
When your work is visible…
- Leaders automatically know what you’re up to so they don’t have to ask.
- It’s much faster to fix alignment issues. No more working for six weeks only to find out you’ve been going the wrong direction.
- Teammates know what you’re working on so they can volunteer help, share ideas, get context, etc.
- You have a running history of your work, which makes performance reviews much easier.
- There’s built-in accountability when you’re regularly reporting on your work.
I’m personally a fan of regular, individual updates available across the organization. You’re probably not going to read everyone’s update, but you could if you want specific context. At the very least, you and your manager should be regularly synced (this should be done outside 1:1s).
How to make your work visible
Each week, share an overview of what you worked on. You could do this on an internal tool, in an email to your manager, etc. The tool will vary from organization to organization. The purpose is still the same.
Make the update quick and to the point. Where possible, link out to other documents for context. Add in details about what went well and where you’re struggling/need help. Finally, make a few commitments of what you’re going to work on in the upcoming week.
That’s it! Simple and straightforward. It just takes a commitment to doing this week after week.
Bonus tip: Schedule 3 minutes at the end of each day to recap your work. Then, your weekly summary will already be written come Friday!