In the media

How to manage ‘work from anywhere’ teams

By Sally Bibb

Management Today

16 April 2021

This article was first published in Management Today

To what extent will CEOs see the 2020/21 mass working-from-home experiment as an opportunity to attract previously out-of-reach talent and create a truly distributed workforce? 

Some businesses are convinced; Tobi Lutki, CEO of Shopify recently tweeted, “There are silver linings: we now have the opportunity to be joined by a whole lot of incredible individuals from around the world that otherwise couldn’t because of our previous default to proximity (By the way we’re hiring).” 

The employer benefits of remote working are well documented: access to a wider talent pool when geographical location is no barrier, the time-saved in commuting, reduced building rents and maintenance costs and a reduced environmental footprint among them. 

Gallup, the global analytics firm, found that those who work remotely 60-80% of the time are more engaged and are more likely to agree that their needs for relationships and development at work are being met.

However, this level of engagement does not happen automatically – or overnight. Managers must keep three key factors in play so that their people stay motivated and productive when they’re working remotely.

1. Identify and encourage employees to use their strengths 

Our strengths are the things we love doing and energise us. For example, if someone is a natural problem solver they’ll be energised and engaged if they have the chance to do at least some problem solving every day. Without the chance to do what energises us we become demotivated and flat. 

According to Gallup, when people play to their strengths they’re three times more likely to report having an excellent quality of life, six times more likely to be engaged at work, 8% more productive and 15% less likely to resign.

In practical terms, this means making sure that people are in roles that are a good fit for their strengths. The Gallup research reveals that we only need to be playing to our strengths 20% of the time in order to feel engaged.

Making sure that people know their strengths in the first place is important. Being conscious of our strengths and realising that our job allows us to use them is in itself a feel-good factor. It makes the manager’s job easier because they can give them jobs that play to their strengths and give them recognition for what’s positive about them.

2. Manage with care and encouragement 

Employees must feel that their manager cares about them. A regular short check in is better than an hour a month. Speaking to each team member every week and asking them three questions helps focus, motivate and demonstrate you care.

The questions are; what are your priorities this week, how will you consciously use your strengths to help you, and how can I help? And it has to be carried out on an individual, and personal basis. Any manager that believes they do not have the time to do this, are either not suited to being a manager, or has too many direct reports. 

3. They must feel part of a team 

Working remotely and feeling part of a team trumps being co-located and not feeling part of a team, according to the ADP Research Institute’s study of 19,000 respondents in 19 countries. A simple way to make people feel part of a team is to have two types of weekly meeting.

The first is where each person speaks about what they’re working on, and asks for any contribution they need. This gives a chance for colleagues to offer help and support. This is not a ‘how are you feeling’ session - that’s best done individually - it’s a chance for people to be focused on their mission and what they’re collectively trying to achieve. 

The other type of meeting is more of a social gathering where you deliberately don’t talk about work and have a chance to relax in each other’s company. The duration of these meetings is less important, it is just that they happen.  

Managing a distributed team well needn’t be complicated. It means making sure people are in jobs – and taking on tasks - to which they’re well suited, regularly focusing them on playing to their strengths and keeping them feeling part of a team. Good managers have always known this. Great football managers certainly have. Some would say it’s common sense. 

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