Remote work, especially working remotely from home, is not easy for everybody. Especially if it’s long-term and with a sudden transition, it can cause productivity and performance problems for many professionals.
In terms of scope of this article, we’ll focus mostly on actual performance and productivity, but paying a small mention to remote communication and leadership as well.
(If y0u’re an individual worker wanting to increase your productivity working remote, you’re probably looking to head directly to section 4, Remote Performance and Productivity)
Working Remotely, Broken Down
Usually, the different facets of remote work you can focus on are:
- Remote Leadership;
- Remote Team Coordination;
- Remote Influence and Persuasion;
- Remote Performance and Productivity;
- Remote Troubleshooting and Conflict Resolution;
Let’s take a look at each of these in detail.
(In the specific case of taking asset management operations remote, feel free to take a look at the book Alpha by Proxy).
Remote leadership will involve a great component of influence and persuasion, but also of aligning with others, and possibly keeping them accountable. There are three main things to take into account executing remote leadership:
- Reinforcing virtues and culture;
- Setting expectations and requirements;
- Focus on transparency;
The first step is to reinforce the culture and virtues/values you want people to take. Whether explicit or implicit, you have a set of behaviors that your people follow in order to get the job done. For example, in engineering it might be to make fast deploys to get required features up soon, even if there are a couple of bugs, or it might be the polar opposite.
When people aren’t being closely watched, they can easily degenerate into different behavior. The first step to making sure you clarify the desired behaviors for your department/team to make sure if they stray, it’s conscious and not because of lack of clarity.
This is a great segue to the following, which is setting clear expectations and requirements. One best practice learned from finance is asset managers in specific set requirements and expectations for their teams in an excruciating manner. “You can do this kind of investment, under these risk parameters and that can attain at least this profit target” (and possibly other elements).
Making requirements and expectations explicit this way is a great idea. Sure, not all jobs are structured, but there are principles with a varying level of specifics, and telling your team exactly what kind of action is both expected and required will make sure they don’t stray from it. This can be in terms of results, communication with clients, timetables, accuracy of documents/reports, or any other. Both leaders and reports working remotely from home will appreciate the clear direction.
Focusing on transparency is the third element. When going remote, you will have less contact with your team. This makes it easier for you to lose frequent contact. I’ve coached leaders of companies where, if reports didn’t ask for updates, the leaders would say nothing for months.
It’s important to maintain transparency about strategy and vision at the higher levels so your people can know why they are doing what they are doing, to reinforce loyalty and identification, and also to kill rumors and chatter.
2. Team Coordination
In terms of how to coordinate with your team, whether you are the leader or a member, it’s important to define the tooling and governance for communication and talent management, and regarding the latter, also focus on actionable feedback:
- Communication Governance;
- Talent Management Governance;
- The CPG Feedback Model;
In terms of communication, this is usually straightforward. We’re merely talking about what kinds of tools you will use to communicate with others and with what frequency. Are you going to have spontaneous Slack communication via text and weekly team meetings on Monday Morning with Zoom? The calendar and tools are not as important as the fact they are actually defined (as the adage goes, plans are useless but planning is essential). For someone working remotely from home, it’s important to have clarity on communication.
In terms of talent management, the exercise is similar, defining when you are going to have individual 1-on-1 meetings and/or assessments, and which tools to use for that effect. It’s worth mentioning that in many cases, making the transition to work remote does sometimes change the KPIs/OKRs you can measure. For example, it might be harder to measure whether a person is integrated in the team, or which people are contributing in video calls. It might be worth it, in that case, to possibly change the assessment criteria to focus on the ones you can measure under these circumstances.
At times where you have to direct your people, it’s important to know how to properly structure feedback. The CPG model is a good example, focusing on critique, praise and guidance. You focus on the three core aspects of what someone is doing wrong, what they are doing well and what they should be doing. This helps keep feedback focused in times of uncertainty and possibly harder communication.
3. Influence and Persuasion
While remote, talks can be difficult. People can misunderstand emails or short quips in video calls, and suddenly you’ve got yourself a problem. While foundational emotional intelligence and talent management techniques can go a long way, being able to break out specific influence and persuasion tools can help establish better communication and convince others. Two aspects of note:
- Tailoring communication to personalities;
- Applying empathy techniques;
Tailoring your communication to the personality type you’re dealing with can go a long way. Using a framework like the Four Perceived Personalities allows you to determine whether the person navigates the language of achievement, caring for others, or other, and tailoring the message towards that purpose. It’s deceptively simple but very powerful.
Applying techniques like empathy and active listening to make people feel understood goes a long way. The most common cause of bad communication or conflicts is not making the other side feel understood in the first place, which leads to defensiveness, lack of collaboration and/or other issues.
Specific techniques like using low-context language instead of high-context language (or in other words, spelling everything out in terms of what you mean and what must be done) also helps clarify goals and tasks to be done. If necessary, confirming with the other side can go a long way here. Remember, it’s easy to misunderstand things over the Internet, and communicating clearly is easily one of the requirements in understanding how to work remotely from home.
4. Performance and Productivity
There are many techniques that can help increase performance productivity when working by oneself in a remote setting. Some include:
- Vocational alignment;
- Rituals and routines;
- Identity releases;
- Emotion identification and hedging;
You can start by pre-empting vocational roadblocks. A simple vocational assessment like the RIASEC one will tell, in 10-15 minutes, whether your strengths are persuading others, helping others, investing data and patterns, and/or any other. It will also tell you the areas where you are the weakest. This is a concern not just for remote work itself, but productivity in general, but under remote conditions issues may be exacerbated.
Rituals are very important, especially if transitioning from office work. You probably have small activities, like having your cup of coffee or listening to a particular song, that empower you and improve your performance. It’s especially important to remake these rituals and/or find new ones when transitioning to remote work. Rituals that involve specific items or investments are important. For example, having a special mug, a special watch or a special shirt you use that is your favorite one can help embody a “different”, better version of yourself performing better.
Likewise, it’s important to establish routines and boundaries in terms of your work. Simple things like working in a dedicated space or during a dedicated time can help clearly define the boundaries of work. The goal is to have consistent performance versus performing great one day and crashing the next. Naturally, other routines outside work also affect work itself, like whether you exercise and/or provide proper nutrition yourself.
Some good examples to establish routines are to define a specific time for work (for example, from 9 to 5 on the dot), and a specific part of the house where work is done. Many coaching clients of mine “book” the home office (or if they don’t have one, their living room or bedroom) for their remote work, and store their work equipment away at the end of the day, signaling the transition from work to personal time.
In terms of psychological performance, identity releases are good methods to increase productivity and remove roadblocks. These are situations where you release a “different personality”, or “remove the limiter” in order to take productivity to the next level. A good method to perform an identity release is a ritual. For example, a trader friend of a client of mine had a specific expensive mug bought in Las Vegas the year he made a killing in the stock market. He would start the day by drinking coffee from that mug, which would immediately empower him. It served as a trigger. These follow the NLP principle of anchoring to anchor powerful emotions to a specific item, making them permanently linked. This can overcome some of the hurdles of working remotely from home like boredom, depression or others.
Identifying and hedging against common emotions is also important. Especially during periods of long-term remote work in isolation, it’s easy for a person to feel lost, under uncertainty, insecure, stressed, anxious, or under any set of possible emotions. While the first step, in good old emotional intelligence fashion, is to identify your internal emotions so you know your triggers, the way to hedge against them can be through a myriad of methods, from more leisure to physical activities, proper nutrition, meditation and/or other practices.
Even if you seem to have successfully adapted at first, it’s possible for things to go wrong with remote work. You might enter a period of lack of motivation, you might not be efficiently connecting with specific people, or other possible issues. Things to watch out for are:
- Lack of communication or transparency;
- Performance/emotional inconsistencies;
If you’re having problems communicating with certain team members/reports, or lack of transparency from their end, the first step is to ask where the expectations and requirements have been explicitly stated. If so, it’s not an issue of ignorance. The second is to check whether the communication schedule and tooling have been stated. Once you exclude these as well, it’s probably an issue with the specific person. The best way is to begin with a short conversation to align, reinforcing expected behaviors and communication frequency. Then, using simple empathy and active listening tools to get to the root of what might be going wrong, and after reaching that understanding leveraging the rapport to ask the person to correct their behavior.
If you’re suffering from performance/emotional inconsistencies, run some checks on a series of layers. If your physical health is taken care of, check whether the work and conditions you’re in are aligned with your vocational preferences, and whether you’ve established proper routines and boundaries to isolate remote work from the rest of your life. Regardless of the reason, some therapies to help address and change emotions and behaviors – for example, Cognitive-Behavioral techniques – will help address them. There is no immediate fix, but progress can be made.
Conclusion: Towards a Comprehensive View on How to Work Remotely
Remote work presents a host of possible challenges, from leadership to effective communication, to personal performance and productivity. It’s important to take these different dimensions to properly understand how to work remotely from home, whether as a leader or individual contributor to a bigger team.