How the Mars Rover is Schooling us on Remote Work

We interrupt your viewing of Mars Rover footage with slightly more shocking interplanetary news—a myopic crank denying the benefits of remote working.

“[Remote work] is not ideal for us and it’s not a new normal. It’s an aberration that we are going to correct as quickly as possible.” — David Solomon, CEO of Goldman Sachs

An aberration! Apparently, this CEO is already living on Mars. Which just shows you what having gobs of money does— it puts you waaay out of touch with reality.

Here on planet earth, remote work and dispersed workforces are proving to be more productive, powerful, and, gosh darn it, good for our societal well-being than, well, anything, ever. Maybe even the whole planet … or the universe!

Thankfully, saner voices – like Siemens CEO Roland Busch, BaseCamp CEO’s Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hanesson  – are prevailing.

With the new way of working, we're motivating our employees while improving the company's performance capabilities and sharpening Siemens' profile as a flexible and attractive employer.” — Roland Busch, CEO of Siemens

Here’s the thing. (You knew I would have a thing, didn’t you? I always have a thing.)

Everyone is talking about the micros … little things individuals can do to make WFH better. Nobody is talking about or training the macros. The outcomes and goals. How to get the big things done with a dispersed workforce. 

Why? Because most of us aren’t equipped for this yet. We’re like Arnold Schwarzenegger’s character in Kindergarten Cop—full of potential but completely overwhelmed. 

As leaders, we need to make a giant, courageous leap here. We need to shift away from paying for people’s time. We need to stop demanding our team members’ constant attention and presence. We need to let go of how they are doing it and focus on the result.

We need to move toward compensating and rewarding our teams for what they actually produce. For their skills, know-how, enthusiasm, and the value they bring to our organizations. And we need to give them the tools and the space (get it? space?) to deliver for us.

That’s why cranky McGoldman Sachs is so deeply afraid of a remote workforce. He doesn’t know how to do it. His people aren’t training themselves and Goldman certainly isn’t providing them the training to do it either. So he’s sticking his head in the … (Martian) sand.

Tangible products are easy to place a value on. But intangible services and skills – like leadership, customer service, communication – are a little harder to quantify. What metrics do we use to measure our teams remotely? How do we know if a remote worker is “doing their job?”

Successful remote working starts with a leader who trusts

Who cares what your team is doing right now? Whether their hair is done, they’re wearing a clean shirt, or sitting at a proper desk. As a leader, your job is to give your team a clear vision of the big picture outcomes you’re aiming for—this week, this month, this year. 

Then you need to get specific about the role each team member will play in achieving that outcome. Explain their part in the greater goal and how what they’re doing interacts with and affects the rest of the team. 

Then you need to get out of the way. Trust them to do what you hired them to do. Don’t chide them about their appearance, their camera lighting, erratic eye contact, or couch-sitting. Stop caring HOW the work gets done and trust the outcome, the goals you’ve set.

Feeling seen and heard makes for smooth operations

There’s already a natural inclination to prove oneself when working remotely. As a leader, you can exploit that tendency.

When we worked in offices, people dressed up, came in early, stayed late, were annoyingly vocal in meetings … all to make sure they were seen and valued. When your workforce is dispersed, working remotely, these cries for attention are translated to over-communicating, cc’ing everyone on every single meeting invite and email so your voice is heard far and wide.

But work shouldn’t be about attention. That’s a waste of time and money. Work should be about revving the team up, getting the job done, then celebrating your success or discussing the missed opportunities.

As a leader, you need to help your people feel seen, heard, and valued so they don’t act out their emotions with these productivity stealing behaviors. Start with weekly one-on-ones. Give each team member a 5-minute coaching session. You’re amazing. I was impressed with how you did that specific thing. I know you’re going to rock the next specific thing.

Dipping in for a quick check should feel like a celebration

Some people are stunningly adept at managing the pressures of their personal lives and the swirling chaos we call the “real world.” 

Most of us don’t manage those things well, but we are supremely skilled at hiding our messes. (“Who me? I don’t know what you’re talking about,” she replied with wide-eyed innocence.)

Still others – often extremely talented individuals who are critical to your team’s success – get absolutely concussed when homelife or the latest news interferes with their flow.

As a leader, you probably manage a team with all three types. So, how do you go about checking in, preventing missteps, and course correct … without getting all helicopter-y?? Do you call your favorite team member and ask them to spill? Maybe on Mars, but not here on earth.

Dipping in is not altogether different from when you were officebound. Just remember this: check-ins should always feel like a celebration. Even if (especially if) you think things are getting off-track. 

Periodic check-ins are a way of re-motivating your team by celebrating the little wins you’ve had so far. You’re giving them a fresh perspective on their skills and abilities. You’re reinforcing the specific roles they play. And re-focusing them on the macro-outcomes.

It’s those little moments of congratulation, celebration, and acknowledgement that keep us all going when the going gets tough. Bonus hint: using the word “just” can kill the celebratory mood. Compare “Great job on climbing that last hill! Just be careful on the next one.” with “Great job climbing that last hill! I know you’re going to be amazing on the next one.”

Thanks for reading! Share your discoveries, frustrations, and ideas about remote working in the comments below.  

Signature of Cindy Solomon, Courageous Leadership expert and keynote speaker

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