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In the post entitled “Can Boomers Work from Home” I have written about my unconscious bias concerning allowing my teammates to work remotely.  As a baby boomer I was being introspective in March of 2020 about the inevitable and the need for me to measure a team member on other metrics than “butt in the office chair.”  We have a fairly accurate Spring Ahead logging system, so the data is in.  There was no drop in productivity, output, or outcomes.  In fact, over the last year, I have worried about people working too much, too late and about their ability to achieve a balanced lifestyle.  Key to achieving balance (and it is a journey with thoughtful processes) is to encourage managers to care about their people’s personal and work successes.  This starts with developing solid relationships with teammates.  The following five tenets of managing remote workers is inspired by Jeffery Gorton’s precedent book entitled The Seven Secrets to Manage Remote Employees.

At the time Jeffery Gorton wrote his book, the software/tech industry was debating whether to allow employees to work from home.  You might remember Yahoo’s CEO, Ms. Marissa Mayer’s famous ban on work at home in 2013.  According to Business Insider, “Mayer decided on the ban after spending months frustrated at how empty Yahoo parking lots were and consulting Yahoo’s VPN logs to see if remote employees were checking in enough”.

This motivated Jeffery Gorton to share tips of how to manage remote workers. He points out that he has been managing remote team members for decades.  Here is my adaptation of his seven secrets

1. Purpose – Does your team discuss mission?

Mission can be applied to both company as well as team level.  Our Mission at Web Courseworks is:  We enable customer success through innovative lifelong learning.

We added a belief statement: We believe in honest and helpful collaboration to develop quality educational solutions.

So how does a manager apply the benefits of having a Mission and provide “purpose” to his or her team members?   A client services department might adapt their team’s mission to something like “to provide customers with the software knowledge to use our products”.   It is important for managers to also connect this mission to individuals.  Gorton details what he does with his team mates to align individual metrics to mission.  Things like “client satisfaction scores, time spent on tasks, and other key performance indicators mutually agreed upon.  These metrics need to discuss monthly during your virtual “one on ones”.

2. Foster Good Relationships

According to business experts the benefits to fostering good relationships in the workplace include, improved teamwork, high employee morale, increased productivity, and retention.  Most managers at Web Courseworks conduct team meetings (daily SCRUM standups) and one on one meetings.  Gorton’s rule is to limit meetings to no more than four a week and no less than two with maximum length of one hour.  Personally, I like half hour meetings with a tight agenda, notes and video recording provided, and action items distributed.  The aggressive use of tools like SLACK for team chatting and individual messaging can cut down on the need to meet.

Gorton says be sure to have chit chat at the start of remote team meetings.  Sometimes called “water cooler time” it is important for a manager to get things started.  The manager should also help the team focus on the big picture rather than get in the weeds.  In our recent episode of our Association Tech Talk podcast Link to help encourage all team members to contribute “try starting with the person whose birthday is next”, says Gorton,  He also believes of the importance of keeping team meetings positive.

Admittedly, I have been often challenged with the common dilemma of remaining positive.  My use of a weekly “Kudos email or biweekly company video” has helped me personally appreciate the positive.  My rule (and I struggle adhering to this) is: “Keep publicly positive, but privately reflect on problems of others that you perceive as important to the success of your mission.”

I have tried to incorporate this Gorton tip: “End each meeting with your signature line.”  For you Baby Boomers you may remember the Hill Street Blues line: “Let’s be careful out there.”

My line is: “Keep Learning”

When it comes to your one-on-one meetings (which should be bi-weekly in some cases) here is my summary of Gorton’s tips with my twists:

  • Strive to keep one on one meetings to ½ hour unless you have a specific written agenda of items to cover! 
  • Encourage your reports to direct the one-on-one meeting (employee sends agenda)
  • Review success factors and metrics (KPIs)- this is the time to be up front about excessive coding errors (return trips) or customer complaints, poor listening skills, or lack of relationship building with others.  This is not the time to sugar coat performance.
  • Use a tool for ongoing documentation—Gorton suggests Smart Sheet that follows the motto: “Less Talk, More Action”
  • Review your report’s professional development plans quarterly (Reid Hoffman’s Tour of Duty concept applies here.)  Link: https://hbr.org/2013/06/tours-of-duty-the-new-employer-employee-compact

3. Promote Success and Personal Achievement

Reid Hoffman’s Tour of Duty concept when applied correctly will demonstrate you care about the career of each of your reports.  Individual success depends on skill level and achieving certain core competencies.  Many firms lay out core competency expectations in their handbook (we don’t at Web Courseworks 😉). 

Here is the list of competencies Gorton lists in his book:

  • Adaptability and Flexibility                         Adherence to Company Policy                 Administrative Skills
  • Analytical Skills                                             Attendance and Punctuality                     Communication Skills
  • Expense Management                                Creativity                                                      Customer Service
  • Efficiency                                                       Initiative                                                        Job Knowledge
  • Organizational Awareness                         Planning                                                       Problem Solving
  • Decision Making                                          Productivity                                                  Development
  • Professionalism                                           Quality                                                          Results
  • Self-Management Skills                              Teamwork                                                    Outcomes                                                                                 

He suggests asking your remote teammates to evaluate themselves against each one using a scale he details in the book.

Part of ensuring your team’s success is making sure you equip them with the right tools.  Companies that had already frequently promoted using laptops, multiple monitors and software tools like Salesforce, Confluence, Slack, JIRA, WRIKE, found themselves a step ahead of others during the recent forced remote work period. If your teammates do not have a professional looking LinkedIn account provide the needed assistance.

4. Be Available

Being mindful and present to be of assistance to team mates is key to practicing a remote “open-door policy”. Here is my list of tips for having a virtual open-door policy:

  • Zoom: Attend as many team virtual meetings as feasible.  At Web Courseworks, we conduct a weekly 15 minute “Zoom” where employees show off projects.  I almost always kick off this meeting.
  • Slack: Respond as quickly as possible to Slack chat messages.
  • Email: Communicate strategic type emails to entire company frequently to keep all employees informed of company direction.
  • Be ready to help: I like to frequently ask my reports “how can I help you”.
  • Build Trust: Do what you say you will do and work hard at not talking bad about people behind their back. Confidentiality and being discreet is a sign of a mature executive (something I must continuously be mindful of)

5. Manage Beyond Yourself

Jeffery Gorton’s book is worth purchasing for your entire management team.  When fellow podcaster, Matt Harpold and I interviewed Jeffery we could sense he is a genuine “good person.” His last tenet, Manage Beyond Yourself is all about remembering “life is not about you.”  Perhaps his advice and that of Emerson below is even more important to convey today due to the separation mandated by the Covid-19 Pandemic.  

“The purpose of life is not to be happy.  It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.” –Ralph Waldo Emerson

Lastly, managers need to accept and communicate explicitly that team members will have other career opportunities and eventually move on.  Managing employees for their next “tour of duty” will have a positive impact.  It allows for honest discussions about skills and performance.  It should improve job satisfaction for you and your reports.  In short, this is all about helping others achieve their goals and dreams.