Excellence in Remote Work is a Two-way Street: Promoting Employee's Professional & Personal Goals
Consider these two scenarios:
- A rising star employee approaches you to announce they are starting a family and need to make changes to their work arrangements.
- A team leader tells you that the military is transferring their partner from Texas to Hawaii, so they are resigning.
For many leaders, these scenarios would be a cause for panic. Family leave, adjustments to succession planning and resignations can have significant repercussions in a company.
But that's a one-sided view.
Leaders who engage with employees on a whole-person basis are likely to have better outcomes than leaders who only focus on the employees' impact on the company.
Flip to "Why Not" mode
As my co-author Chris Dyer and I argue in Remote Work, your company impacts employees as much as they impact the company. Enabling them to fashion their life around work may be the greatest retention tool available.
Otherwise, you are very likely to be faced with the expensive and time-consuming process of replacing them.
Put yourself in the shoes of the rising star scenario above. In this case, the employee is not suggesting that they will resign, but that they want to change their focus and energy from career to family.
If you stick doggedly to your desire for them to climb the corporate ladder, you will send at least two problematic messages.
The first, that you really don't care about them or their dreams of having a family - definitely a Scrooge move.
The second, is that you aren't willing to flex.
The first message is enough to make them consider leaving, and the second message may make your competitors look very attractive as employers. Your stubbornness could escalate a medium-level change to a potential resignation.
That's a fictional example, but firmly grounded in the real world. I personally faced the second scenario while CEO of Decision Toolbox.
Fortunately, the company already was completely remote at that time, so there was no need for the team leader to quit. They took a little time off for the move but were able to work effectively from Hawaii - I often pictured them sitting on their lanai with computer and umbrella-topped drink (non-alcoholic, of course).
More two-way streets
In the scenario of the rising star, you would have to make some adjustments to your succession planning, but that is easier than replacing a great employee.
Now, take it a step further. Why not help them fashion their life around work? Give them the option to work remotely even after family leave, full-time or in a hybrid arrangement? More than likely they will be very appreciative, leading to increased loyalty.
That may be easier said than done, I know. To give employees the flexibility and freedom to fashion their lives around work, you need to:
- Let go
- Trust your people
- Empower them to do their best work
If "letting go" is the most challenging for you, focus on trusting and empowering first. Once you've got that down, letting go will be easier.
Good insight into trusting and empowering comes from Daniel H. Pink, speaker and author of several books on work. In 2019, Pink was named the sixth most influential management thinker in the world by Thinkers50 (2019).
According to Pink, what motivates employees even more than tangible rewards is to provide them with autonomy, mastery and purpose (Pink 2010).
Autonomy isn't just letting people do whatever they want. Instead, it's about giving people the leeway to work and/or make decisions in ways that are most effective for themselves - you need to provide clear expectations, but then step back.
Mastery comes from gaining new skills and knowledge and is a desire most of us share. Provide your employees professional development opportunities, and they will respond with increased productivity and loyalty.
Purpose is another basic human need, and you should make sure each employee can give you the "elevator pitch" version of their individual purpose at the company, and how it supports the company's overall purpose.
Knowing one's purpose is a key driver of self-motivation. Trust, empowerment, autonomy, mastery and purpose are all part of a two-way relationship that starts with leadership.
Remote makes "Why Not" easier
You can enable employees to fashion their lives around work in an on-site model, but it's even easier with a remote one.
Some reasons why come to mind easily - if you eliminate getting dressed/shaving/applying makeup, stopping for a coffee and bagel and commuting to the office, you've claimed an hour or more every day. In addition, away from the office, there is less noise and politics.
Without those distractions, people can - and do - focus more on core work.
The makers of RescueTime, a productivity/time tracking tool, searched their data to confirm this. According to Jory MacKay (2020), their data comes from millions of users. They found that knowledge workers are more productive when working at home than in the office.
Design what you want
To wrap up, think of it this way. What kind of company do you want to work for? What do you want your world to look like?
If you like the idea of a good boss and a good culture, design your company that way and you'll attract good people.
If you have a company with a jerk boss and a jerky culture, you'll attract jerks.
As for me, I'll go with happier employees and greater productivity every time.