This week on the DistanceLeader podcast, we’re going to take a look at developing effective criteria for distance work as both a leader and for your team. Being a good distance leader means the development of good expectations that you can share with your employees and peers about who can work from a distance and why that makes business sense.
What kind of work prompts distance environments? The answer usually falls into two categories:
- Any situation where geography or time are not as important to accomplish the task
- When geography or time is critically important to accomplish the task
What does that mean in reality, though?
When Geography and Time ARE NOT as important
In work situations where employees don’t need to physically interact with one another, or when the team needs to be able to span time zones or work shifts, distance working (and leadership) is a potential approach for getting work accomplished. Some examples might be work environments where employees are on-call, where relative quiet or a meditative approach is needed, or where all interaction can be accomplished through distance work tools, like teleconferencing. Help desk support personnel, perhaps literally “on call,” may not need to work in a specific work environment, for example. Another role might be writers, artists, creative developers, programmers, or data management personnel, where the technology is more critical than the personal interaction.
When Geography and Time ARE more important
In the case of consultants, sales people, or deployment teams, the entire business opportunity may be around the needs of the customer(s). While the management may be at central office, employees may be working at a client site or traveling among client sites. Home care nurses, for example, fit this category because to do the job, the nurses must travel from location to location. Sales teams are often distance teams, because meeting with the client may require on-site meetings and interactions.
Other distance working considerations
The work requirements are only one dimension of planning for a virtual work team. Other reasons for pursuing a distance work environment include a wide variety of characteristics:
- The personnel components of doing the work. Do you have employees with physical impairments? Unique skills that are not available with other in-office staff (such as a native language translator or specialized technician)? Periodic personnel requirements related to seasonal work?
- The company may also be the reason for distance work environments, such as a reduction of the physical office facility, dispersion of a workforce group to satellite offices, or even an emerging distance working policy.
- The industry may also be one that includes virtual work characteristics. For example, consider military base dispersion around the world and all of the services that support the surrounding communities. If you work in an industry with 24×7 support requirements like e-commerce, you may also need virtual work environments to address customer needs at any time.
That’s really only the beginning of the discussion around virtualizing the work environment. As a leader, developing the business reasons and unique cases where distance working makes sense for your team is as unique as your team can be. Helping set the expectations for both your team and your leaders may require you to consider the existing expectations around distance workers, how HR works for distance employees, changes in productivity for virtual teams, and clearly evaluate and define the business reasons that make sense in your organization.
Finally, we discuss the communication tools in place to support dispersed teams. As a leader, a primary role is to model and demonstrate the effective use of communication tools, and choose to meet in person when it makes sense. Employee evaluations should also be carefully considered to avoid biases for employees in the office or collocated with you. There may also be cultural considerations of dispersing a work team, perhaps because employees feel like they are losing “importance” because they are no longer reporting to an office.