This is a guest post from Kevin Eikenberry, co-author of The Long Distance Leader. 

Organizations around the world are trying to come to grips with the way we work today. How does work get done effectively when people aren’t in the same place at the same time? Telework, even part-time telework, alters team dynamics in unexpected ways. Can you really prepare leaders for these changes? Kevin Eikenberry and Wayne Turmel believe so.

To make it work, organizations must ask themselves some hard questions, in three key areas: culture, behavior and a support plan.

Culture sounds like a complicated thing, but it’s really nothing more than the way things are done in your organization. Are you an individual-task oriented company, or do you value collaboration more? Every company has a culture. The question is, will you build it intentionally, or let it happen organically and deal with what emerges?

To intentionally create a successful culture—particularly when people don’t spend every workday together—you must first ask yourself some important questions:

  1. What kind of organization do you want to be?
  2. Does your current culture match that vision?
  3. How is working remotely impacting the development of that culture?

If you want a collaborative culture, what are you and our leaders doing to create those dynamics?

Leadership Behavior is precisely what it sounds like: what leaders actually do. If the goal is to build strong, trusting work relationships but the leaders won’t use webcams or pick up the phone, there’s a disconnect. Email, on its own, won’t work. The questions you need to ask are:

  1. What behaviors do you expect from Long-Distance Leaders? These include traditional leadership behaviors (effective coaching, delegation, setting expectations and managing performance) as well as behaviors that are new, including those involving technology. Leaders need to be aware of the tools at their disposal and be willing and able to use them to good effect.
  2. How do leaders adjust their existing leadership behaviors and instincts to address the way work is done given distance and technology?

The Support Plan must be in place at an organizational level. Individual managers may be able to take control of their own development, but if you want consistency across the organization and a “rising tide to raise all boats” there has to be coordination of efforts.

This means having a support plan for both leaders and remote workers. The first plan might seem obvious, but too many organizations fail to understand how remote work impacts the employees. That lack of context creates room for conflict. “Why is my boss begging me to use a webcam?” is a simple question if everyone understands the end result and agrees to use the technology.

Your organization likely has some kind of leadership development process in place. You should still make adjustments so that it reflects the reality of how people are working in your organization now.

Kevin Eikenberry and Wayne Turmel, write about leading remote teams in their new book The Long Distance Leader.  They adapt time-honored leadership principles to the changing world of remote work, sharing what they’ve learned from their own leadership experiences and from clients all over the world. Order your copy here.

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