Leadership in a WFH world

Shiv Shivakumar | Updated on June 27, 2021

Title: Leading at a Distance: Practical Lessons for Virtual SuccessAuthors: James M Citrin and Darleen DeRosaPublisher: Wiley

Relationships, accountability, motivation and processes are vital for a high performance team

This is one of the first books on the theme of work from home/remote working and what it means for the individual, for the leader and high performance teams. Citrin and DeRosa work with Spencer Stuart and DeRosa has been studying remote working for the last 20 years starting with AT&T in 2000.

The pandemic and WFH (work from home) have brought out the best in employees. This once-in-a-century event has got American employees to put in more than 22 million work hours extra.

At its peak in August 2020, 80 per cent of employees were working remotely. Women had to balance both home and work and ended up spending 20 hours per week extra doing household chores.

A new reality

The authors say that remote working is here to stay and the ratio might vary by company and country. WFH has been enabled by the rapid spread of technology and globalisation. Virtual working has made virtual leadership a new reality.

Virtual leadership had to deal with some significant changes: (1) change in business models as consumers went digital; (2) a burnout in employees because of too many video calls; (3) there is very little separation between work and home when employees work from home; and (4) women have lost jobs four time more than men in the pandemic.

This last fact has pushed back progress made on diversity and inclusion at the workplace.

No informal corridor chats

Leadership practice has been challenged. In an office environment, leaders had a pulse of the organisation via MBWA (management by walking around), informal corridor chats and quick catch-ups over a cup of coffee. All these methods are unavailable in a remote work environment.

Leadership now has to look at culture from a distance. The notion that remote working is less efficient compared to physical office working has been with significant productivity gains, a huge jump in commitment leading to better results for most companies in the pandemic.

Leadership has got more authentic as people have seen the leader outside of the normal confined space of the office and outside of the leadership attire. Leaders literally and figuratively loosened their collars and rolled up their sleeves.

According to the authors, high performance teams in a remote work world tend to small teams of less than 15 to a team, they tend to belong to the same function and teams and are not cross functional.

Work from home doesn’t work when there is lack of role clarity and lack of accountability.

The authors coin the RAMP acronym to build high performance teams — Relationships, Accountability, Motivation and Processes.

All four are needed if one wants a high performance team in a remote work world.

Leaders need to listen closely in remote working and hear the unsaid. In remote working, it is the responsibility of everyone on the call to keep the meeting on track.

Consumers embrace digital

Remote working has been just as successful in the ability to coach people, it just requires focus. An advantage of the remote way of working is that challenging feedback can be given more easily versus the physical office world. Remote working has challenges, which all of us have experienced over the last 15 months.

The first type of disruptor is the multi-tasker, someone who is juggling many things while on a call and is never focussed on the issues at hand.

The second type of disruptor is the noise bringer; this person brings unnecessary noise to every meeting.

The third type of disruptor is the perennial late comer and the meetings are held up because of the late comer.

Remote working works when people are punctual.

The fourth and last type of disruptor in the interrupter.

Remote working works when people listen carefully and do not interrupt when someone is in full flow. Recovering when interrupted is more difficult in remote working vs physical working.

Some industries will move to remote working more than others. Consumers have moved to a digital world faster than leaders and companies. The new rules and policies for a work-from-home world will develop and will be written and rewritten over the next two years.

I believe anyone involved with work, remote or physical working, will benefit from reading this book. It has many insights that will help the manager manage himself and his team.

All of us are on a learning curve with remote working and the insights from the book are illuminating.

The reviewer is Group Executive President, Corporate Strategy and Business Development, Aditya Birla group

Published on June 27, 2021

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