July 5, 2023

Cracking the Code of Remote Management: Key Insights for Effective Leadership

Discover the key connections remote management need to make for innovation, collaboration and productivity both on and off the screen.

Picture of By Stuart Paap

By Stuart Paap

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Fully remote? Hybrid? A complete return back to being in the office?

When it comes to remote management and how effective or ineffective remote working is, every company seems to have a different approach, and a different stake in the remote vs. back-in-office argument. 

Since coming out of the first ever, mass-scale, global working experiment, after millions of us were forced to work remotely for long periods of time during the COVID19 pandemic, we now have the research and insights on how effective remote teams can be. 

Glenn Carroll, The Distinguished Professor of Management at Stanford School of Business, and Michael Arena, Chief Science Officer of Syndezos, recently sat down with us to share their findings, insights and recommendations on remote management and what organizations need to consider when it comes any working environment: in-person or across the screen. 

Scroll down to learn more about which connections your team needs for fostering innovation, building collegial bonds and boosting productivity.

The Current State of Remote Work

According to the American Opportunity Survey approximately 58% of Americans report they have the opportunity to work from home at least one day of the week. 

Another 35% report they have the opportunity to work from home five days a week. 

One other striking finding from the survey is when offered the chance to work from home – 87% take it. 

In fact, remote work is now one of the top three motivators for seeking another job. 

The data is clear – a large majority of Americans have some desire to enjoy the flexibility and benefits that work from home can offer. 

But for most companies, the bottom line question is: “is remote work good for productivity?”

It’s clear when looking at the many responses to this question that employees and managers think very differently when it comes to how remote work affects productivity: employees think productivity increases when working from home, and most managers believe it decreases. 

Yet, this question is more nuanced than a black and white answer of “it’s good,” or “it’s bad.” 

When it comes to short-term productivity, the current research indicates that yes – certain functions can be or are sometimes even more productive in remote working environments. 

In fact, a two-year study by Great Place to Work of more than 800,000 employees at  Fortune 500 companies found that most people reported stable or increased productivity levels after employees began working from home. 

However, when it comes to fostering innovation, team culture and creativity, Michael Arena and Glenn Carroll suggest that digital connections may be less successful at facilitating these important leadership objectives. 

“So one of the things we know about innovation is that it comes about through chance encounters where you meet somebody at the watercooler and you make some comment,” says Glenn Carroll, professor of organizational behavior at Stanford GSB. “And when you go online, to devices like Zoom, everything becomes much more intentional and purposeful.”

Yet, Glenn is careful to note that yes – it is possible to structure informal connections with employees remotely, it’s just that leaders need to be more intentional about it. 

Read also: Closing the Leadership Intent-Impact Gap

Remote Management: Experiment with Your Team

Their advice is to schedule different types of meetings and to learn through experience what will work and what won’t within the context of your company.

Michael believes that managers need to be more intentional about what the purpose of their team is, and even what the purpose of each meeting is. 

For example, the research shows that formal meetings like management reviews, town halls, and traditional structured meetings with an agenda, translate well in remote environments. 

However, the creativity and innovation that often happens between meetings and in off-script informal settings, like hallways conversations and coffee-runs, is less likely to occur remotely. 

Remote management tip: Be more intentional about being informal. 

Michael shares that sometimes this could be as simple as “we’re gonna take 10 minutes at the end of the meeting and go completely off script and just brainstorm on anything that you can think of that came up in that meeting.” 

While informal moments of innovation may be more likely to occur in-person, there are ways remote managers can create those same moments online. 

Leaders can look to create virtual water coolers – a place where employees can catch-up or start conversations in a less formal or structured way. 

Another tactic is to actually allow employees to keep their chat on during online meetings – empowering them to send messages back and forth during a presentation to ignite the same questions and conversations that might occur later on in the hallway. 

Also read: 6 Tips to Present with Power Even Through the Screen

“Everything I ever learned is that proximity matters to performance,” says Michael Arena, faculty member at the University of Pennsylvania. “It turns out that’s not true.”

Remote Management: Why You Need the Right Connections

While certain meetings and tasks can be performed virtually, what about the bonds we forge with our colleagues and what about creating a strong corporate culture?

Glenn explains how important connecting and making ideas flow from one part of an organization to another is to innovation and scaling. 

So, can these collegial connections and bonds be sustained through remote work?

The answer is: Yes, but…

The research shows that already established teams can continue and even sometimes increase their pre-established bonds effectively online, but that newcomers to remote teams may struggle with onboarding and feeling like they are “really part of the group,” if only introduced virtually. 

So does this mean that in-person meetings or team off-sites should be mandated? 

While trust is more quickly established face-to-face, both Michael and Glenn urge remote leaders to go beyond simply mandating a few days back in the office, as this isn’t deliberate or intentional when it comes to building strong connections or pathways to innovation. 

Their advice is to schedule different types of meetings and opportunities to make connections and then get feedback from the team. These opportunities may be virtual or in-person, but the real goal is centered less around the environment and more around the purpose for connection.

The Takeaway

The work from home vs work in the office debate goes beyond the environment we’re working in, or the proximity to each other, and really boils down to a leader’s ability to be intentional with their team. 

Whether it’s online or in the office, leaders need to consider what priorities and purpose they have for their team, and structure settings, opportunities and moments for their team that truly facilitate the purpose for connecting. 

The bottom line is to experiment to see what works for the unique context of your company. Get feedback from the team to learn what is or isn’t working, and remember to schedule in more informal time to spur innovation and creative thinking. 

Did these leadership insights resonate with you? Are you looking to learn more? 

Listen to the full interview with Glenn Carroll and Michael Arena on our podcast here: From Cubicles to Clouds: Building the Right Connections with Your Team

Learn more about Glenn and Michael’s work:
Connect with Glenn via his Stanford faculty bio.
Follow Michael and connect with him via Connected Commons or LinkedIn

Looking to build your influence? Get in touch below and ask to take our exclusive leadership influence styles assessment, here at Influence DNA.

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