Someone from your team - from your department or unit or center or institute or division - should leave.
Well, not really leave. They should keep working with you. But they should spend a few months not on campus, not in the office, not in the building.
They should work with you on a daily basis. Do all the work that they normally do. But work remotely.
They should work predominantly from home. They should work in another city. They should work overseas.
Your team will end up better off from the experience of being in a long-distance work relationship.
Here are 3 reasons why:
Reason 1 - Loyalty:
The best way to build loyalty amongst your team to your institution/school/company/division/whatever is to demonstrate loyalty to them. People’s lives are complicated. We sometimes end up spend long periods of time in places far away from our places of employment. Having a work culture that is supportive of remote working is one way to demonstrate the trust and value that the organization puts in its people.
Supporting remote work is recognizing that performance is driven by internal motivation. Supervision is the death of a high performance collaborative team. Remote workers are the world’s most motivated, engaged, and productive workers. Remote colleagues will go above and beyond the call of duty to be proactive, collaborative, and present. They will return the trust and flexibility that the organization shows in them by enabling remote work with high degrees of diligence, focus, and output.
Creating the conditions for highly loyal team members is a wonderful way to build team cohesion and social capital. The work ethic, attitude, and productivity of your remote colleagues will influence the thinking and action of the entire team.
Reason 2 - Experimentation:
When you have remote colleagues you need to do things differently. Your team needs to experiment with new ways of communicating and new ways of collaborating. The team will get very good at web-conferencing, collaborative writing and presentation tools, and lightweight asynchronous communications platforms.
Getting good at communicating with remote team members will mean that you get good at communicating with people outside of your institution or company. The same platforms, tools, and methods that we use to work with distant colleagues can now be used to work with partners and collaborators that work for a different employers. There is a learning curve to getting good at remote meetings and collaborative online writing. There are technology skills and behavioral norms that must be practiced. Working with a remote colleague is the best way to go up these learning curves.
You may also find that your existing communication technologies are inadequate for your long-distance working relationships. This will force your team to try new methods, new tools, and new platforms to work in a distributed fashion. This forcing function to do different things will yield big benefits as you continue to use the new tools once your colleague returns to the office.
Reason 3 - Opportunity:
The 3rd reason to enter into a long-distance working relationship is opportunity. Having a key member of the team not working in the office will open up space for other team members. Folks will need to step forward into new operational and leadership roles. And they will. There will be things that need doing that the remote person just can’t do. That is fine - as nobody is irreplaceable - and other members of the team can take the opportunity to learn new things. Remote colleagues enable local colleagues to try new things - to stretch their skills and abilities.
At the same time, the remote colleague can start taking different roles. It is absolute necessary to be a very good listener if you are going to work remotely. Working at distance forces you to listen more and talk less. Working at distance makes it necessary to cultivate strong relationships so that you can get the information that you need. So much of organizational information is tacit. Talk at the Keurig machine (the new water cooler). If you can’t have the side chats (because you are far away), you will need to be much more intentional about maintaining the flow of information. These sorts of relational skills should serve the remote folks well when they eventually return to the office.
Are we finally at a point where we are beyond the concerns and worries associated with working remotely? (Or did Yahoo set our ideas about work backwards when Marissa Mayer banned telecommuting?)
What advice would you give to both remote and local colleagues?
What has been your experience in working remotely - or working with remote colleagues?
Are you in a long-distance work relationship?
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