Here’s What Most Leaders Get Wrong About Remote Work

Most organizational leaders have been pleasantly surprised by their teams’ performance during an unexpected year of remote work. While they may have previously believed their organizations couldn’t adapt to remote work, the pandemic forced their hands, and many have maintained effective levels of productivity, engagement and collaboration.

However, the transition to remote work was clearly easier for some companies than others. Many of the companies who excelled at transitioning to a virtual environment without affecting their culture had one key things in common: they had strong cultures supported by clear and consistent organizational core values.

Whether you are the leader of an entire organization, the head of a department or even just the manager of a team, you need to make core values a core part of your leadership strategy. This will ensure your company or team culture is high-performing, even in a remote setting.

 

Clear, consistent values

There’s a decent chance your company already has core values. But ask yourself—are your core values unique differentiators that drive behavior and decision making, or are they simply platitudes on the wall, such as “Honesty,” “Integrity,” or “Teamwork”?

In companies with strong cultures, core values aren’t just marketing material. They describe the DNA of top employees and dictate how employees behave when managers are not in the room. In a remote workplace, where you literally cannot be in a room with your team, this is more important than ever.

If you are the leader of your organization, you have the authority to change your company’s values. But even if you don’t control your company’s cultural principles, you should still take stock of whether they provide necessary guidance to your team, and consider how to create a set of values for your team. 

To determine if your core values effectively guide your employees, ask yourself some questions. Do you feel good about the decisions your employees are making independently? Do your values encapsulate the most important qualities your employees must have to excel at your organization? Can people tell you what they are without looking at a cheat sheet or referring to a mnemonic device?

If you answered no to any of these questions, you need a core value overhaul. If you don’t have the authority to change your organization’s values, you might want to consider your personal leadership core values, then use those as guideposts for how you expect your employees to behave.

Remember, more core values aren’t necessarily better: if you have three core values, rather than six, it is easier for employees to remember them, and easier to incorporate them into your team’s operations.

 

Repeat and reinforce

Similarly, cultural principles such as core values should not be mentioned only on occasion. It’s important to share these core values with candidates in the hiring process, make them a key part of onboarding, and ensure your managers are demonstrating and reinforcing these values to their teams on a consistent basis.

Consider ways you can incorporate them into your company or team’s daily activities. You might consider including core value shoutouts in your team’s meetings, where employees can commend each other for exemplifying one of your values in a certain way. Some companies even give out annual awards to employees who particularly demonstrate each core value in their work.

These types of activities really make it clear to employees what your core values are and incentivize them to understand and exhibit them.

Ideally, your employees should use your company’s core values to guide their daily work and make decisions when they cannot ask a manager or supervisor. Having strong, reinforced core values is the best way to ensure your employees are serving your organization’s interests when they are unsupervised and everyone is working from the same playbook—which is crucial in a remote organization.

 

Manage according to values

A final step to building a cultural foundation, even in a remote workplace, is to make your core values a crucial part of your organization’s management processes. This includes performance evaluation.

Build core value assessment into the evaluation process and talk with employees about how and where they can improve. Core values can be used to justify rewarding employees with incentives such as bonuses or to determine if an employee is ready to be promoted. You should also demonstrate to your team that someone who doesn’t align with your company values won’t be on the team for very long.  This ensures employees understand that success at your organization is dependent upon core values.  

Many leaders are worried that they cannot have a distinct, connected culture in a remote workplace. However, by leaning into core values, you can ensure your employees are making the right choices for the right reasons, even when they are out of sight. 

 

- Robert Glazer, author of How To Thrive in the Virtual Workplace

July 12, 2021
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