CEO’s have been prominent figures in business for as long as they’ve existed, but starting in the 1980’s something else began to happen too. After Hollywood gave us Gordon Gecko and Miranda Priestly, reality seemed to fight back. Inspirational CEO’s like Steve Jobs, Richard Branson, and Vicki Escarra (to name but a few) changed the conversation.
The reality of being a CEO is different, of course. Fundamentally, any CEO needs to keep control of five things. They are:
- Holding the vision
- Ensuring adequate resources
- Shaping the corporate culture
- Making the right decisions
- Monitoring and delivering on promises
And CEO’s have been doing all that with greater or lesser success for decades. But times are changing. The world of work is changing. We’re experiencing an increasingly difficult financial climate, and global internet access has transformed how to do business.
Not only that but with the majority of American’s now wanting to work from home, at least part-time. That can only increase as Generation Z make more of an impact on the workforce. These digital nomads have grown up with broadband access and smartphone accessibility; they want to work remotely.
So what skills do you need to be the CEO of a remote workforce? Well, the good news is that they’re pretty much the same skills as you need for an on-site one. Here are some tips to help you make the transition to a distributed team.
Make Team Bonding A Priority
When teams share a physical location, bonding happens naturally. You can help it along with social events and away-days, or just take the team for a beer. With remote teams, you need to make extra time to ensure bonding happens.
I often use the example of a meeting. On-site people arrive between 5 minutes early and 5 minutes late. In that window, people chat, they share aspects of their personal and professional lives. In a video conference? It tends to be straight down to business.
You also have the issues of overcoming geographical, cultural and language barriers. Even if everyone speaks a common language, slang and idioms can be confusing to a non-native speaker. Make sure that agendas and accompanying documents go out to the whole team well ahead of time. That way non-native speakers can familiarise themselves with the material.
Clear And Open Communications
There are a variety of different tools out there that help a CEO stay in touch with his remote team. Whether it’s a video conference using Skype or Zoom, or asynchronous task management with Trello or Asana, you’ll find something that works for you.
The key is to make sure that your staff know which to use, and when. You don’t want to find a vital comment has been buried in a stream of notifications when it should have warranted a voice call. Likewise, you don’t want to have chat pinging every two seconds with something that can wait. Document the how, and the when of your team communication strategy.
Set Your Expectations
You need to be extra-clear when your workers are remote. Make sure that they know exactly what is expected and how they should deliver it. I don’t advocate monitoring tools for remote workers; I think you should hire someone you trust and let them do their job. As a helpful side-effect, measuring results, not hours, also improves productivity.
Perhaps the single most important piece of advice when managing distributed workers is to stay in touch. I recommend that companies use the Agile Development Methodology. The daily stand-up meeting which is so fundamental to Agile can be easily managed online (there are even specialist tools to facilitate it asynchronously).
As I mentioned, it’s not just about the professional side. You also need to keep in touch with your remote workers on a personal level. Although remote working comes without the stress of the commute and the distractions of the office, it isn’t without its problems. Working from home can feel isolating, you need to make sure that your workers know how important they are to you.
That can also mean ensuring they are part of the celebrations of any successes. Don’t exclude them from reward schemes, and if you can get them all together to meet in person occasionally. If you can’t do that, consider using something like Google Hangouts to create a virtual office party.
CEO’s need to be responsive, not just to the changes in business but also to the wider world. There’s no doubt that with Generation Z becoming an increasing force in the world of work, there will be a greater demand for working from home. It’s also proven to increase productivity, retention and all sorts of other good things.
Now is the time to think about your skills as a virtual CEO. Future-proof your company by being ready to embrace remote working. It’s not as daunting as it sounds, promise.