If your company’s leaders were out of the office for months at a time, would your staff struggle – or would they grow?
Amanda Little, head of human culture at Fibernetics, found the latter to be true when she embarked on a four-month remote work experience in Asia at the start of 2017.
The shift from face-to-face meetings to emailing at opposite ends of the day meant others had to step up as decision-makers, Little says.
“People just changed their communication and their language … Maybe my leadership style changed a little as well, to take a bit of a step back and not be as hands-on as I was before.”
As Little travelled through Malaysia, Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand – timezones half a day ahead of Fibernetics’ base in Cambridge, Ontario – she noticed a shift in queries from staff.
Instead of asking for her approval or input before decisions were made, those team members became more like leaders themselves.
“Slowly I would observe that incoming emails would change to more ‘this the the situation, this is what happened, this is what I did, I just want to inform you that this is going on’ – so more ownership, more solving problems on their own, and just more informing me, and fewer questions and guidance.
“Only in a few instances they wanted approval or things like that, [when] maybe it was out of their realm of experience.”
Little, of course, reaped the benefits of remote work, too: she became more confident as a professional, and realised some of her work-related habits – such as continually checking her email on her phone – weren’t as vital as they felt: working in the middle of the Canadian night, there was no need to keep refreshing emails.
“It was a challenge at first to let go of old habits, and embrace a new way of structuring your work day differently … You learn to ask for things ahead of time, before people are finished their work day, and give everybody things they need by the time your work day’s ending so they can carry on their work day.”
Little encourages other HR leaders to be open-minded about the possibility of staff working remotely.
“If you want to have that positive impact on your staff for the long term, I would say yes,” Little says.
She adds, however, that HR needs to ensure those staff are the type of people who are motivated to accomplish their responsibilities, regardless of their surroundings, and to ensure they’re equipped with the right tools and technology.
“I’ve seen people work from the top deck of a boat in the middle of the ocean near Moreton Island, at lounges in airports, I’ve done conference calls from an overnight train in Thailand – you just embrace that what an office space looks like isn’t necessarily a desk and a chair. It could be anything, as long as you have a laptop and a secure internet connection.”
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