The Value of Flexible Management in the Age of Remote Work
A lot has changed in this increasingly remote world. Here's how your management style should change, too.
Usually, when people talk about flexibility, they discuss it in terms of the entire organization. However, achieving flexibility for the group depends on being flexible as a manager. Otherwise, your team simply isn’t free to explore, be creative, or find customized solutions that work for them in their specific roles. This has never been more important than in the modern era of remote work.
A personal "aha" moment
In the past, I worked the way many managers do, where I would check in with a project at different points, give insights, and make changes. But a few years ago, I became a big fan of using an agile approach, especially in technology development. Instead of coming in and making tweaks that meant cost overruns and delays, the technology team could see how I viewed the project all along the development path. Then, they could iterate and tweak with me in real-time to keep the project on course, within budget, and on time.
I had a real-life example in front of me to demonstrate that agility works for efficiency. It also made me realize that there’s a connection between being agile and meeting employees where they are. The team had the potential to be flexible all along. They simply hadn’t been given a chance because of my style as a manager.
Making simple shifts
As a result of my experience, I started making a more conscious effort to adapt my style and support flexibility within my team. One thing I’ve always done is have monthly accomplishment meetings. In those get-togethers, I talk to employees about what we’ve done right, what they’ve accomplished, and what they’ve enjoyed. The focus isn’t on what’s going to happen but what’s already happened. That gives us a base to chat about what to do going forward. It also helps people understand that they did achieve things and that I noticed, which builds trust and morale.
As virtual work has become more necessary and familiar, we’ve kept up these meetings. We just do them online. They send me a list of their accomplishments ahead of time, and we go through it when we connect digitally. You might not do accomplishment meetings, per se. Still, it’s an example of what many managers discovered during the pandemic: Many discussions don’t require a conference room or office. As work gets more global with remote work options, you might have an employee who wouldn’t be available in person, anyway. So, you can give people the option to connect through Zoom (or another tool) and allow meetings to look different based on the circumstances or the employee’s preference.
Related to this, think about your time and schedule. For example, my company used to do one-hour team meetings once a week. But now that we’re virtual, we’re experimenting. We’ve even tried 15-minute meetings once a day and 30-minute meetings twice a week. Now, we are back to one-hour meetings each week on Monday, and on Thursday, they can schedule time with me during what we call “office hours.”
Another simple thing I let people do is control their own project filing system. We have one big virtual folder where everybody puts their work. They can organize their work in that main folder however they want based on their workflow, the tools they need, or who’s involved. With this approach, it’s not about how people are completing tasks. It’s about what they are achieving, their quality level and whether they're delivering on deadline. This is the broader mentality that remote work supports: Because you’re not in the employee’s physical space to micromanage precisely how things get done, the emphasis has to shift off the process and onto the result.
As remote work grows, the need for flexibility will, too
If you’ve been doing something a certain way for a long time, it might not be easy to let go of that way of operating. But flexibility can create greater cohesion, stability, and power for teams. Thanks to the pandemic, we have extensive evidence and case studies of that now. As a manager, workers’ degree of flexibility and agility is in your hands.
Remote work demands that leaders give employees more control, which is only becoming more common. If you haven’t thought about giving people a greater choice in your operations, do so now. Of course, areas of independence might vary based on roles, your business model, or your industry, but good leadership is always looking for ways to help people excel.
Entrepreneur Leadership Network Contributor