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It's a polarizing issue. It divides workplaces. It evokes passion--rarely does anyone have "no opinion." I'm speaking, of course, about remote work.
Over the past year, I've heard a lot from both pro- and anti-remote work advocates. On Sunday, Slate's Alison Green offered a new perspective on the issue, one I hadn't considered before: that remote work has neither positive nor negative value in a vacuum. Rather, Green (who also writes regularly for Inc.com) argues that remote work's value is most strongly tied to the quality of the management of remote employees:
Without strong management in place, you can end up with managers who, lacking the ability or training to effectively oversee remote staff, resort to micromanagement or onerous restrictions on the practice--which makes good workers feel distrusted and demoralized. Or, on the other end of the spectrum, you end up with people who say they're "working from home" when in reality they're utterly inaccessible or unproductive, while their managers either don't notice or won't address it.
If that sounds familiar, it's probably because Monday's edition of Inc. This Morning tackled the topic of micromanaging, trusting your employees, and avoiding the overbearing boss syndrome. If the many emails I received from you on Monday are any indication, this conversation touches a nerve. Here's a thought-provoking response from Monica Kang, founder and CEO of Washington D.C.-based InnovatorsBox, which coaches companies on how to be more creative. Kang addressed the "impeccable agreements" technique used by Sunrun co-founder and CEO Lynn Jurich:
I'm intrigued at how this founder took a different approach in trying to delegate as fast as possible to avoid micromanaging, but I wonder how that still empowers and gives ownership to the individuals who are working ... if we took the approach you shared like Jurich, I'm afraid that we're taking away the very power to [let] our people think, take action, and have their own critical thinking opinions.
And here's one from Jay Brand, a professor of leadership and organizational behavior at Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Michigan:
Empowerment of and trust in one's employees requires a very delicate balance between laissez-faire apathy and overbearing, everything-goes-through-me de-motivating tactics. In my view, getting this balance right constitutes one of the more important elements of great leadership.
That observation brings me right back to Green's perspective on remote work and the importance of identifying the real challenge here. The problem, she says, isn't good managers who are bad at remote management. It's that remote work exponentially magnifies the worst habits of poor leaders. And that's not something even the clearest work-from-home policy can fix.