Remote Work Revolution: Succeeding from Anywhere by Tsedal Neeley – Here are my seven lessons and takeaways

Remote Work Revolution• The prominent technology company Cisco launched one of the first systematic remote work programs in Silicon Valley in 1993.
• I have been deeply involved in the issues of remote work and global organizations for nearly two decades. (this book had in fact been well under way).
• Remote Work Revolution provides evidence-based answers to those pressing concerns as well as practical guidance for how you can, together with team members, internalize and apply the best practices that matter the most.
• In the first few weeks of 2020, a microscopic agent turned the world’s workforce into remote workers seemingly overnight. …Digital tools such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Google Chat, and Slack went from useful supplements to the primary enablers for daily interactions with coworkers. These rapid changes were unprecedented.
• McKinsey Global Institute predicts that the global labor workforce will reach 3.5 billion people by 2030. Remote work is increasingly here to stay. The future is in remote work.
• We will not remain a 100 percent remote world. Instead, we will see virtual, distributed, and global work become significant parts of work arrangements that expand our repertoire, skills, and performance, promising to make us and our organizations that much better.
Tsedal Neeley, Remote Work Revolution: Succeeding from Anywhere

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Turmoil.
Change.
Upset.
Reset.
VUCA – (Volatility; Uncertainty; Complexity; Ambiguity)

These are just some of the terms we read constantly about work realities these days.

There is such enormous upset and uncertainty.

But, as both John Kotter pointed out in Change, and now Tsedal Neeley points out in Remote Work Revolution, COVID only accelerated what was already happening. And among the workplace practices that have been accelerated is the remote work revolution.

I presented my synopsis of Remote Work Revolution: Succeeding from Anywhere
by Tsedal Neeley at the September First Friday Book Synopsis. It is a good book! And, it is a book about two things:

#1 — what constitutes good/effective work period. And then,
#2 — how does all this translate into the remote work arena.

The author had begin working on issues of remote word long before COVID realities hit. But, COVID added an urgency to her research and findings.

As I always do, I begin my synopses presentations asking What is the point? Here it is for this book: Remote work requires the same goals and practices as any collaborative work effort; including leadership practices and team best practices. However, specific steps have to be added in a remote context.

And I ask Why is this book worth our time? Here are my three answers for this book:

#1 – This book describes the basics and practices of teamwork and collaborative efforts in any setting and all settings.
#2 – This book chronicles the growth and spread of remote work, beginning in the 1990s as technological tools first made such work possible.
#3 – This book provides specific steps to follow to put best in-person practices to work in remote settings for those working together.

I always include Quotes and Excerpts from the book; the “best of” Randy’s highlighted Passages. Here are a number of the best of the best I included in my synopsis:

• When people return to their daily demands, they easily fall back into old routines, and become frustrated and wonder why their teams don’t fully cohere.
• Periodic relaunches are important in good times but crucial in times of uncertainty. …Periodic relaunches are the only structured mechanisms to give teams the ability to quickly pivot in a systematic way.
• Steve Jobs famously said, “It’s okay to spend a lot of time arguing about which route to take to San Francisco when everyone wants to end up there, but a lot of time gets wasted in such arguments if one person wants to go to San Francisco and another secretly wants to go to San Diego” (1997). …Everyone must first be in agreement about the goal of traveling to San Francisco.
• A launch is an ideal opportunity for each member to explicitly articulate their individual roles and how they can contribute to the team goals. …Team members should understand everyone else’s role as well as their own.
• Psychological safety, the condition that allows coworkers to take risks and admit mistakes without fear of reprisal or shame, is key to productive teamwork. …If psychological safety is not present, people’s fear of expressing dissent or uncertainty to colleagues—especially superiors—cripples team success. …Leaders and their teams must actively foster an atmosphere that makes everyone feel safe speaking up and asking questions.
• Leaders may set the conditions for psychological safety by admitting their own mistakes and by expressly asking individuals to contribute thoughts and opinions.
• Team norms must directly address how to mitigate feelings of isolation that may arise because of the physical distance among members.
• Collocated workers usually establish trust through credible, repeated interactions over time and shared contexts, yet this is difficult in remote teams where there are typically fewer in-person interactions and social cues. How can you trust someone if you can’t read gestures, body language, and facial expressions in periodic face-to-face meetings?
That’s why the question in remote work should not be: Do I trust my colleagues? The question should be: How much do I need to trust them?
Trust is the glue that binds a team together, drives performance, and enables collaboration and coordination, but you can’t force trust.
In teams, trust includes an expectation that people will act for the good of the group.
Cognitive trust is grounded in the belief that your coworkers are reliable and dependable.
For example, when you learn that a colleague has gained significant experience from a previous job or has graduated from an institution you respect, you begin to form cognitive trust.
By comparison, emotional trust is grounded in coworkers’ care and concern for one another. Relationships based on emotional trust are akin to friendships and involve the heart.
• You can develop direct knowledge by taking the time to ask questions about teammates’ own lives and work: “How is your home office set up going?” or “What do you usually do for lunch break?” The more context that virtual team members have about how one another works, the easier it is to trust them in their roles.
• The way to enhance trust between people is for all parties to self-disclose, which increases a general sense of closeness and likability.
• …looking the part, or finding ways to make a virtual conversation feel as in-person as possible: this means dressing to the occasion—whether more formal or more casual—and finding the appropriate lighting so that your face is as clear and communicative as possible.
• Teamwork, therefore, offers opportunities for each person to expand their knowledge, acquire new skills, and be exposed to new perspectives. pg. 51
• The hallmark of remote work success is the ability to self-direct and capitalize on the gift of managing your own work processes. In fact, a through line across decades of studies into remote work identifies autonomy as pivotal to job satisfaction and performance. By autonomy, I mean the ability to self-govern. …It signals trust and reliability (which in turn boosts self-confidence), it allows ownership over projects (which in turn boosts personal investment in the project’s success), and it allows the tailoring of your workday according to individual schedules (which in turn makes for more efficiency). The remote workers reported significantly more autonomy, more cross-discipline collaborative projects, and more career advancement prospects, and significantly less time spent on what’s called “strain-based” work-family conflict than their peers who worked at the office.
• The answer to professional isolation, then, is developing cognitive and emotional connection with one another—regardless of the team’s physical format.
• If we leave out the high-touch jobs such as hair salons or tattoo parlors, many jobs thrive in a remote format—especially those that require deep problem-solving and undistracted concentration. 
• Ernest Hemingway famously remarks: “The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them.”
• Complaints of cognitive overload, headaches, and even the slurring of words are often accompanied with complaints about going from one videoconference to the next. – For example, if we have consecutive in-person meetings, we always add transition time between meetings.
• For example, in the same way that people had a hard time dealing with silence in a real-time conversation, they also had a hard time when people didn’t respond to email fast enough.
• Our instincts about good communication might suggest that being redundant is to be avoided for the sake of efficiency. But it turns out that social tools that increase and reinforce redundancy are not only useful but often essential for virtual teams.
• I have adopted a definition of leadership from my colleagues Frances Frei and Anne Morriss: Leadership is empowering other people as a result of your presence—and making sure that impact continues in your absence.
• Virtual leadership requires frequent communication with team members. Hearing from the boss helps make the present and future more predictable. An increase in communication from the team leader that is clear and direct can accentuate the positive effects of remote work and compensate for the negative.
• Understanding how global issues impact local sensitivities is key. No matter how local your domain, you must remain in touch with current global issues and learn to develop new capacities in response to globally induced crises that may affect the organization.
• Globality and locality have to function together. …volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous (VUCA) factors create the conditions for the worldwide ripple effects of this interconnectedness and characterize a world where crisis is to be expected.
• We don’t know what the long-term effects of COVID-19 will be on organizations, industries, and societies, although we do know that the world has profoundly changed. …Taken together, the volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity that make up the world in which today’s business leaders must function is a powder keg for periodic crisis.

And, here are some of the key points from the book that I emphasized in my synopsis:

• Assumptions:
• Team members are humans; not robots. Thus, they are impacted by human realities.
• People do not work alone (all the time) – they work together.
• this “working together” is ever-more diverse; as it needs to be. And, now, this together-work is ever-more “remote-together” work.
• Lots and lots of communication is …absolutely necessary
• Effective norms for communication have three primary functions: Outlining interaction and connection plans for all team members regardless of role or location; Fostering psychological safety or the group’s level of comfort in expressing individual concerns to one another about tasks and errors; Keeping each remote team member connected so that no one feels professionally isolated.
• Nearly everybody is on more than one team — Remote team members often belong to multiple teams simultaneously.

• Two big issues covered in this book:
• How people work together.
• And, then, how the practices, and needs of working together, translate into remote work.

• Pluses:
• money saved (real estate, especially) ; convenience; far shorter commute times

• Drawbacks:
• You are not alone if you feel isolated, out of sync, and out of sight.
• far less bonding – The more time we spend without regular in-person contact with coworkers, the more persistent and urgent questions about bonding, trusting, and alignment become.
For leaders, how to keep employees motivated and consistently productive while monitoring progress from a distance is a source of concern.
• you can’t sense all the messages that one receives with in-person communication; especially body language…

• How people work together:
• Notice that each of these four domains begins with the same word: shared. — Shared goals that make plain and clear the aims that the team is pursuing. Shared understanding about each member’s roles, functions, and constraints. Shared understanding of available resources ranging from budgets to information. Shared norms that map out how teammates will collaborate effectively.

• Practices:
• Launch sessions; and regular, scheduled relaunch sessions
• A launch session (and periodic relaunches or reappraisals), which puts in place a clear group plan to meet the demands at hand, is crucial in remote work.
• While the “prework” determines what shape the team will take—its function, composition, design, etc.—and thus happens even before the team itself exists, the launch takes place at the moment the team comes together.
• A team launch session is the opportunity to identify clear and specific team goals before taking any other steps forward. …The launch session must be a dialogue.
• The 60–30–10 rule
• J. Richard Hackman concluded that 60 percent of team success depends on prework, or the way in which the team is designed; 30 percent depends on the initial launch; and only 10 percent depends on what happens when the actual day-to-day teamwork is under way.
• Because everyone’s voice needs to be heard…slow down/lessen the native speakers; bring forth the non-native speakers. – Actually, beware of any group that dominates; and any group that is left out or left behind.
• Hackman established that team performance can be assessed by a specific set of standards. One of his enduring contributions includes three criteria for establishing successful outcomes for teams that are applicable across the board, regardless of industry or context: 1) delivering results, or achieving expected goals; 2) facilitating individual growth, or a sense of personal development and well-being; and 3) building team cohesion, or ensuring that the team is operating as one unit.
• The most effective teams share one deceptively simple norm for communication: at meetings, each person talks and listens equally and makes an effort to address everyone (not just the team leader).
• Make It Psychologically Safe for Conflicts and Mistakes
• Collocated teams tend to argue more about work than distributed teams do. All smiles and nods in a virtual meeting does not mean that everyone actually agrees with one another.
• Thank You actions; recognitions; are now needed more than ever…
• As Reimert puts it, she is in the “thank you” business. …she saw how the simple act of managers recognizing and thanking employees (and other peer-to-peer expressions of appreciation) served as an empowering force to boost engagement.
• Build trust — Social scientists define trust as the extent to which we are confident in, and willing to act on, the words, actions, and decisions of another. In other words, we trust people if what they say, do, and decide instills confidence.
• start with “Passable Trust” and “Swift Trust”
• Passable trust is the minimum threshold of trust required to communicate with and to work with others. Swift trust characterizes the high-level of trust that must be “swiftly” established by members in a team formed for a specific project or assignment who expect to be working together for a limited period of time. When swift trust is the norm, members decide to trust one another until proven otherwise. — Passable trust is more dependent on cognitive trust, whereas swift trust is more dependent on both emotional and cognitive trust.
• Here’s a key – shift people around on their “next team”… this provides a broader foundation of experience…
• Have plenty of “teaching” on/for your remote teams:
• The key element to keep in mind about all these teaching behaviors is their mutuality—team members from different backgrounds help, learn from, and ultimately understand one another in the process of becoming part of one united team rather than a disparate set of individuals.
• Leaders (of remote teams) must be present…a lot!
• Beware of the Country of Origin Effect
• Simply put, the country-of-origin effect comes into play when consumers stereotype a product or a service according to preconceptions about the product’s country of origin rather than its intrinsic value.

• The VUCA challenge – a constant reality for remote teams
• Volatility describes a state of constant change that is dynamic, sudden, and rapid.
• Uncertainty refers to the unpredictability of these sudden and rapid changes, making it difficult to anticipate events and prepare accordingly.
• Complexity involves situations that have many dimensions and moving parts whose sheer volume creates conditions that are difficult if not impossible to control.
• Ambiguity refers to situations in which one faces “unknown unknowns” and causal relationships are unclear.

• Well, duh…
• The great pandemic has made remote work necessary, and everywhere present.
• For example, a team launch session might establish a zero-tolerance policy for insulting language.
• To state the obvious, one of the challenges with remote work is the fact that we do not meet in person, face-to-face. (Aim to remedy this) by duplicating as much as possible what we achieve in face-to-face communication. Two key concepts of social presence are intimacy and immediacy.
• Nonwork communication on social tools lubricates work communication, and both leaders and employees should engage in social chatter on company-wide social tools.
• Be aware of and attentive to the “Us vs. Them” realities.
• Perhaps most important, we discovered that team leaders were often unaware of the underlying issues that activated faultlines and caused dysfunctions in their team. They could sense that something was wrong, but often didn’t know what and why.

And, I always end my synopses with my lessons and takeaways. Here are my seven lessons and takeaways for this book:

#1 – Make sure you, and other team members, have the resources – work space; tools; and other resources – that they need to be productive.
#2 – Build in interpersonal time on purpose, in most group interactions remotely held. The “accidental” interpersonal time at in-person work is not possible with remote work; so be proactive about this.
• To facilitate the exchange of direct and reflected knowledge among virtual team members, leaders must proactively create a group culture for virtual interactions not explicitly related to work tasks.
#3 – Trust each worker to be self-motivated (intrinsic motivation – autonomy and mastery; Daniel Pink, Drive).
#4 – You’ve got to build in time for reflection and renewal. In other words, stop the insane practice of scheduling one remote meeting right after another meeting right after another meeting. (Zoom fatigue is physical, emotional, and very real).
#5 – Practice redundant communication. Redundantly!
#6 – Constantly clarify communication effectiveness, on both the sending and receiving end.
#7 – AND… get ready for the next black swan event…

Should you add this book to your reading stack? Yes. For two reasons, both of which I mentioned above. You will better understand good and effective work. And, you will also understand how to make sure you are translating good and effective work into the remote arena/into remote work.

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This is interesting:  one thing I look for is for a theme to crop up in multiple books. (I present synopsis of at least 24 business books each year).  This book, and many other recent books, emphasized the importance of “psychological safety.”  Since working is so much constant interaction between living human beings, they have to feel safe to speak up in each other’s presence; they need psychological safety.  The key book on this is The Fearless Organization by Amy Edmondson.  Ms. Edmondson is the pioneer researcher on this subject.  You might want to check out her book.  Here is my blog post about her book: The Fearless Organization (Psychological Safety) by Amy Edmondson – Here are my five lessons and takeaways.

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Each synopsis comes with my comprehensive, multi-page synopsis handout, plus the audio recording of my presentation delivered at the First Friday Book Synopsis in Dallas.

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