You are likely being flooded with great advice on leading a remote workforce - I will not be piling on.
I added this little disclaimer after I wrote the bulk of this post. There are some real businesses that are not conducive to having a remote workforce. These businesses are struggling in very real ways right now and will be for quite some time. Those of us from the "cube farms" world need to be empathetic to this fact and not just assume that everyone has the opportunity to earn a living from home; that is a different ranting post...
Leadership is leadership and it is put to it's full test in times of change. If you have not realized that the current COVID-19 outbreak and subsequent recession is a time of change, then please, bookmark this little blog and come back when you have.
This culmination of events has already changed HOW we work, and should be seen as a test (albeit a forced test) of a path many have been on for years - the fully remote workforce.
There have been countless conversations by leaders everywhere with their experienced opinions on remote work and the barriers to moving that direction. In short, there has been no real wide-spread adoption with the typical excuses of "not for our industry" and "we simply are more collaborative in person" leading the pack.
Welcome to the new day; your workforce is now remote - all of them.
As you start to read all of that well informed advice you are being bombarded with, consider what path you as a leader are on. This is very important as you start to make changes in your org.
I like to keep things simple, so for this little blog, we will pretend that there are two clean little paths - one of a shift to the way we do business going forward or one of a temporary methodology to get past the current outbreak of COVID-19.
So, that is your first decision - decide; do not fail by riding the fence.
Stay the course; we need to get through this, then back to business as usual.
If your company does not have the appetite for change, this is your path. Some do not, and most of them will fail soon enough in a world where there are companies with departments solely focused on disrupting their own business model. Right now you need to succeed where you are; the recession will likely be with us for a while and this might not be the best time for you to job hop.
On this path, control of long term expense should be a top of mind issue. You will be given many, many options for remote conference set-up and the coolest new toys. You will need to ask some good questions. Do we really need 10 $5000 remote-capable physical white-boards that interface seamlessly with the new conferencing system we need to buy (that also has an annual price model to optimize your monthly spend)? Or can we get by with Google hangouts and one of the many free online whiteboard options?
You will also need to make sure you are communicating very clearly and not inadvertently setting precedent for allowing remote work. This could cause unwanted turnover and even in a recession, hiring new folks is expensive.
Let's embrace this change; we can make a remote workforce a strategic advantage.
If you believe your company has the culture to really embrace change, this is a great time to try some things and learn. There is plenty of crazy going on, so do not add to it, but we are here, true leaders will take every opportunity to learn and grow.
Leverage your change agents. This is not different than any other change and we all need help with that. Whether you use an external partner or you have that go-to set of folks internally, you should start there. Good leaders know they are not alone.
Pay attention to the costs. There will be some new expenses that were not there before; look for ways to offset them. A logical place to start will be in the cost of that building you lease. This will require longer term planning, but a cost balance can be achieved. In my (not so) humble opinion, having a remote workforce should result in long term cost savings.
Look at how things are working; what is smooth, what is not. As stated above, you will be presented with plenty of solutions looking for a problem. Do not jump at every one of them. Document what is not working because of being remote and solve those issues. Solve problems, do not start by implementing solutions. Do not get sucked into other issues - FOCUS is the key.
For example, some have expressed a fear that remote workers will spend too much time on facebook or netflix or twitter or whatever. This may or may not be an issue at your company, but it was not caused by working remotely. These kinds of distractions are available right there in the office. If this is your fear, then trust is the real issue and that should be addressed outside of the remote work conversation.
A real distraction issue might be pets/children/partners who are now present in the workspace that were not before. Helping your people set real boundaries is the job of a leader.
The point is -- LEAD. Listen to your people, hear the real issues, then give the opportunity for them to participate in the solutions. People engaged in work the way they want to work is a strategic advantage. We have all seen the high percentages of unengaged people at work. This is an opportunity to chip away at that number and have a culture of engagement.