The Key to Building a Productive Remote Culture During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Strong leadership and clear expectations can help any team overcome the challenges of working from home.

The COVID-19 pandemic has rocked our world and changed the way millions of Americans go to work every day. Remote work was clearly the theme of 2020. 

As we enter a new year with professionals everywhere struggling to balance working from home with obligations like remote schooling and health and safety vigilance, business leaders still have to figure out the best ways to guide their employees to success from behind a computer screen.

I have seen a lot of concern about remote work culture from business leaders who are struggling to maintain their management styles from afar. Most of the advice I have encountered insists that it will take time to adjust to our new normal and that expectations should be adjusted accordingly.

Keeping your team productive from afar is a great way to maintain normalcy during such an uncertain time. 

I respectfully disagree. 

Quick adaptation is what makes a company successful. So instead of coddling employees and lamenting about how difficult it is to function during the pandemic, I believe that business leaders should expect a quick adjustment from their teams while leading by example. The same applies for leaders—if their style is not as effective with a remote employee base, they should figure out adjustments to make it more effective. The most important thing that senior leadership can do right now is to move forward with confidence. That is contagious.

Read more of Blake Johnson’s thought leadership.

I have hired and managed more than 5,000 employees throughout my career as an entrepreneur, and I believe that the way I manage sets the tone for the culture in every company I build. This transition to remote work has only reinforced what I have always believed about management: Strong managerial leadership sets the cultural tone throughout an organization regardless of whether management is happening in person or not. In my opinion, there are three things that will ensure a productive work culture, and they apply equally to teams that meet in person or will never do so again:

  1. Make a path forward the only option. If retreat is impossible, then the path ahead becomes the only way to go. Remote work may be challenging to some, but right now it is the only way forward. The quicker leadership is to accept these new conditions and continue to advance, the quicker their employees will follow suit. 
  2. Encourage problem solving. The most important lesson I have learned in my career is that if something can go wrong, it will go wrong. Hurdles arise all the time. Instead of letting them paralyze you, you need to get people involved in finding a solution (and this applies to the problems that arise from remote work as much as it applies to the problems that arise in the normal course of business). If an employee struggles to get their work done before their child goes to daycare, let them problem solve and adjust their own schedule rather than treat it as an immovable obstacle. Remember that more minds are always better than one and that many hands make light work. 
  3. Trust your team. In my experience, 9 people out of 10 will rise to the bar you set for them. That is why I am not a fan of the indulgent approach so many leaders are suggesting for remote management. If you expect fantastic work from your team, and if you hire the right people, they will not let working from home get in their way. Set the expectation, and trust your employees to meet it. 

This pandemic is a generation-defining event, and it is something that we are all going to remember for the rest of our lives. Keeping your team productive from afar is a great way to maintain normalcy during such an uncertain time. 

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Remember that overindulging stress and complaining will only serve to derail you from your business goals. Instead of lowering the expectations of your team due to the conditions of the world around us, keep your expectations high, and encourage your team to autonomously solve their own work from home problems. I’ll bet they will rise to the occasion.