Work together Anywhere | Book Review

“The reality is we’ve all been in a workplace where our
colleagues are present but they’re not getting things done.”
(Leslie Truex, p. 16)

Ever had a question about remote working? Lisette Sutherland, with K. Janene-Nelson, have created the definitive, breakthrough, how-to manual. Consider their work a must-have as vital as a dictionary or thesaurus, especially if you have any doubts about the effectiveness of remote workers.

We can think about Sutherland’s book two ways: First, for the demographic & engagement references. Chances are you will feel behind the power curve as you read about the myriad, successful organizations leading the remote work revolution and the currently available tools enabling them. Second, and perhaps more significantly, are the ramifications for the forward-looking leader who believes an engaged workforce is a competitive advantage in the 21st century. This review highlights the references and ramifications from a leader standpoint.

Start with an open mindset. Sutherland advises that we find a way to make location the variable – indeed immaterial – then we could have the constant be the far more important concern: qualification, including enthusiasm (p. 1). At least a third of her work is annotation: End of chapter reminders, an extras section, available technology & tools, further suggested reading and more. Sutherland interviewed directors and managers from more than eighty companies whose business models depend on successfully bridging distance… (p. 2).

What’s hard for companies who are going remote is that there’s not enough culture established about documenting things, because it’s so much easier to just walk over to the next cubicle, talk to your coworker, and make a decision right there and then (p. 39). In The Knowing-Doing Gap, Pfeffer and Sutton emphasize that sharing knowledge is a significant performance discriminator. Additionally, surveys indicate that the biggest fear about managing remote workers is productivity, but the actual hardest part is communication (p. 134). Going remote creates terrific organizational habits.

Demographic & Engagement Nuggets

Many of the demographic findings are hard truths we tend to avoid:

• Any business that effectively measures employee productivity surely isn’t relying on anything having to do with physical location (p. 23).
• A Flexjobs survey (p. 13) found that parents rank work flexibility (84 percent) ahead of even salary (75 percent).
• According to the 2017 State of Telecommuting in the U.S. Employee Workforce report, half of telecommuters are forty-five or older (p. 11).
• It’s actually far more likely that remote workers will work too much rather than too little (p. 53).
• According to the Gallup 2017 State of the Global Workforce report, “worldwide, the percentage of adults who work full time for an employer and are engaged at work is just 15 percent.” (p. 37)
• They want to be able to focus and actually get work done (p. 15). 

In Lead From the Heart, Mark Crowley exhaustively chronicles our thirty-year history of poor organizational engagement. Similarly, Dan Pink’s Drive highlights autonomy, mastery & purpose as key motivational forces in a knowledge, or thinking-based economy. Web-developer agency 10up agrees that productivity results from engagement (p. 37).

Autonomy, Mastery & Purpose

Sutherland reiterates: “We love having options concerning both our schedule and our workspace. And we love getting to choose work that’s meaningful to us – with colleagues who also love their work, who also take pride in the work they do.” (p. 21)

Brian Patterson (Go Fish Digital) addresses mastery (p. 133): “If you hire the right people and empower them to be successful, they will work at or beyond what you expect of them because they view remote work as a privilege.” The effective remote worker removes distractions, reinforcing that the best work is done when we’re able to focus on just one task at a time (p. 82).

Purpose counts. Sutherland reveals what they do want is to apply the knowledge and the skills they’ve learned across their lifetimes to something meaningful in their life (p. 13).

Retrium CEO David Horowitz bets on these findings (p. 142):

“People who are passionate, even if they have slightly fewer technical skills, will be better fit for your company than people who are technically brilliant but who think of the work as just a job. I would hire the former over the latter any day.”

When we put it all together: The Top Remote Worker’s mindset (p 139):

• is proactive; they’re independent/self-starters
• has a team-focused work ethics: they’re reliable, results-oriented, and highly responsive; and
• leads to good team players: they’re pleasant, collaborative, supportive, and receptive to feedback 

Forward-Looking Leadership

Are we managers or leaders? Those of a managerial mind set might wonder how – or even if – it’s possible to get valuable work out of unsupervised employees (p 22). Consider what is actually being measured: The management concern is an artifact of hours-oriented work: work where, if you put in your time-clocked hours, your work is done (p. 22).

Sutherland shares study findings conducted by Towers Watson:

“The single highest driver of engagement is whether
or not workers feel their managers are genuinely
interested in their well-being.”
(p. 57)

What are the ramifications of avoiding engagement? The trend strongly suggests that companies that don’t offer the remote option endanger their long-term viability, especially given that reasons to welcome remote working are steadily advancing (p. 27).

Many of the best leadership competencies and characteristics align with having a remote workforce. Consider the remote team leader as coach. What remote teams need most from their managers concerns mind set (p. 163). Like our findings in Coaching to Develop Leaders workshops, Sutherland agrees we must ensure that workers have the tools they need to fulfill their obligations (p. 165). Phil Montero’s (The Garam Group) words could come straight from a Personal Leadership Philosophy (p. 169): 

“We build trust by having clear objectives,
accountability, and deliverables.”

Think of Jim Collins’s emphasis on core values. Lance Walley (Chargify) is an advocate (p. 172): “Decide who our core customer is and what our company values are, and then make decisions around those ideas. And make sure everyone is aligned around those values and decisions.” Finally, think of our focus on having a leadership journal, as does X-Team’s Ryan Chartrand (p. 180):

“All team members maintain individual journals in which
they report their day’s accomplishments,
even if that’s just progress on a long-term task.” 


Many of the steps leading to successful remote-worker implementation are the same steps required of a manager who wishes to be an effective leader. Sutherland summarizes: the manager [leader] can help maintain that alignment by ensuring that all team members have (access to) the knowledge, tools, training, processes, and cohesion they need to fulfill their agreed-to roles and obligations (p. 229). Or put more simply (p. 267): 

“Connection is what happens when we pay attention to each other.”

Note: Lisette Sutherland generously provided a copy of her book for review.

JE | December 2018