RSPA Recommended Read: Leading From Anywhere

“RSPA Recommended Read” is a series of articles in which RSPA staff members share details from books we think would be helpful to leaders and aspiring leaders at VAR, ISV, and vendor member organizations.

By: Jim Roddy, President & CEO at the RSPA

Leading just got harder. It was difficult enough for VAR and ISV executives to create and maintain a cohesive and productive culture when most of your team shared a communal workspace 35-40 hours a week. Today’s post-COVID work world requires you to embrace flexibility – or risk losing employees to another org that allows them to work from home or on a more convenient schedule.

A new book to help you navigate this environment is Leading From Anywhere: The Essential Guide to Managing Remote Teams by David Burkus. Let’s dive into a few key book passages before offering some analysis:

  1. Taking all of the research on productivity and engagement together, all leaders should be developing a plan to make their work arrangements permanently flexible. Many employees will be permanently working from anywhere; which means you need a plan to lead from anywhere.
  2. Your primary challenge as a remote leader is helping the team learn to work together without face-to-face interaction. How do you make people feel like a team? How do you help them collaborate? How do you keep them aligned and motivated?
  3. Two elements in particular stood out as unique challenges: shared understanding of one another’s work habits and environment and shared identity among the team.
  4. A simple approach to shared understanding is coordinating calendars.
  5. One powerful way to develop not just a team identity but a bond between team members is to point to (and continue pointing to) the team’s superordinate goal. People don’t want to join a company; they want to join a crusade.
  6. You won’t just make your remote team more productive — you’ll make them feel closer to one another, no matter how far away they are.
  7. Demonstrate that you trust your team to get their work done without being constantly monitored and they’ll feel trusted and respond in kind. Admit mistakes and your team will feel like they can trust you and admit their mistakes to you.
  8. Teams that developed “bursty” communication performed best. Bursts of live, synchronous conversation when it mattered, and asynchronous communication that allowed for focused time afterwards.
  9. A lot of people who think the lifestyle of remote work is appealing focus too much on the word remote and not enough on the word work.

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  1. Onboarding: Prioritize connection over documentation.
  2. The modern office is an interruption factory. A busy office is like a food processor — it chops your day into tiny bits.
  3. Reach for the phone before you reach for a calendar invite to a video call. Seven minutes on the phone will beat out an entire day spent emailing back-and-forth.
  4. Performance management in a remote era means abandoning the idea that presence equals productivity. It’s about supporting your team to do their work, not spying on them to check whether they’re working.
  5. Spying software really only measures whether or not employees are using the right programs — not whether they’re using those programs right.
  6. Managers who leverage autonomous motivation need to help their people through three activities: setting objectives (choosing what to work on), tracking progress (measuring how they are doing), giving feedback (helping them do better).
  7. Many people have gotten the chance to rebuild their lives and have been able to get a healthier perspective on where work fits in their life — which is really in the center.
  8. There will still be offices, but they’ll be a lot smaller, with more space for collaboration and meeting in less space for individual cubicles.

RSPA Recommended Read Rating: 7.75/10

Leading From Anywhere is a good book, but my 7.75 rating is the lowest awarded since RSPA launched our Recommended Read series. Much of the book is a rehash of leadership best practices that should be applied whether your team is in multiple time zones or the same 40-by-30 room. Coordinating calendars, not spying on your employees, and bonding over a shared mission aren’t exactly novel concepts.

What the book does offer is some nuggets that should cause leaders to ask themselves, “How are we doing in that area?” and “What can we do to improve?” A few examples:

  • Focus on connecting during onboarding: HR paperwork is important, but that should be only a tiny fraction of the onboarding process. Have the new hire talk with someone in every department at your organization so they not only understand how your org works but also to help them connect with a new colleague.
  • Develop “bursty” communication: Several RSPA VAR and ISV members have told me that Slack (or a similar communication tool) helps keep their team on the same page and solve problems faster.
  • Reach for the phone: When everyone works in the same office, it’s natural to step into a conference room to talk with a co-worker about an important issue; exchanging long emails would be a silly waste of time. So why do so many remote workers attempt to conduct pivotal conversations over email when they could just pick up the phone? It’s actually easier to press a couple buttons on your phone and call your colleague than to walk down a hallway.
  • Give feedback/help them do better: There’s no substitute for a manager getting closer to a situation, especially when people are involved … and people are involved in every aspect of your business! I recommend meeting weekly with all your direct reports to stay synced on professional and personal happenings and to guide them towards improved performance. Without the opportunity to bump into them in the hall, you need to carve out scheduled time to stay connected with your people.

It’s always been lonely at the top for VAR and ISV leaders, and remote work can make it lonelier – but only if you allow it. Take steps today to ensure that you, too, can lead from anywhere.

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Jim Roddy is the President and CEO of the Retail Solutions Providers Association (RSPA). He has been active in the retail IT channel since 1998, including 11 years as the President of Business Solutions Magazine, six years as an RSPA board member, one term as RSPA Chairman of the Board, and several years as a business coach for VARs, ISVs, and MSPs. Jim has been recognized as one of the world’s Top 100 Retail Influencers by RETHINK Retail, a Leading CannaTech Influencer by 420MSP, and is regularly requested to speak at industry conferences on SMB best practices. He is author of two books – The Walk-On Method To Career & Business Success and Hire Like You Just Beat Cancer – and is host of the award-winning RSPA Trusted Advisor podcast. For more information, contact