Leading Without Touching Or Smelling – Managing A Distributed Team

March 24, 2013 § Leave a comment

For those of us tracking the intense debate surrounding Yahoo’s recent “No Working From Home” policy or “WFHgate”, I’d like to add some detailed perspective.  Beyond the summary reactions (for and against) and other pontifications, few have double clicked into the details and the realities of the situation based on actual experience, actual tools, and actual “how-to-advice”.

As we all move toward global organizations delivering global products to globally distributed customers, it seems to be a requirement to have a globally distributed workforce all collaborating simultaneously.  Extending the argument, requiring this global workforce to all work from an actual office all the time is not consistent with the reality of how most products are built or how most teams work today.

Requiring all employees to come to a physical office everyday must be using logic that assumes that only people who are on the same floor and the same set of workstations are the only ones who are effective at getting stuff done.   Yet, we know that face-to-face video conferencing meetings are beginning to outnumber face-to-face same room meetings in many companies.

My experience?   If you are more than 50 feet apart, you operate more often than not as if you are 500 feet apart and that’s no different from being 5,000 miles apart.  Besides,  most of today’s work is being done either on email or your browser (the web) anyway!

Today’s technologies and tools (especially video conferencing) already allows real-time face-to-face meetings and management.  Do we really have to mandate having the ability to also touch or smell people in order to manage and lead them?    We are no longer requiring our most precious and proprietary systems to be at or under our desks or within reach.   We are more than happy to put as much of today’s technologies “in the cloud” as we can and to manage these systems via the web.   Shouldn’t our people also be in the cloud?

Therefore, I encourage everyone to not fight distributed teams and rather to learn to embrace them, to manage them, and to lead them.   Below is a great detailed slideshare that helps everyone understand today’s working world.    I agree with nearly everything in this set of slides below except for the title slide of “Leading Without Seeing” as we have the ability to “See” our teams wherever they are today.

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