Leaders of Remote Teams Must Learn to Protect the Overachievers

Your team has probably been working remotely for a year or more now, and even as the country moves into fast-forward about “opening up”, it’s likely that remote work will continue in some form for the foreseeable future.

What may have been quick emergency actions like having the basic tools and defining remote processes is now moving toward a new normal.

To make it through the current crisis and return to that new normal, you and your team will need to be resilient. The good news is that leaders can help create the conditions that make this possible.

As Bryan Miles, CEO and cofounder of BELAY, a leading U.S.-based, virtual solutions company says:

“Productivity comes from people completing their tasks in a timely, professional, adult manner, not from daily attendance in a sea of cubicles and offices.”

How will you lead your team through both this changing tide and new reality?

THE QUICK SUMMARYRemote: Office Not Required by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson

The “work from home” phenomenon is thoroughly explored in this illuminating book from bestselling 37signals founders Fried and Hansson, who point to the surging trend of employees working from home (and anywhere else) and explain the challenges and unexpected benefits. Most important, they show why – with a few controversial exceptions such as Yahoo – more businesses will want to promote this new model of getting things done.

The Industrial Revolution’s “under one roof” model of conducting work is steadily declining owing to technology that is rapidly creating virtual workspaces and allowing workers to provide their vital contribution without physically clustering together. Today, the new paradigm is “move work to the workers, rather than workers to the workplace.” According to Reuters, one in five global workers telecommute frequently and nearly 10 percent work from home every day. Moms in particular will welcome this trend. A full 60% wish they had a flexible work option. But companies see advantages too in the way remote work increases their talent pool, reduces turnover, lessens their real estate footprint, and improves the ability to conduct business across multiple time zones, to name just a few advantages. In Remote, authors Fried and Hansson will convince readers that letting all or part of work teams function remotely is a great idea–and they’re going to show precisely how a remote work setup can be accomplished.


A common belief among managers contemplating remote work teams is the fear that their employees would slack off when out of the office and away from their watchful eyes.

The reality is that remote employees are more likely to overwork than underwork.

The employee who has passion and dedication to their work often has difficulty balancing their work and demands of their private lives when their work is being done in the spaces normally dedicated to private lives.

Leaders of remote teams must be aware of the signs of overwork, and intentionally work to prevent it.

Be on the lookout for overwork, not underwork.

If you’ve read about remote-work failures in the press, you might thing that the major risk in setting our people free is that they’ll turn into lazy, unproductive slackers. In reality, it’s overwork, not underwork, that’s the real enemy in a successful remote working environment.

Working at home and living there means there’s less delineation between the two parts of your life. You’ll have all your files and all your equipment right at hand, so if you come up with an idea at 9pm, you can keep plowing through, even if you already put in more than adequate hours from 7am to 3pm.

The fact is, it’s easy to turn work into your predominate hobby.

If work is all-consuming, the worker is far more likely to burn out. This is true even if the person loves what he does. Perhaps especially if he loves what he does, since it won’t seem like a problem until it’s too late.

It’s everyone’s job to be on the lookout for coworkers who are overworking themselves, but ultimately the responsibility lies with the managers to set the tone.

In the same way that you don’t want a gang of slackers, you also don’t want a band of supermen. The best workers over the long term are people who put in sustainable hours. Not too much, not too little – just right.

Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson, Remote: Office Not Required


As the leader of remote teams, how you practice working remotely will often set the pattern and practice of your team.

Using the following ideas from Work Together Anywhere, evaluate your own remote practices, and then determine how you will share the expectations with your team.

Motivation and Self-Discipline

  • Have a set routine
  • Dress like you’re going to work
  • Work in a space designated for work
  • Set a schedule and stick to it


  • Experiment with time- and task-management methodologies and apps
  • Minimize multitasking; instead, focus on one thing at a time
  • Pace yourself to regulate your energy, maximizing your stamina and mental acuity
  • Make sure your workspace aids rather than hinders your productivity


  • Balance stints of productive, focused work with sufficient breaks that include movement.
  • Don’t forget to allow yourself the perks of remote working, like taking a break in your living room, or eating lunch on your patio
  • Combat the risk of loneliness by actively seeking social interaction both in person and online

Communication and Collaboration

  • Adopt a virtual-team mindset by trusting others to deliver the results they committed to while doing the same
  • Practice positive communication by being overtly friendly and assuming positive intent
  • Be reliable, consistent, and transparent: make sure your teammates know what you’re working on and how to reach you, within agreed upon guidelines


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