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


Working Remotely Starts With Your Culture

How can we maximize team effectiveness, as well as better steward Church resources, by leveraging cultural shifts in the workplace?

If you ask people where they go when they really need to get work done, very few will respond “the office.” If they do say the office, they’ll include a qualifier such as “super early in the morning before anyone gets in” or “I stay late at night after everyone’s left” or “I sneak in on the weekend.”

What they’re trying to tell you is that it is hard to actually get work done at the office. The average office has become the last place people want to be when they really want to get work done during the day. How many Pastors actually study for Sunday in their office? Most have a home-office or office-within-the-office they retreat into.

That’s because offices have become disruption factories.

Meaningful work, creative work, thoughtful work, and important work – this type of effort takes stretches of uninterrupted time to get into the zone. But in most offices, such long stretches just can’t be found. Instead, it’s just one appointment or distraction after another.

Millions of workers and thousands of companies have already discovered the joys and benefits of working remotely.

Is it time your church considered current remote working options?

THE QUICK SUMMARY – The Year Without Pants, by Scott Berkun

Fifty million websites, or 20 percent of the entire web, use WordPress software. The force behind WordPress.com is a convention-defying company called Automattic, Inc., whose 120 employees work from anywhere in the world they wish, barely use email, and launch improvements to their products dozens of times a day. With a fraction of the resources of Google, Amazon, or Facebook, they have a similar impact on the future of the Internet. How is this possible? What’s different about how they work, and what can other companies learn from their methods?

To find out, former Microsoft veteran Scott Berkun worked as a manager at WordPress.com, leading a team of young programmers developing new ideas. The Year Without Pants shares the secrets of WordPress.com’s phenomenal success from the inside. Berkun’s story reveals insights on creativity, productivity, and leadership from the kind of workplace that might be in everyone’s future.

  • Offers a fast-paced and entertaining insider’s account of how an amazing, powerful organization achieves impressive results
  • Includes vital lessons about work culture and managing creativity

The Year Without Pants shares what every organization can learn from the world-changing ideas for the future of work at the heart of Automattic’s success.


Culture is incredibly important when it comes to considering moving into the possibility of remote work. The stronger your culture, the less specific training and oversight is needed.

You don’t need everyone to be physically together to create a strong culture. After all, culture really isn’t found in a handbook or in a poster on a wall. Culture is about the actions and values being lived out day by day in your organization.

If your culture is strong, and is centered on your vision, then physical location of work being done toward those ends is – or should be – a minor concern. As a practical matter, most organizations today have blown past the work/personal life boundaries of prior generations.

Isn’t it time to recognize that, and bring a little common sense back into the equation?

Many people assume working remotely is a sham. It violates the bright yellow line that we pretend exists between work and home, a line shattered by laptops and movie e-mail years ago.

The very idea of working remotely seems strange to most people until they consider how much time at traditional workplaces is spent working purely through computers. If 50 percent of your interacting with coworkers is online, perhaps through e-mail and web browsers, you’re practically working remotely.

If remote work allows location to become irrelevant, you can hire the best talent in the world, wherever they are.

Remote work will succeed or fail because of company culture, not because of the feature itself.

Self-motivated people thrive when granted independence

Managers who want better performance must provide what their staff need

Remote work is a kind of trust, and trust works two ways. If someone who works for you wants to work remotely or use a new e-mail tool or brainstorming method, little is lost in letting him or her try it out. If his or her performance stays the same or improves, you win. If it goes poorly, you still win, as you’ve demonstrated your willingness to experiment, encouraging everyone who works for you to continue looking for ways to improve their performance.

Most people doubt online meetings can work, but they somehow overlook that most in-person meetings don’t work either. Being online does mean everyone might be distracted, but plenty of meetings today are filled with people with their laptops open, messaging each other about how bored they are.

Scott Berkun, The Year Without Pants


When considering the move to having remote work as a regular part of your organizational routine, the strength of your present culture is a huge first step. Even with a strong culture, though, you as a leader need to be prepared for comments and criticism from within your organization, from the stakeholders outside the organization, and from the people your organization serves.

To prepare for dealing with these criticisms, write potential excuses for why remote work won’t work for you. Use the ideas below as starters, and add your own unique ones.

  • We can really only work when we’re all in a room
  • If I can’t see my team, how do I know they’re working?
  • Homes, coffee shops, etc. are full of distractions
  • Sensitive information won’t be secure offsite
  • What about when someone needs something NOW?
  • I’ll lose control of my team
  • We have a lot of resources (read, money) tied up in physical spaces

After you have completed the list, review it, and counter as many of the criticisms as possible. Don’t make this a solo exercise; involve your whole team in this process.

Working remotely isn’t without complication or occasional sacrifice. It’s about making things better for more people more of the time.

Excerpt taken from SUMS Remix 67-1, issued May 2017


Part of a weekly series on 27gen, entitled Wednesday Weekly Reader

Regular daily reading of books is an important part of my life. It even extends to my vocation, where as Vision Room Curator for Auxano I am responsible for publishing SUMS Remix, a biweekly book “summary” for church leaders. Each Wednesday I will be taking a look back at previous issues of SUMS Remix and publishing an excerpt here.