Hassan Osman writes short books for busy managers. In 2015, he wrote Don’t Reply All: 18 Email Tactics That Help You Write Better Emails and Improve Communication with Your Team, a concise guide to navigating information overload and avoiding communication pitfalls. A few years later, he tackled leadership and project management in Effective Delegation of Authority: A (Really) Short Book for New Managers About How to Delegate Work Using a Simple Delegation Process, offering leaders a no-nonsense approach to a practical discipline of delegation. Some of his works reached the top of bestseller lists and have even been converted to short online courses and podcasts, signaling the success of his unique brief but dense approach to distilling and covering critical leadership and management trends.
While he publishes roughly one new book per year on popular trends and topics, his first work, published in 2014, may be today’s most relevant. Osman demystified the then nascent remote-work business landscape in Influencing Virtual Teams: 17 Tactics That Get Things Done with Your Remote Employees, helping leaders and managers understand what it takes to keep remote employees engaged, productive and happy. After the initial days of lockdowns in March 2020, and the subsequent corporate embrace of remote work, he decided to follow-up with two more books designed to help leaders own the moment: Fun Virtual Team-Building Activities: 18 Easy Games and Activities to Help Your Remote Team Stay Connected While they Work From Home and Better Online Meetings: How to Facilitate Virtual Team Meetings in Easy Steps.
As part of our Office Hours Q&A series at American Express Business on LinkedIn, host JJ Ramberg asked Hassan to share his insights and perspectives on some popular misconceptions on remote work, employee upskilling, and what the future holds for the office.
Much of your work revolves around helping teams be productive in a remote environment—a new frontier for many companies who’ve traditionally had their staffs onsite. What are some popular misconceptions you’ve noticed about remote work and what’s the most effective way to address them?
The biggest misconception is that some employers believe that remote work just wouldn't work for their particular industry or team. Pre-COVID, many organizations were reluctant to try out any remote work arrangements due to fear of a decrease in overall productivity or a lack of management oversight. Some were really concerned about the effectiveness of remote arrangements. However, when those same organizations were forced to work remotely during the pandemic, they experienced first-hand that the benefits of remote work far outweigh the costs. And most companies are now reconsidering their workforce plans post-COVID. I think that any misconception about remote work can be easily addressed by testing It out first.
What’s the best way to think about employee “upskilling” from home? Is a matter of understanding how to best use the tech that teams deploy for a remote-first environment? Is it better thought of through the lens of discipline and routine?
I think that upskilling employees so that they work more efficiently in a remote environment is a priority. A big focus should probably be on the soft skills aspect. Upskilling a workforce on how to communicate better in writing and speaking has always been important, but the need is amplified now with the move to remote teams because that’s what internal and external communication relies on. The majority of a remote knowledge worker’s time is now spent on emails and meetings, so learning how to become more efficient in both will pay dividends for an organization. While investing in educating employees on how to use the technology tools is also a plus, the soft skills component would definitely be at the top of the learning map.
While employees probably know just how well they’re doing from home, management needs to find a way to measure performance. How do you recommend companies rethink defining and measuring performance? How should they think about productivity?
I think clarity about expectations Is key. In a remote environment, tasks, goals, and objectives have a tendency to be diluted In their messaging. That's because remote communication channels lack the body language signals of both managers and Individual contributors. In other words, communication Is prone to misinterpretation by both managers and their employees. Consequently, managing by objectives through SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-based) that can be published on a document repository Is one recommended approach to minimize potential miscommunication. And productivity Is then easily measured by tracking employee performance against those SMART goals.
Some roles are better suited to remote work than others—some marketing, sales and tech come to mind. What are the fundamental pillars of a strong remote-work culture, and how do ensure it takes hold within all teams equally?
Remote work arrangements are typically role-dependent, so within the same organization, you might have different approaches to different business units or roles. For example, someone who works on social media tasks for a medical company, might not need to be in the office as much as someone who works on lab activities. And that factors into the overall remote work arrangements. Being transparent with employees about the needs the of the business, both from a customer perspective and an employee one, also helps ensure that the team buys into the strong remote-work culture. For example, with employees who work in sales functions, the expectation is that they’ll go back to a hybrid or mainly on-site arrangement post COVID because of the high-touch nature of the job and the focus on relationship building. With employees who are in other functions, such as high-tech and software development, the expectation is that they’ll probably stick to being more on the remote side.
As we emerge out of lockdowns and into the new normal, companies will have to figure out whether to go back to office work as usual or keep some kind of remote-work mix. Do you think remote work will become a ‘bargaining chip’ for companies looking to attract talent? If so, what kind of policies and practices should companies adopt to ensure they’re remaining competitive with peers?
I think that remote work will be so common that the value of It being a bargaining chip perk will probably be overrated. In fact, I would say that companies that don't offer any remote work arrangements might be at a major disadvantage. That's because as the adoption of remote work accelerates, employees will have more employment opportunities. For employers, this means that they should probably offer higher Incentives to attract and retain talent. A simple way to ensure they're competitive compared to their peers Is to keep their finger on the pulse of their talent. This will ensure that they're addressing or at least factoring In employees' needs and try to reduce potential attrition due to remote work flexibility at other organizations.