Paul Butler: Remote workers

Paul Butler

Kevin is a writer and he writes from home. Hang on, that’s not completely true. Kevin has to travel a lot for his writing job, so when he travels he writes from wherever he is. In the truest sense Kevin is what we might call a “remote worker.”

Kevin tells me it wasn’t always like this. When he wasn’t traveling for his work, he said he had one boss who refused to allow him to work from home because he needed to see him working. Because this boss needed to eyeball Kevin it dictated a requirement for Kevin to commute for four hours every day, which was completely unproductive time. After a long five-day week of this nonsense it began to suck the life out of Kevin.

Wind the clock forward and now Kevin works from home when he’s not on a travel assignment. What changed? Two words changed — THE BOSS. Some bosses have a command and control mindset whereas others have a trust and verify mindset. Kevin is very productive. Kevin is an excellent writer. Kevin doesn’t strike me as being a slacker. His new boss sees that. His old boss — well, not so much.

The world of work is changing so rapidly — technology is the great enabler that can facilitate the ability for some people to work from where they’re most productive. I get it, though — some people are in jobs where they need to be where the job is. For example, if you’re a hotelier your work is at the hotel. If you’re a school teacher your work is at the school. If you work retail your work is at the store.

But to quote Bob Dylan — “The times — they are a changing.” Back in the agrarian days our work was largely on the land. As the industrial age dawned many fled the fields and filled the factories — my grandfather and my father both worked in factories because the work was in the factory. Nowadays, for many of us, our work is an exchange that happens electronically, virtually and to a large extent anonymously.

The mindset and skillset of a leader who manages remote virtual teams is very different to what was needed from our forefathers as farm managers and factory foremen. When we worked the land, the sun dictated the rhythm of our day — we couldn’t plough the field when there wasn’t light. We utilized beasts to help us with the harder tasks and hired hands for the work we couldn’t train animals to do.

As we moved into the industrial age the hired hands remained but the horses, the sheep dogs and the oxen were replaced with machines — manually operated by man but soon automation accelerated the production line. Humans were necessary but replaceable. Time and motion experts filed into the factories with their clipboards and pencils along with their cousins — the cost accountants who established “standard times” and “units of production measurements” to optimize workflow and output.

And therein lies the rub for the world of work we’re transitioning into — some leaders still try to manage and control as if it’s 1919. The commodity leaders deal in now is trust, which is easy to say but hard to do. Leaders have to trust and then verify that work is being done. Trust is character (who you are) plus competence (what you do). When there is high trust the location at which the work gets done is mostly irrelevant.

Having known Kevin for over 10 years I have observed his work ethic (his character) and I have admired the product of his writing — he’s very good at what he does (his competence). I am pleased that Kevin’s new boss sees what I see and doesn’t need to see him every day in an office building that’s a four-hour round-trip commute from the place Kevin calls his “home office.”

I purport in 2019 it’s not so much about “remote control” but about “remote release” for the remote workers, with appropriate checks, though, to ensure the field is still being plowed and the machine is still producing the product

Paul Butler is a Santa Clarita resident and a client partner with Newleaf Training and Development of Valencia ( The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Signal newspaper. For questions or comments, email Butler at [email protected].

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