When Did Remote Work Start? – Ask Wayne Anything

For our first Ask Wayne Anything episode, Marisa asks Wayne Turmel about when remote work really started, some things companies were forced to learn when going remote in 2020, and ways managers can check-in without micromanaging.

The biggest surprise of the pandemic was bosses found out they could trust people to work without being watched. - Wayne Turmel

Questions of the Week:

When did remote work really start?

What are some things companies learned when forced to work remotely in 2020?

What are some ways managers could check-in with their staff without micromanaging?

Additional Resources:


Wayne Turmel: Hi, everybody. Welcome back to the Long-Distance Worklife podcast. My name is Wayne Turmel. Joining me is Marisa Eikenberry.

Marisa Eikenberry: Hi.

Wayne: There you go. As we've told you before, the purpose of this podcast is to help get our mitts around the long-distance work life. We're looking at remote work and technology and leadership and surviving the world of work. And while we are going to have interviews with experts and that kind of thing. One of the things that we're really excited about is the ability to answer your questions.

So if you're listening to us and you're excited by what you hear, we will give you a way for you to get your questions to us. In the meantime, though, I have been walking this planet a very long time. My adult life work career literally coincides with email. My first job was rolling out email to our organization.

Marisa: And for that I am so sorry.

Wayne: Yeah. Well, you know, what can I tell you? Whereas Marisa is going, "Yeah, and you rode to work on a dinosaur and you walk to school uphill both ways in your short coat." But it happens to be true. Marisa, on the other hand, being a millennial, a younger millennial, being a digital native and just having an entirely different work-life than mine has some questions.

And I thought what we would do in this episode of the podcast is just throw it open. I kind of have an idea of where she's going today, but not really. So I'm just going to leave it here. So, Marisa, the show is yours, lady.

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Marisa: Sounds great. So I guess one place for us to start. So, you know, right now, remote work is the big topic right now. And I mean, I've worked on a hybrid team for eight years. I know this is not new. And I'm sure, you know, you obviously have a lot more experience. So I guess my question is really, when did remote work really start?

Because, I mean, it feels like it's this new thing, but the concept isn't new at all. Right.

Wayne: Well, it's really not. Long time followers of Remote Leadership Institute have heard me say in the past, and it happens to be true. There's always been remote work, you know, whether it's drums sending messages to the next village or smoke signals or, you know, Genghis Khan ruled half the world and never held a Zoom meeting. So it's always been done.

And some people have done it better than others, you know. Julius Caesar did great out in the field. It's when he came back to the office. It's kind of went sideways. So remote work has always happened. And there's three things I think, that need to happen. The first is that everybody needs to be aligned around the mission and the purpose.

If everybody is doing the same things for the same reasons, you can somehow make this work. I think the second thing is there is accountability built in. There are processes. There are consequences. For doing things right and there are consequences for doing things wrong. Genghis was particularly good at this. You know, H.R. would probably quibble with his methods.

Marisa: I mean, potentially might get called in the office.

Wayne: Not that I haven't been tempted to bury somebody in an anthill up to their neck, I've just never actually done it. And there is nothing on my record to show that I have. So there's alignment, there's accountability, and process. There's got to be a way to do this. And then you maximize whatever technology you have at the moment to make the best of it.

And you know, in Genghi's case, his advantage technologically were horses and years you know, that the collapsible tents that they used allowed them to travel very easily and efficiently. And their ponies, the Mongol ponies, were built for long distance, and they were sturdier than a lot of the horses of the people that they ran into. We are doing better than horses in years.

Marisa: Thank God.

Wayne: Well, and, you know, as much as we complain about Microsoft Teams and Lord knows there's enough to complain about, we complain about Teams and Zoom and all of that stuff. Can you imagine doing what we do now? Ten years ago?

Marisa: For sure. I mean, it would have taken so much more time.

Wayne: You know, and so it's always remote. Work has always been possible. I have my first job, the same one that was rolling out email. I had a hybrid team. I had people in the office, but I had instructors because I was managing instructors all over the Western United States. And then 15-18 years ago. 18 years ago now. Good Lord, never do the math.

My advice to Marisa is never do the math when you're thinking about how long ago something happened, it is just debilitating. But 18 years ago, I started working full time from home. And so you know, when people say, "How long have you been in this field?" I've been writing and teaching about remote work for 18 plus years.

You know, remote work didn't start St. Patrick's Day 2020.

Marisa: Thank God.

Wayne: Well, it's funny. I feel a little bit like the crazy guy with the sandwich board who for years Kevin and I walked around saying "The end is near." And we were just kind of politely ignored. And now we have a new, a new sandwich board that says, "Told you."

Marisa: Right.

Wayne: And with the Long-Distance Leader: Rules for Remarkable Remote Leadership and Long-Distance Teammate: Stay Engaged and Connected Working Anywhere. Our timing was superb, but it wasn't like we weren't already here. So remote work, to answer your question specifically, has always existed. What happened was it took this virus to kind of push us across the Rubicon to where it ain't ever going back to what it was.

Marisa: Absolutely. As you were talking, it occurred to me that I watched my mom do remote work. God, 20 years ago, maybe not quite that long, but I was in middle school. So to your point, I'm not going to do the math.

Wayne: And please feel free to keep reminding me.

Marisa: Always, Wayne, always. It occurred to me that- So my mom used to be an editor for this online magazine. And, you know, her boss, she never met him in person. We never met him. And but she worked from home and she did all this editing, and she communicated with him over Yahoo messenger. And they would, you know, have phone calls and voice calls and all that kind of thing.

And, you know, full disclosure, when, you know, the Internet was becoming a big thing, both of my parents were super in on it. You know, the AOL chat rooms and the ICQ and all this other kind of stuff. It's part of why I got introduced to it so early, because my parents were all ready for it. But it even occurred to me that, you know, yeah, I was introduced to remote work directly, you know, eight years ago but I watched somebody do it 15-20 years ago.

Wayne: I think that is such an important point because it's really easy for people to assume that if you are a certain age, you are old and techno phobic and you know you need your handheld to know where the mouse is. And if you are younger, that you are absolutely comfortable working in a remote environment. And it's not true.

Being a digital native or being a certain age does not mean that you understand the dynamics of working. And that's something that organizations need to get their head around, which they haven't necessarily done a great job of collective like.

Marisa: Absolutely. Yeah. I mean, you know, I'm very fortunate in that my job is tech. So for me, yeah, tech is not a big deal, but I know people my age and younger that, you know, they don't know how something works or the Cloud or, you know, whatever. And I've had to explain that. That's okay. That's totally normal. And just this assumption that, well, if you're young, you understand everything.

It's not true. We all were beginners.

Wayne: Well, and the dynamics of the workplace are different. And just because you can text a thousand words a minute and that is, you know, in your thumbs fly around like propellers and that's your preferred method of communication doesn't mean that you know how to use it well or appropriately.

Marisa: Absolutely. Absolutely. I mean, there's times even now that I'll send a Slack message that, "Oh man, that really should have been an email."

Wayne: Well, and over the course of this podcast, we are going to spend a lot of time talking about exactly those things. But I know you have very specific questions.

Marisa: Yes. So one of the other things that I kind of want to talk about is, you know, okay, so we've already discussed that like 2020 is this big, oh my God. You know, and it obviously taught us a lot about working remotely in hyper teams. And in some cases for many companies and many individuals, we weren't really ready for that lesson.

I know you and I, you know, this idea of, oh, okay, we're all going to work from home, not a big deal. But I guess the question I really have is like, what are some of the things that companies were kind of forced to come to terms with by doing this remote by fire kind of situation?

Wayne: Well, the biggest thing and there are going to be people with C in their job title who are not thrilled that I am sharing this. When the pandemic hit, when the decision was made, you know, to send a third of the workforce. And we have to remember that it's only a third of the workforce.

Marisa: Absolutely.

Wayne: But this notion that they had to go home and work, a lot of senior leaders, particularly senior leaders, but even line managers didn't believe that it was going to work. They put on a good face and whatever and they said, okay, we're going to make this work. And they went, this is going to be a disaster. And it wasn't a bunch of things happened that nobody expected.

No one. And this really makes me angry when I think about how leaders underestimate their people. The first thing that happened is in a lot of organizations, employee engagement scores actually went up.

Marisa: Wow.

Wayne: Now, why is that? Well, what is employee engagement? Employee engagement is the amount of discretionary effort you put in. It's how much you care. It's. Well, what happened? Everybody's in trouble. I want to keep my job. I'm going to have to work extra hard and figure this out. My friends need me. We can get through this. This sense of all of a sudden we were all pulling together to achieve something.

And maybe they cared about the company they worked for. Maybe they didn't, but I guarantee they cared about their coworkers and they cared about their boss. And so people stepped up in ways that senior leaders never expected. And they overcame things that they never expected to do. So that was the biggest thing for a lot of organizations was a if people work from home and I'm not standing over them, you know, they're going to be watching The View all day and.

Marisa: And Facebook.

Wayne: And, you know, they're going to be on the tweet face link blog thing, you know, and it just didn't happen. They wildly underestimated the workforce. I think that's that's the first thing. And the second thing was and there are good and bad things about that. And of course, you know, over upcoming episodes, we're going to be talking about burnout and setting boundaries around our time and all the things that nobody was taught to do before they got thrown in the deep end for sure.

But I think the other thing is this notion that people won't work or won't do good work if the boss isn't standing over them, if they're not in the office where we can see them. And again, wildly underestimating people's desire not to suck at what they do.

Marisa: Absolutely. I mean, you know, some of us, it's we like what we do. We have a passion for what we do. This idea that, like, somebody has to be over us all the time. Like, no offense, if you've got people that you can't trust to work from home, then you shouldn't have hired him anyway.

Wayne: Yes. And you got to remember that there are businesses like call centers, for example, where that's the business model. All we need is somebody is but in the chair. And if they turn out to be good at the job and they stay a while, that's a bonus. Well, if that's your business model, you're going to have a really hard time going forward.

Marisa: That's totally fair. And I've definitely worked a temp job where, you know, I found out the turnover rate was like two years. I don't even want to know how they did everything in the last couple of years.

Wayne: In call centers, the turnover rate is often 100%.

Marisa: Absolutely.

Wayne: So I know there's another question and time is already flying, which should tell our audience, by the way, we love these questions. There are some really good discussions to be had. So get your questions to us. Go ahead, Marisa. One more.

Marisa: Yeah. So I guess, you know, in this whole thought process of, you know, managers being over top and seeing everything and, you know, let's get real, they were checking Facebook in the office too don't act like they don't didn't. But I guess what are some ways that managers who have these remote teams or these hybrid teams can kind of check in with their staff without micromanaging them?

Wayne: Yeah, I think the big difference is the word checking in. And we will go into way more depth in future shows on this. But I think there's a difference between checking in and checking up, checking in implies that it's expected. I'm going to be checking in with you. It's not a big deal. Checking up is getting that call out of the blue.

That says, how's it going? Checking up is, hey, I notice that you're way behind on your numbers. And I wasn't planning to have this conversation you know, the frequency checking in implies that there's been a discussion around how often this is going to happen and if it's expected that, I don't consider it intrusive. You know, yourself, the four scariest words in the English language are it's actually five words is have you got a second?

Marisa: Absolutely. Or can we talk.

Wayne: Oh, dear Lord, can we talk is terrifying. And it's funny because the person making the request, it's a legit request for information. Is this a good time or are you doing something? Have you got a minute to talk? Is a perfectly legitimate question. But when we're doing so and this is one thing about being remote is I can't see you heading my way across the cube farm, right?

So by the time you get to me, I'm not surprised that you're there. What happens is I'm working on whatever I'm working on. All of a sudden, it's "Have you got a second?"

Marisa: Mhm.

Wayne: And now it's Oh, no. What did I do? What's wrong now? I'll never get this work done now because I got to deal with this. And so I think. And we'll have to continue this conversation down the road. But I think that notion of checking in versus checking up when people feel like they are being spied on, when they feel like they are not trusted and respected, that the manager has to make sure we're working, you know, these kind of surprise inspections can actually be fairly demotivating.

And so I think just the language that we use, you know, using check in versus check up is going to make a big, big difference.

Marisa: Absolutely. And for those of you, you know, who are listening, who are not managers and you just want to, you know, give some feedback to your managers, I know something that I did with one of my managers was if you needed to check in with me or it's totally fine. But like, don't just say, hey, can we talk?

It's, hey, can we talk? I have some questions about this website because I know for me personally, my anxiety, you know, I'll shoot through the roof. "Oh, God, I'm getting fired." There's literally no reason for me to think that. But in my mind, that's where it's going.

Wayne: It's like when your spouse says, we have to talk. Nothing good starts with that sentence, even though perfectly innocent conversation start with that sentence. Hey, I want to tell you, you know about this thing. Yeah, but the human brain is wired to avoid pain and stay out of trouble. And so for a lot of remote workers, that's our default position.

This is a great conversation, Marisa. And I think we're going to have a lot more conversation on this topic on our next all question episode. For the time being, they can find the show notes. They can find links to everything that we've talked about, including articles at Kevin Eikenberry Group and Remote Leadership Institute blogs that talk about this very thing.

Thanks. These are great questions. I am really looking forward to hearing more about what's going on in that brain of yours.

Marisa: Absolutely. I've got plenty of questions. Just you wait.

Wayne: And by the way, everybody else, we do want your questions. There will be a way on longdistanceworklife.com on the show notes page to submit your questions for Marisa to ask us. For now, thank you for listening to this episode. If you liked it, you know the drill. You've listened to podcasts before plays like and subscribe and-

Marisa: Tell your friends.

Wayne: And tell your friends help other people. As I used to say in my standup days, if you enjoyed it, tell your friends if you didn't keep your mouth shut, it's our little secret. In the meantime, thank you, everybody. We're going to return you to the wild. Keep the weasels at bay. And we look forward to seeing you, hearing you, listening to you on our next podcast.

Thank you so much.

Marisa: See you next time!

Your Hosts

Wayne Turmel

Master Trainer and Coach for The Kevin Eikenberry Group, co-author of The Long-Distance Leader: Rules for Remarkable Remote Leadership and The Long-Distance Teammate: Stay Engaged and Connected While Working Anywhere, and trainer of remote teams for over twenty years.

Marisa Eikenberry

Web developer, podcast editor, and technology support specialist for The Kevin Eikenberry Group. Has worked on a hybrid team for over 9 years.

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