Remote Work Revolution by Tsedal Neeley Book Summary

Remote Work Revolution, Succeeding from Anywhere by Tsedal Neeley


In early 2020, hundreds of millions of workers worldwide suddenly found themselves working remotely. Leaders scrambled to provide employees and teams with the tools and support they needed to stay connected and succeed. As firms emerged from the pandemic, author Tsedal Neeley reports, executives and workers hope to retain the advantages of remote work – flexibility, lack of commuting, and higher productivity and engagement. Leaders – especially those new to managing virtual teams – will gain enormously from Neeley’s handy guide and toolkit.


  • For decades, progressive firms permitted and encouraged remote work. Today, remote and hybrid work are business as usual.
  • To handle the challenges of remote and hybrid work, people need support, coaching and appropriate tools.
  • Make sure all your remote workers feel safe voicing their ideas and opinions.
  • Trust among remote and hybrid workers is essential for success.
  • Some leaders feel uncomfortable supervising workers they can’t see.
  • Remote and hybrid workers typically outperform those in the office.
  • Technology overload concerns remote workers, and leaders must address it.
  • Remote and hybrid teams benefit from adopting Agile methods.
  • Remote and hybrid team leaders must remain aware of team dynamics, differences in language ability and other cross-cultural factors.
  • With globally dispersed virtual teams, crises are inevitable and, in some cases, frequent.

Remote Work Revolution Book Summary

For decades, progressive firms permitted and encouraged remote work. Today, remote and hybrid work are business as usual.

In the early 1990s, when Cisco began allowing employees to work from anywhere, the company saved almost $200 million in office leases in the first year of the program. A few years later, Sun Microsystems put more than a third of its employees into a voluntary remote worker program that stationed workers closer to their customers worldwide and saved $500 million over the next 10 years.

“Remote work is increasingly here to stay. The future is in remote work.”

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in early 2020, millions of employees found themselves working from home. Some firms experienced increases in productivity and enormous savings, or both. Employees are eager for remote work to continue, and many organizations plan to allow remote work more of the time and for more employees.

To handle the challenges of remote and hybrid work, people need support, coaching and appropriate tools. 

The downsides to remote working can be challenging. Remote workers may feel isolated, and remote teams often grow dysfunctional. Technology may create headaches and disrupt productivity. With the right leadership and resources, however, virtual and hybrid teams and workforces can save on expenses and boost productivity while improving employee morale and reducing turnover.

“Teams can disagree on the how – that is part of the dynamic process of teamwork – but before that process can even begin, teams must build a shared understanding of the goal, or the what.”

When kicking off new projects, leaders should bring new remote teams together – in-person if possible, virtually if not – so team members build familiarity and trust.

During initial sessions – whether in-person, virtual or hybrid – build a shared understanding of team members’ roles, resources, norms and goals. Bring your teams together regularly afterward to revisit these objectives and to discuss the best use of existing and new technologies. 

Make sure all your remote workers feel safe voicing their ideas and opinions.

Rules for remote teams should emphasize respectful listening and discourage disparaging comments. Make sure all of your remote employees have the tools they need and know how to stay connected. Coach managers and supervisors to recognize and appreciate remote workers’ efforts and to invite all team members to speak up. Ask managers to share their mistakes and uncertainties so team members feel safe doing the same.

“Understand that when people voice diverging or even opposing views, the dialogue often leads to more innovative and refined ideas.”

People extend and build trust more quickly when working face-to-face. Yet, in a virtual team situation with hard deadlines looming, people tend to grant each other “swift trust.” They decide to “advance” trust to a new co-worker, so everyone gets their work done – at least until something happens that breaks that trust.

Trust among remote and hybrid workers is essential for success.

You might trust new remote colleagues intellectually because you know they have the qualifications and track record required. You might trust them emotionally when they exhibit caring and share your values.

Remote teams most often establish “passable trust” – everyone does his or her part and trusts his or her colleagues to do the same. This degree of trust is sufficient for most work. As virtual team members collaborate more, they are likely to form deeper bonds of emotional trust after learning they can count on one another. This form of trust reduces friction while boosting speed and performance.

“Trust is the glue that binds the team together, drives performance, and enables collaboration and coordination, but you can’t force trust.”

Avoid misconceptions among team members who work across cultures by making sure everyone understands each other’s way of working. Give people time to get to know one another as they would if they worked in the same location. When they become better acquainted, team members will discover what they have in common, such as shared interests and values.

Build customer trust by knowing your clients’ needs, special days and interests. Do things virtually, such as celebrating a customer’s birthday over a scheduled web meeting after you’ve mailed a surprise gift to his or her home. Spark conversation around their outside-of-work passions. These efforts build emotional and cognitive trust.

Some leaders feel uncomfortable supervising workers they can’t see.

Leaders of remote teams can’t see people at their desks or easily read body language or other signals. When forced to field virtual teams, companies sometimes install highly invasive tracking software on each employee’s computer. These tools count keystrokes, record every site and webpage visited, and may take over a computer’s camera to watch employees every minute of the day. Employing such tactics breaks trust and, therefore, impedes productivity and may make people want to leave the firm.

“Digital surveillance by definition conveys a lack of trust between employers and employees.”

Whether in-person or remote, good leaders inspire others to deliver. Remote leaders should support, encourage and empower their people to succeed and meet their goals. Leaders must focus on results, not screen time. They should ask if the individual or team is delivering the expected products or services at or above quality standards. Leaders should gauge team members’ learning and well-being: To what extent are people growing on the job? Do they feel cared for and included? Reduce friction, extend trust and measure team cohesion – how well team members work together.

Remote and hybrid workers typically outperform those in the office.

Results and outcomes offer a good proxy for productivity, but leaders who are nervous about how remote workers spend their days should rest easy. Time and again, studies show that well-coached and supported remote workers match or outperform their office-bound counterparts. Ctrip, China’s biggest travel agency, realized a 13% increase in productivity when it allowed call center employees to work from home. Productivity among US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) employees increased almost 5% when they worked remotely. Other examples abound.

“Studies show that remote work does not pose a threat to productivity; in fact, remote work actually increases it.”

Don’t monitor or attempt to micromanage remote workers. Grant them even greater autonomy. Workers appreciate the freedom from commuting and the flexibility inherent in remote work. Remote work reduces stress at home and improves most remote workers’ career prospects. If you extend the trust associated with letting people work remotely, most will reciprocate with greater loyalty and effort.

Make sure that remote workers have what they need to take advantage of their autonomy and flexibility, including equipment, downtime and a quiet place to work. Some virtual workers feel overwhelmed because they work at all hours. Others have no space away from family members or pets and suffer constant distractions. Many feel isolated and cut off from colleagues and clients. To mitigate these negative effects, make sure teammates share the same purpose and goals. Bring them together frequently, and let them collaborate. Equip them and coach them on gaining the space and privacy they need to work from home.

Technology overload concerns remote workers and leaders must address it.

Remote work technologies abound. Select and use them according to what you hope to accomplish.Use tools that help keep distributed remote team members working toward the same goals and outcomes.

Using email isn’t sufficient to avoid misinterpretations and misunderstandings. Instead, turn to real-time video communications and shared documents. Facilitate immediate connections among team members. The more people can connect remotely – as they might across cubicles – the greater their trust and mutual understanding.

Even the members of co-located teams perform the vast majority of their work independently, so you don’t need synchronous communications. For example, an office worker might email or text a colleague in the same building for a quick tip, to schedule a meeting or to help jog a memory. Establish similar tasks remotely.

Text might provide more immediacy than emails. Visual meetings using web tools offer more intimacy than phone calls or emails, but don’t overload your people. You don’t need to have a video meeting or even a phone call if you can gain the same information from a text or email.

“The desire for autonomy at work is a consistent and striking pattern that we see, and one for which remote work is particularly well suited.”

When you have a vital or important message, share it asynchronously first and follow up with a real-time meeting to answer questions. Using combined methods conveys importance and urgency. Use secure social platforms like Slack or Teams to share information and to allow team members to appreciate each other’s contributions publicly. Make sure everyone knows how to use social communication platforms and understands the group norms surrounding their use. Don’t discourage non-work-related entries and discussions. In fact, seed them where possible, so people feel comfortable online and can build the trust necessary to ask each other for help.

Remote and hybrid teams benefit from adopting Agile methods.

The inventors of Agile had co-located teams in mind. As more and more organizations – well beyond software and tech – move to Agile methods and remote teams, the two must come together. Many firms already use Agile methodologies remotely, with equivalent or better success than co-located teams achieve. 

“Professional isolation is a cognitive and emotional experience, not a physical position.”

As in the office, form small teams remotely to execute projects. Hold quick daily meetings – Scrums – over video. Give team members their assignments and allow them to work independently, coming together every day – as they would in the office – to check in, pose questions and seek help.

Remote and hybrid team leaders must remain aware of team dynamics, differences in language ability and other cross-cultural factors.

Use video web communications tools to observe participants’ reactions; for example, notice the frustrations that arise when a team member can’t get his or her point across due to language barriers or a native speaker’s impatience. Ask native language speakers to allow non-native speakers a chance to make their points completely. Make sure each team member understands the general cultural norms of their teammates, but avoid making assumptions about anyone based on their nationality, language, age, or the like. Team members must get to know one another as individuals. Cultural guidelines help, but they don’t complete the whole picture.

“Reducing psychological distance can move the team culture from contention and fragmentation to empathy, respect and trust.”

When globally distributed remote team members get to know each other individually, communications improve dramatically. People become more likely to voice their opinions and share their ideas. This leads to more trust and less friction: a virtuous cycle. Make sure team members agree to and codify rules of interaction that, for example, include mutual respect and deep listening, and avoid insulting or dismissive language.

Where you have hybrid teams – some people in the office, others remote – give remote workers equal access to opportunities for promotion and choice assignments. Provide frequent feedback and recognition. As in chance encounters at work, don’t wait for scheduled meetings to interact with your remote workers; pick up the phone and call them.

With globally dispersed virtual teams, crises are inevitable and, in some cases, frequent.

In military terms, today’s organizations, especially multinationals, live in a VUCA world: volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous. As the world grows more interdependent and competitive, the pace of change quickens, becoming increasingly unpredictable and unknowable.Leaders must consider the big and small picture. They must stay abreast of global developments and consider how a disruption, protest or other event – even in a country far away – might affect their business.

“Taken together, the volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity that make up the world in which today’s business leaders must function is a powder keg for periodic crisis.”

The more diverse and inclusive you make your global teams, the more perspectives and ideas you’ll gain. Tapping into this wisdom and experience can help you avert, deal with and recover from crises. 

About the Author

Tsedal Neeley

Tsedal Neeley is the Naylor Fitzhugh Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School and the Senior Associate Dean of Faculty and Research.

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