Remote work alone and together

One million Finns have been doing remote work more or less continuously for as long as one year. Most of them are also willing to continue with this mode of work after the pandemic.

Remote management takes place through virtual direction of work and by inspiring, encouraging, engaging and supervising people, and by overseeing the achievement of objectives. This is easy in theory, but in practice many aspects complicate things.

Feelings of isolation and difficulty of engaging people

IhPeople often work with many different projects, or they are responsible for several sets of tasks concurrently. In addition, they have chores to do at home. It is often easier to tackle the tasks on ‘top’ of the to-do list, ones which you like and which are in your comfort zone, than those that are difficult but also important. It is easy to postpone uncomfortable tasks that require you to exert yourself and minor subsidiary projects, and leave them until closer to the deadline.

Working alone at home may lower your mood as you have little or no discussions with co-workers and contacts with other humans. If the only interaction you have from one week to the next is with your co-worker’ Teams profile picture, sound and e-mail, many important discussions may never take place. This is why employees who are working remotely need face-to-face and online networking meetings, for example in Facebook groups.

You also have to reinvent your work routines in remote work. Before, it was easy to ask your co-worker to share some tips in the corridor. Now you have to write an e-mail or send a WhatsApp message. Employees doing remote work need to have a shared cloud service, documentation and communication plans, uniform practices and effective meeting practices. Short interactive meetings are a good option. ‘Don't talk as if you were reading out of a paper’ is a good guideline for remote managers to follow at meetings. A well-functioning network connection is a prerequisite for getting the work done.

Consequently, remote work suits people who take responsibility for their skills and their work and its progress. However, most people need more or less supervision.

Leadership is an emotional tie and a force that attracts and energizes people

Leadership is something people continuously negotiate wordlessly. In virtual work, in which you mainly communicate remotely, the emotional tie becomes increasingly important. To ensure cooperation and trust also in remote work, you must be able to create a sense of closeness and presence between people.

When you are talking about emotionally loaded, complex and ambiguous issues, rapid and trustful communication comes more easily face to face. When you are talking face to face, you can get different emotions across, and communicating about grey areas is easier. This is something which the manager should have a particular focus on. Your gaze and eye contact evoke emotions, and the gaze is used to express either closeness or distance. This also involves power relations. Who is looking at whom? The direction and vision towards which you are progressing are also communicated through eye contact.

Leadership requires empathy and an ability to read people. You cannot successfully lead people over the network simply by reading out from a piece of paper. This includes instant messaging, e-mails, reports and other one-way communication. You also need Teams or Zoom meetings with the webcams on as well as inspiring and informative sparring videos and similar that get the manager's personality and emotional state across, rather than only their words.

Good intentions and good will are not transmitted automatically in virtual communication. You need to take specific actions to let your co-worker know if you understood what they meant and feel that you are committed to a common goal. When you lead people over the network, you need means that convey your emotions as you have intended.

Training for remote leadership and microentrepreneurship studies

The University of Oulu offers e-Learning courses on microentrepreneurship which give supervisors and small entrepreneurs support for their work and improve their competence. The course on Leading remote work, which can be completed fully as flexible e-Learning studies, is under way and accepts registrations. Courses starting in the spring will include A strong entrepreneur and The entrepreneur's IPR rights, on which you will learn about issues related to copyrights and trademarks.

Further information:


Päivi Lohikoski, PhD, Manager, Microentrepreneurship e-Learning programme

This blog was originally published in the newspaper Keskipohjanmaa on 28 February 2021 as part of an article series by the staff at the University of Oulu Kerttu Saalasti Institute.