WFH: Manage the Work, Not the People

Manage the Work

The New York Times did a wonderful set of articles last week titled OOO. The articles cover the spectrum of issues we are all facing working from home (WFH). Some of the writings were based on a survey they took of 1,123 remote workers. And because of the polling methodology, the results were unsurprising, so much so that I decided to do our own poll so we could compare responses. The results of our poll were surprising, to say the least.

Before we dive into your responses, a short disclaimer: This is not a rigorous scientific study. These responses are from our readers who tend to be very smart, employed, mostly married, Gen Xers or Boomers and who live in or near big cities. The responses are not in any way representative of the general population. As directional “sense of the room” polls go, however, it is very informative. You can see a graphic of the poll results here.

I am happy and productive working from home

Almost 80 percent of our respondents strongly agreed or agreed that they were happy and productive working from home. Only one percent strongly disagreed. From a work perspective, our readers are weathering the pandemic with very little stress.

I want to go back to the office full-time

Nope. Sixty-four percent want to keep WFH and 12 percent are good either way. A scant 19 percent of respondents want to go back to the office.

So it should not surprise you to learn that almost 70 percent of respondents strongly agreed or agreed with the statement, Working from home is less stressful than commuting to and working from the office.

I will move to a new city or state if remote work continues indefinitely.

Only 18 percent of respondents strongly agreed or agreed with this statement. This is quite surprising, as most of the people I speak with day-to-day in online chat meetings have made a point of telling me that they are either in the process of moving or are thinking about it.

Work/Life Balance

We asked a bunch of other questions about taking breaks, exercise, and general work/life balance. Mostly everyone agrees that they are doing more chores at home, but not everyone is exercising or taking more breaks, which brings me to some ideas about WFH and WFH management I’d like to share with you.

Management Style

In the past six months, everyone who has been forced to work from home has developed their own strategies to deal with it. No two situations are alike, but there are some common pain points. I’ve written several articles about how to WFH, and you can find the resources here. But for most people, tech is not the issue. The issue is adjusting to the new normal.

For this, I offer one simple bit of advice: do not manage the people; manage the work. No matter what your management methodology is – Waterfall, Agile, Scrum, Kanban, Lean Project, Six Sigma – people working from home will respond best to a results-based management style.

Results-Based Plus

There are many good approaches to results-based project management, but all of them can be reduced to one simple idea. “Please get this done by Friday at 3pm. I don’t care how you do it.” We add another step to our results-based project management approach: we advise our clients to tell their teams about the big vision and then ask how it might be accomplished. Using this inclusive approach with a remote team brings the group closer together and encourages additional interaction. Then, we suggest telling the worker or team to “go do it.”

The key to this approach is to leave people alone and let them work. The key metric is results. There are no points for extra meetings or endless hours on Zoom or dozens of interim reports. Just deadlines for specific results.

Most project managers we work with have easily adapted; others have resisted mightily. To be fair, those who have insisted on managing remote workers as if they were all in the office together have suffered. As evidenced by our poll results, the new normal is having a dramatic impact on how we think about work.

How do you want to spend your day?

The hardest question anyone can answer is, how do you want to spend your day? It’s such a difficult question, we built a roadmap and a process to help people answer it. While the pandemic does not make the question any easier to answer, it has helped each of us focus on the things we hold most dear. This survey highlights the need for empathy and kindness, and it points to a new world where people will redefine what it means to “go to work.” It is social innovation that is clearly long overdue.


Take the Survey

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Author’s note: This is not a sponsored post. I am the author of this article and it expresses my own opinions. I am not, nor is my company, receiving compensation for it.

About Shelly Palmer

Shelly Palmer is the Professor of Advanced Media in Residence at Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications and CEO of The Palmer Group, a consulting practice that helps Fortune 500 companies with technology, media and marketing. Named LinkedIn’s “Top Voice in Technology,” he covers tech and business for Good Day New York, is a regular commentator on CNN and writes a popular daily business blog. He's a bestselling author, and the creator of the popular, free online course, Generative AI for Execs. Follow @shellypalmer or visit



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