Rashomon at work

2009

I recently rewatched one of my favorite movies and it got me thinking about something. (Two things actually: the other one is that if I write this column I can write off my movie rental as a tax deduction, but that's not the point.)

Rashomon is the story of a horrible crime as described by four different people, each of whom see things so differently you wonder what the truth really is.

In speaking to managers and senior leadership about how they manage their remote employees, I see similarities. Not in the severity of the crimes (although eternal perdition awaits the person who puts a conference call on hold, making us listen to that infernal music. You've been doing this for years, you know better, cut it out), but the notion that no one sees the challenges the same way.

I reached out to a couple of people I really respect in this area and asked a simple question: What are the issues facing you as a manager of teleworkers that your company doesn't seem to know or care about?

My colleague Karthik Karaikudy, a blogger and project manager in Bangalore, has a herculean task managing an international project team.

According to him, the main problem is communication and trust. That makes sense. As a team leader he's talking about the daily details of time zones and strained resources with no chance to get face to face. Company demands increase while resources are more strained.

On the other hand, someone with a slightly more bird's-eye view, Ryan Hahaj of Telework Advocacy gave me an answer I didn't expect - but makes sense if you think about it. One of the big problems, he believes, is not with the remote employees, but with those who work in the main office.

Besides the sheer cruelty of emailing everyone on the team about the yummy treats in the breakroom when the team in Bucharest or the person working in the home office can't partake, there are very real problems of collaboration and response time. Most remote working programs focus on those employees who are elsewhere, rather than including the entire team.

After all, why would those who work in the belly of the corporate beast have to adapt to those working remotely? (Yes that's intended to be sarcastic). It's not just a matter of courtesy, it's a productivity issue.

The real shocker for me was Ryan's response to the follow up question: What legal or ethical question is the company facing that no one seems to be dealing with? Employee turnover? Fairness in promotions? Nope, according to him the issue that is waiting to bite companies is carbon reduction and taxation.

If you're like me, you just took a big swallow and went, "Seriously? The project is six weeks late, the customers are bailing and you're worried about carbon taxes?". Yes, seriously.

Here's what he had to say about it; "What can be tracked – Do we track the carbon our building gives off and then be charged according to those findings? If so, can we track the carbon we are no longer sending into the atmosphere, with the implementation of a telework program, and be credited according to those findings? How can we track carbon – how do we accurately know what carbon reduction we are truly receiving?

"Do we receive a bigger credit for lessening the travel of employees who drive large SUV's that produce more carbon? What if an employee never worked in our office – therefore there is no reduction – do we not receive a credit for that?"

It's enough to make my head swim and thank the gods I'm not in Finance.

As in Kurosawa's film, where you sit dictates what information is important to you and where you spend your energy. If you're an individual contributor, your priority is the task at hand and whether you do or don't include me in the commute figures is irrelevant.

But the CFO has things to worry about you never even thought of. This can result in conflicting demands and policies that solve one problem but cause others either up or downstream.

Organizations that take a holistic view and include everyone in the conversation early will develop policies and strategies that get results. Those who take a top-down or an ad-hoc approach will be in trouble when the needs of one constituency run smack into another's immediate demands.

This might not seem to be a problem of Rashomon-like importance, but wait until budget time and the conflicting stories start.

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About The Author

Wayne Turmel
Wayne Turmel

Wayne Turmel is a speaker, writer and co-founder of The Remote Leadership Institute. He’s passionate about helping people present, sell and lead people and projects using today’s virtual communication technology. His books include Meet Like You Mean It - a Leader’s Guide to Painless and Productive Virtual Meetings. Wayne is based in Chicago, IL.