Jada Willis provides the secret sauce for managing remote work forces
Photographs by Sally Scott
At the center of every successful company is a group of people, working together to effectively and efficiently complete a collective mission. Take these people out of an office, that goal doesn’t change. And while many company leaders still fear the boogeyman of unaccountable, chemistry-less remote work, Jada Willis is proving that with the right practices, working from home might make teams more interconnected than ever.
As the CEO of Willis HR and leader of her own remote team, and having worked in HR since she was 16, Willis knows what companies transitioning to remote work are up against. And, while she doesn’t claim to have all the answers, she knows leaders willing to put in the work can foster that long sought-after remote team chemistry. In fact, she wrote the book on it.
Pantsless Nation: HR Guidance for Mastering Remote Work is exactly what is says on the cover: “a leadership guide to creating an unstoppable team.” Despite common hesitancy, the book introduction claims, “This can be awesome for everyone.” To help make that happen, Pantsless Nation aims to advise leadership on building a foundation of best practices, to break down the barriers of building remote relationships, and to demystify leadership of remote employees.
Willis’s road to working remotely
In addition to Willis’s own leadership strategies, the book pulls from the experience of Willis HR, managing the human resource and recruitment processes of small businesses, as well as the transitions to full-time or hybrid remote work. Her company is built on the belief that people come first, as is her team. Willis herself “stumbled” into remote work when she saw military spouses struggling to find employment, given traditional employers’ concern with their frequent moves.
“I can’t do much,” she explains. “I’m not a nurse.” But called to do what she could, her remote team was born. Since then, Willis has only continued to concern herself with the wellbeing of the individual, sometimes even describing relationships between coworkers as if they were friends or family.
It’s all about expectations
“We start getting upset with someone because they’re not meeting our expectations, but have we stopped and communicated our expectations?” she asks. Willis believes managing these expectations through a system of trust and communication is key for any successful workforce. More importantly, it’s the key to having the chemistry and accountability of an in-person workforce from the comfort of home.
An integral part of that system is what Willis calls a cadence, a day-to-day communication system that builds on the team’s “inherent level of trust.” Just like in our personal relationships, Willis says trust is “built through continued patterns of expectations” and the daily fulfillment of those expectations. By following through on this communication plan, soliciting feedback from her team, and following up on their concerns, Willis can count on their productivity without micromanagement.
People planning in a pantsless nation
For companies unable to build their remote teams from the ground up, Willis suggests remote work assessments, finding volunteers, and taking it slow through a phase approach. But really, she says success lies in the hands of company leadership. Connecting with employees is easy in an office with the physical reminders of someone walking past your office or an upset coworker’s body language. Remote leaders must be far more intentional.
“If you neglect your team and communication and the care and concern that you have because they’re out of sight, out of mind, it will be extremely detrimental to turn over, retention, and just ultimately the business as a whole.” Things that might have happened naturally in an office suddenly require set structures and intentional follow-through. “Everything has to have a plan,” she affirms, “and has to have a documented process.”
While Willis isn’t shy about the amount of work this transition requires, she says there’s no shortage of tools and technology ready to help. In the end, “you’re going to be the roadblock,” she says, not any lack of resources.
Helping company leaders get past that remote leadership roadblock is exactly what Willis hopes to achieve with Pantsless Nation. Not only does her experience disprove remote companies’ inevitable isolation, it reveals their inherent connection. Unencumbered by a physical office, bonds form from more than occupying the same space, and leaders like Willis can intentionally focus on individual needs. This actually can be awesome for everyone.