Lessons from Space on Managing Employees Working Remotely
August 20, 2020

There has been much written over the past months with advice about managing employees who are working from home or are working remotely, including a few posts and a video on the KardasLarson site. Two researchers at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University recently published some results of their work with NASA astronauts, who may not work at home but certainly work remotely. Their article in Kellogg Insight summarizes several key findings from their research, and it translates very well to those of us who are earthbound.

Employees, like astronauts, need to understand the overall goals of the organization and how their work fits into the bigger picture, even for seemingly mundane tasks. They need to know that their work is critical and that their contributions are vital to the organization and its constituents. This is part of a leader’s role. One of the researchers says that this is particularly important when you are onboarding a new employee.

Managers need to watch for and possibly anticipate slumps in effort. We all can get a little complacent as we settle into different patterns of work, and mood and motivation can be affected. So leaders must gently shake things up with support, new routines, and even humor. Introducing timelines, that everyone can accept and work toward, can help establish a pace that assures success without introducing unnecessary stress.

Another great insight from the research is that astronaut crews do not like to be micromanaged remotely. This concept applies to nearly all of us on earth, too. The Kellogg researchers cite the “rebellion” in a 1974 Skylab mission. Astronauts became so frustrated at the rigidly controlled work structure that they simply shut off communication with mission control for a while. Sometimes, leaders and team members can have “misaligned needs” when working remotely. Leaders want control, while employees want a little autonomy to get their work done. Astronauts on the International Space Station now have some free time built into their schedules, even in rigidly structured space walks, and your employees need that as well in their work days.

The space program has given us remarkable technology advancements, and maybe some good advice about managing employees working remotely.

As we continue to navigate this landscape, where is your organization? Ask your leaders these questions:

  • Do remote teams understand how their work supports the business in achieving its goals?
  • How are new employees being onboarded when employees aren’t gathering in a physical space together?
  • What are managers doing to avoid Zoom meeting burnout with their teams?
  • How are remote employees integrating downtime into their workday?
  • What are managers doing to ensure they’re not micromanaging their remote teams?

KardasLarson works with a variety of organizations of all sizes and industries. We have the opportunity to understand what works well. We’re here to help when you need to course correct to maximize performance of remote teams.

Michael Wilson

Michael Wilson


Michael Wilson works with small businesses to build and protect their brands online. He is an IT Generalist whose primary services include: Web Design & Development, Cybersecurity Consulting & Training, and Social Media Marketing. He has a Bachelor's Degree in Multimedia Web Design & Development from the University of Hartford.


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KardasLarson is a human resources and business consulting firm that maximizes employee performance so people and organizations prosper.



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