It’s safe to say that the COVID-19 pandemic has radically shifted the modern workplace. Economic shutdowns globally forced companies of all shapes and sizes to retreat into distributed environments while still performing the work necessary to keep things going. When you layer on top of that the anxiety and stress that the virus has caused, it truly has been an unprecedented time period for all of us.
Truthfully, some organizations have fared much better than others. And the key differentiator in most cases has been the quality of the leadership. Remote teams have wilted under pressure in situations where leaders have been distant, disconnected, and domineering. However, in those rare cases where leaders have empathized and empowered their employees, those teams have managed to thrive despite the challenges.
This article will discuss some of the fundamental principles that make for a great leader in a remote working environment. In many cases, we have to unlearn some bad habits and adjust to this new paradigm, so hopefully, these pillars can help you do so in your environment.
The first one is probably the most important because it acts as a lead domino for all the rest. Leaders need to demonstrate empathy for the challenging circumstances that their teams find themselves in. Every individual finds themselves in different situations, and a good leader can take that into account and adjust their behavior and support appropriately. Some team members may be juggling young kids while they work; others may be more prone to isolation and anxiety. A great leader knows each person and can give them the personal attention they need for success.
Remote workers want to know that they are understood and that their leaders are looking out for them as humans, not just as employees. It’s important to display emotional intelligence in these scenarios. Get that right, and a lot of the rest falls into place.
In a remote working environment, it can feel very lonely and isolating because you don’t have those natural feedback loops that you have in an office. As such, the onus is on the leader to over-communicate in terms of setting the tone, driving the vision, and recognizing the team’s efforts. It’s crucial that the group dynamics are maintained so that everyone feels like they’re pulling in the same direction. This is only accomplished by erring on the side of too much communication rather than too little.
This is even more important when it comes to recognition. There’s nothing more demoralizing for a remote worker than to spend weeks on a project, deliver it via email, and receive no tangible feedback on all their hard work. Good leadership entails going above and beyond to recognize those efforts publicly to validate their work and give them the feedback they need to feel valued.
Articulate a Clear Vision
In uncertain times, everyone looks for something concrete to hold onto that gives them hope for the future. This has never been more relevant as businesses are being turned upside down by the economic and social circumstances we now find ourselves in daily. A strong leader can wrestle with this uncertainty and still continue to drive towards a clear vision for the organization. Their vision helps everyone understand the direction they’re going in and gives purpose, even if the team members are sitting in different places around the world.
This is not to say that the vision won’t change over time, but as long as the leadership has something that they’re working towards, it acts as an invaluable North Star to strive towards personally and professionally.
Empower, Don’t Micromanage
The world of remote work has thrown up some fascinating management debates, and one of these is the level of management that leaders should be giving to their employees. We’ve heard many stories of how certain managers have become completely overbearing in a remote environment, day and night. This is not the way to build self-sustainable teams that are productive. In almost every case, it’s going to be more valuable to empower your teams than it is to micromanage them.
When you trust them with getting the job done, it gives them the flexibility to do what needs to be done while also juggling the other difficulties that come with remote work. At the end of the day, good leaders will judge work based on outcomes, and they will be available to support their teams but not looking over their shoulders as they do so. Getting this balance right is the key to maintaining productivity while also allowing those you’re managing to achieve some modicum of work-life balance.
We’ve only touched on some leadership development principles that are important to get right in a remote working environment. We’re in uncharted waters, and we can’t rely on what got us here. The landscape has shifted, and we need to adjust to it.
Leaders who show emotional intelligence and empathy in this respect will find that they can nurture a working culture that can still thrive even in a distributed fashion. Those who don’t make this shift and continue to do things the way they always have been in for a rude awakening.
Now is the time to take all we’ve learned and experienced throughout the pandemic and put it into action. You and your organizations deserve it.
If you’re looking to dive deeper into some of these topics and create an action plan to take your leadership development to the next level, be sure to pre-register for our upcoming ebook: ‘The Periodic Table for Leadership Development.’