Leadership & Remote Work: Challenges and Insights
Experts claim that by 2025, a staggering 36.2 million people in the American workforce will function remotely. Although remote work is not new, the pandemic has dramatically impacted the speed at which modern-day companies had to move toward hybrid and remote work. The demand for virtual leadership skills has also skyrocketed. So, which leadership practices are recommended in a remote work environment? This article will discuss some of the challenges leaders face and provide tips to better lead a remote workforce.
What are the challenges leaders face in remote work?
What should leaders expect from their team of employees in a remote environment? Remote work demands communication skills, the ability to work independently, accountability, time management skills, proactiveness, honesty, and ownership. What about leadership skills? Transitioning from leading entirely face-to-face (F2F) teams to either hybrid or remote work models can be challenging and requires developing skills that were not so prevalent in a F2F environment.
To lead remote teams successfully, leaders should identify the challenges they might face and be well prepared to overcome them. At the same time, they should always remember that leading remote teams doesn’t have to be more challenging than leading on-site teams. To put it simply, leaders need to cultivate different skill sets to overcome difficulties. So, what are some of the potential challenges of leading remote teams?
Cultivating solid relationships with the team and within the group.
Communicating with direct reports and colleagues, including feedback and communications styles.
Treating all remote employees the same.
Listening and asking better questions (reading between the lines).
Trusting employees with the work and not micromanaging.
Optimizing technologies for better communication and collaboration.
Building a positive company culture remotely.
Evaluating and measuring employee performance and results.
Tips for leaders in remote environments
1. Lead with empathy
This is the foundation for all good leaders out there. Empathy allows leaders to put themselves in the shoes of those they lead and understand the situation from their perspective. It helps leaders set the right expectations and provide the necessary guidance. Empathy becomes even more relevant in a remote work setting, where employees may feel isolated and more disconnected. It ultimately improves team collaboration and achieves better business and individual results. Encourage your team members to develop this skill when interacting with colleagues and clients. It can decrease stress and anxiety levels, which have significantly increased during the pandemic.
2. Communicate, communicate, communicate!
Communicate frequently, transparently, and consistently. Employees working from home can quickly feel disconnected from their organizations, which poses extra challenges in terms of engagement, productivity, and retention. However, the virtual world provides varied forms of communication, including instant messaging, video conferencing, phone calls, emails, and text messaging. Managers need to set clear communication guidelines with their virtual teams, including regularly scheduled calls, modes of communication based upon the importance of the issue, and how to handle time zone differences. Clearly defined recommendations for the use of video are also necessary.
Managers need to balance group and individual communication with employees. While meetings with the whole team are necessary, individual interactions and constant feedback are fundamental. These practices contribute to relationship building with employees and strengthening the bonds between the employee, the leader, and the organization.
3. Become better listeners
Being an engaged listener is fundamental for good leadership. A recent HBR article suggests a series of initiatives for leaders to improve their listening skills. Here are some of them:
“Repeat people’s last few words back to them.” – This makes people feel listened to and helps you keep focused during the conversation.
“Pay attention to nonverbal cues.” - Understanding explicit and implicit information is fundamental for effective communication.
“Ask more questions than you think you need to.” – This helps you fully understand the message and makes your employees feel they are being listened to.
“Minimize distractions as much as possible.” - Avoid noise and interruptions, silence your phone and email messages, minimize internal distractions, and focus on the conversation.
“Don’t rehearse your response while the other person is talking.” – Compose your thoughts after they finish speaking. Listen to understand, not to respond.
4. Support employees’ health
Leaders should double down on ensuring their employees’ health during these challenging times. A survey including 1,000 remote workers indicates negative mental health issues related to remote work, including isolation, loneliness, and difficulty getting away from work at the end of the day. Leaders need to go a step further and support their employees while promoting activities that foster their mental wellness, including social interactions. After all, social isolation is a new challenge that can impact employees personally and professionally.
Remote working is here to stay!
Remote work is not going to go away any time soon. Understanding and evaluating remote work performance and needs requires leaders to have a particular set of skills, and we have mentioned some of the most critical ones in this article. Which of these tips resonates with you the most? Let us know in the comments.
Leader Essentials Group can help your management team develop the skills necessary to navigate the challenges of leading in remote work settings. Email us at email@example.com to schedule a meeting and learn more about how we can partner with you to develop and execute strategic leadership outcomes for your organization!
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Vera Alves is the Chief Consulting Officer at Leader Essentials Group, with extensive experience in leadership development and business management. With over 12 years of experience as a C-suite executive, Vera is highly skilled in leadership, strategic planning, operations management, organizational behavior, and change management. She possesses highly developed communication, training, and linguistic skills reflective of a very strong and charismatic leadership style.
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