The twin factors of Covid 19 and the availability of technology have resulted in a huge shift to remote working, which is likely to continue to grow in 2021 and beyond.
As a leader, you’ll need to be agile, and adapt your working style to meet the specific challenges of dealing with a remote workforce. What are the key skills you’ll need to thrive in the new reality of online working?
Table of Contents
1. Ability to set clear expectations
Without regular face-to-face communications, new employees won’t be able to follow the example of more experienced colleagues and understand how things work in your organization. That’s why it’s especially important to ensure that you’re clear about your expectations.
Set clear schedules for availability (yours as well as theirs), and team meetings via video. A clear operating rhythm will help your remote workers remain in contact and accountable for their delivery.
With employees working in the same location, one-to-one meetings and coaching sessions are likely to be part of your routine. Employees working remotely may also need support to ensure they’re OK and can deliver their work as required. Also, be explicit about the level of productivity required, and address any issues as soon as they arise. If the productivity of a normally responsive and reliable worker suddenly drops off, as their leader you’ll need to explore the reason and help them identify ways to get them back on track.
As a leader, it’s likely that you’re already aware of your strengths in organizing work and delivering results via your team. However, remote working brings new challenges. It may be harder to get to know the individuals in your team. When things seem to be progressing smoothly, it may be easier to take a ‘no news is good news’ approach to individuals. When things aren’t so smooth, there’s the temptation to blame your remote workers for their lack of productivity and commitment.
Self -awareness, and self-questioning are even more critical when you’re accountable for the results of an online team. Few organizations seem to be providing specific training to support leaders who are making the transition to this way of working. To gain insight into your preferred working style, consider using an online psychometric tool. One of the best known is the online Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. It identifies 16 broad personality styles that inform the way you typically work. For example, if you’re identified as an ESTP Personality Type – an ‘energetic organizer’, it may help you to understand your stress response, which could affect your performance as a leader: ‘When they (ESTP types) get stressed, they tend to get distracted easily or become stubborn, fixating on details they normally wouldn’t notice and resisting innovation.’
If you know there’s an issue, but not sure what you need to do differently to resolve it, consider taking the results and working with a coach or senior colleague to identify strategies for improvement.
3. Cultural Sensitivity
A remote workforce, if recruited globally, is likely to be far more diverse than a traditional one. Not only are workers operating across national borders, but online working also opens the employment marketplace to groups that may have previously encountered more significant barriers to employment. Mothers with small children, older workers, the housebound, and those who live far from urban centers – these are talents who were previously all but excluded. However, they have the potential to add strength and diverse viewpoints to your team.
As a leader, your agility in understanding the varied needs of remote workers will be key to your success. A one-size-fits-all communication style won’t work in the new environment. Just as you’ll need more time to get to know your remote team, remember you also have to give them time to know you.
Adapt to different working patterns, work to understand cultural expectations, and play to the strengths of each individual. Trust that your team members will want to deliver to the best of their ability, and, to the extent that you can, empower them to organize their work schedule and delivery.
This will not only help you optimize your results, as you value the contribution of each individual, but you’re also more likely to create a stable team to perform over time.
These are just some of the qualities a remote leader needs for success. However, those who meet the challenges of the new working environment are likely to be in great demand for the foreseeable future. The efforts you make to develop the specific skill set required to lead online teams successfully are a wise investment for the future.