The mass onset of coronavirus-related concerns has impacted the fundamental way in which today’s teams connect and communicate in the workplace. To maintain productivity, it's vital for business executives to master the art of remote leadership — especially if their companies decide to continue to embrace remote work even after social distancing guidelines subside.
Luckily, as more and more leaders are discovering, inspiring and motivating your workforce via email and audio or videoconferencing solutions doesn’t have to be difficult. Use the following strategies to help make the most of remote one-on-ones.
Step 1: Take the Lead on Remote Meetings
Remote teams face several common challenges that threaten to undermine productivity and engagement. For example, lack of face-to-face supervision, support and oversight, as well as lack of access to feedback and information. And that’s before you factor in outside variables such as challenges associated with each individual’s unique communication styles, at-home distractions and the effects of social isolation. Most importantly, employees are trying to focus on work while taking the appropriate steps to keep themselves and their families well, creating an additional sensitivity that needs to be acknowledged and respected.
As a remote leader, you can offset these challenges in several ways, such as by setting aside regular, structured daily check-ins with remote workers; making yourself available during preset office hours; and providing your team with multiple high-tech ways of getting in touch with you. Similarly, to be more effective when working remotely, it’s also important to pre-assign different communication methods to different types of exchanges. Sensitive or subtle interactions are often best handled via videoconference versus email or instant messages, where personal nuance is often lost.
Likewise, as you transition to a work-from-home setup, teams should also know what the best ways and times to reach you during the workday, and how you’d like emergency and high-priority queries to be tackled. (Say, by calling your home phone or texting if an urgent matter pops up.) In addition, to minimize team disruption, any preexisting meetings you had in place prior to the operating shift remain on the calendar, and that teams maintain the same meeting schedule that they did while working in the office.
Step 2: Pay Attention to Details When Communicating
Although it may be tempting to adopt a more leisurely attitude when working and communicating with employees from home, note that it’s also important to maintain a sense of professionalism in all exchanges. The same rules of conduct and dress codes that you adopt when working at the office should also be applied when working remotely. Likewise, be mindful of what’s visible in the background of any given scene when you’re presenting via video or web camera (several providers offer free virtual backdrops that can dress up any garage or spare bedroom). In addition, when presenting, make a point to look into the camera directly, and avoid typing or checking emails and instant messages while others are talking. Giving others your full attention is vital when engaging in remote one-on-ones, as is actively making a point to take time to listen to and properly absorb the information your team is sharing before jumping ahead to a quick response.
As you switch to a remote setup, be sure to let workers know that you’re available if they have questions or concerns, and set predetermined points to check in and follow up with them as well. Also be sure to take the lead on setting remote meetings yourself, too, especially one-on-one exchanges—doing so lets others know that these gatherings are a priority to you.
Step 3: Promote Individual and Team Interaction
Many remote leaders make a point to abide by The 50/50 Agenda Rule, setting 50% of the topics to be discussed during remote meetings and letting direct reports determine the other 50% of topics that will be explored. In addition to making sure that everyone’s concerns are addressed, schedules are being maintained and projects are staying on task, adopting this approach also allows you to create healthy forums for dialogue and social interaction.
In uncertain times, people want to know what’s happening—so be sure to take the lead and let them know where things stand, and what’s coming next.
Remote work can often be isolating and create a sense of removal from one’s team, vision and purpose. Even taking a few minutes at the start of a conversation just to get colleagues’ feedback and input, or simply catch up and see how others are doing, can go a long way towards helping rekindle empathy and a sense of connection. Similarly, from a team-building standpoint, be sure to set aside times for workday gatherings such as virtual happy hours and office catch-ups (participants can bring their own beverages and food) that your colleagues can engage in. Doing so helps keep familiar faces front and center and can help increase employees’ sense of belonging while offsetting the isolating effects of social distancing.
Step 4: Be Helpful and Show Empathy
During times of uncertainty, it’s especially important to keep peers abreast of current events, maintain a firm sense of direction and help minimize colleagues’ sense of disruption. When it comes to work, you can help put anxious workers at ease by keeping them informed and up-to-date on the latest happenings that impact your employer and workplace. During remote one-on-ones, make a point to regularly check in with direct reports and explicitly state what your company action plan is for dealing with current events, and how the actions that you’re taking are helping create positive outcomes.
Similarly, if you have to convey bad news, be short, be straightforward and be empathetic. While furloughs, project delays, and other changes in plan aren’t always easy to break the news about, being honest and respectful with co-workers is the best policy. Whatever the nature of your remote one-on-ones (or group events), prepare for possible questions that employees may ask, have any supporting information ready to go in advance and take time to walk through how any impending changes impact your team (and next steps to take) with colleagues as well. Whatever the future brings—and it’s worth remembering that many companies are well-poised to ride out temporary disruptions—it pays to be on the level with your peers. It also presents the opportunity to signal the respect you have for your workforce with empathy and understanding. In uncertain times, people want to know what’s happening—so be sure to take the lead and let them know where things stand, and what’s coming next.
Step 5: Provide Routine Encouragement and Support
Like senior managers, employees are often left stressed and anxious in the wake of unexpected events. During these tough times, leaders are encouraged to acknowledge these concerns, set aside time to listen to others’ worries, and actively seek ways to empathize. Especially when working remotely, it’s important to regularly check in and ask others how they’re doing. Similarly, you might also pose other questions to them (“How are you guys adjusting to the work-from-home routine?”) that may help provide insight into the state of their thoughts, and ways you can lend a hand. Remember: Exercising emotional intelligence and providing others with comfortable contexts in which to air their feelings and opinions is a crucial part of modern leadership.
In addition, making others’ concerns an area of focus (as opposed to your own) during times of disruption is also crucial, as is projecting a sense of reassurance at every turn. The more you acknowledge colleagues’ feelings and make serving others a top priority, while simultaneously projecting an air of calm and control, the more successful you can be. Top leaders not only inspire confidence in their peers, they provide a sense of encouragement at every turn.
So no matter how many miles away you’re beaming into remote one-on-ones or engaging in group chats from, don’t forget: teleworking doesn’t have to be as challenging as you may think. You can actively lead and succeed simply by creating better remote working habits and consistently letting others know you’re on top of situations. Likewise, you can inspire workers to lead and succeed by reminding them that, regardless of whatever challenges you may face, with the support of your team (the backbone of any successful organization), a little perseverance and ingenuity is all it takes to help business get back to usual in no time flat.
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