You think your remote leadership style is fine? Hmmm – think again!

With enforced lockdowns still going on in many geographies, organisations have had to switch quickly to remote working on an extended basis. In some cases, in the beginning, they had to scramble around to get the tech in place and even hardware. Not all employees have a company laptop. I know from working as a coach that one of the biggest areas for concern is that many managers and supervisors do not have the skills to manage remote teams specifically. This is especially hard in a time of crisis.  What we are seeing today almost a year into the global health crisis, is many managers think they have nailed their remote leadership style over the course of the past ten months. But based on feedback from people reporting to them, perhaps they should re-evaluate their perceptions.

According to research from McKinsey, 80% of respondents say the crisis is materially affecting their daily work lives – people have widely varied experiences, perspectives, and outcomes. Women are bearing the brunt of domestic work with their hours involved in childcare rising to over 30 hours per week compared to men who are only doing 9.75 hours per week. Time management, prioritisation and digital communication remain major challenges.

Exceptional times

As Suzanne Lucas aka @RealEvilHRLady warned us in an online coaching session we did for 3Plus International “Don’t think that the working from home conditions that people are experiencing now, are the same as usual conditions. They are not.”

Parents are homeschooling, partners are also at home and trips for groceries are a challenge. Perhaps someone in your house could even be sick. Your team is anxious and so are you. Under stress we all tend to default to our basic settings, which are not always productive. This is when incorporating some basic inclusion nudges which can be applied in an office workspace can also be helpful in the future, if you are not applying them already.

Many organisations went from having some sort of remote working protocols that covered a section of the company (usually, but not always parents) without the time to implement a cohesive strategy. In many cases they thought it would be easy – but it’s harder than it seems on the surface.

remote leadership style

12 tips to upgrade your remote leadership style

I have talked to coaching clients and workshop participants received comments on LinkedIn and Twitter during the past 10 months and this is the feedback they would give new managers of remote teams to boost their remote leadership style.

1. Check how well you know your team

Understanding that everyone is different will be a great lesson to bring to the table when things get back to normal. If they ever do.  Now is the time to do both a self-awareness check and understand your own leadership style and how you exhibit and deal with stress. You will need to take steps to manage that.

Find out how well you know your team. Establish if you can, if any of your team have any mental health issues. This is not always easy as many may not be willing to be open. When they are working remotely it will also be easier to cover those issues up. They may need some extra support – but find out what they need exactly and don’t make assumptions about what you think that input might be.

Philippa said “I have some anxiety issues and an invisible disability. My boss is brilliant and asked me what she needs to do to make this work better for me.”

Alex added “I am dyslexic so my boss thinks she’s being helpful enlarging the font when she sends me reams of texts expecting a response in five minutes. That doesn’t help! A voice mail would be more useful.”  

2. Communication-style check

Check with everyone their preferred communication style. Some people like to feel in regular contact with others, are happy to be autonomous, and report up when there is a problem. Have a meeting with each one of your direct reports to establish how they want to work and how that sits with your expectations. In many cases this wasn’t possible in the early part the crisis, but  surprisingly in some organisations it still hasn’t happened. They can then apply the same protocols to their own reports.

If you have a large number of direct reports (which you shouldn’t) consider allocating coordinating responsibility to break your team into “cells” or “pods” with someone responsible for one-to-one meetings

Jessica said “My boss is literally sending me 20 What’s App messages an hour. I could scream” 

Darren recounted “My manager has simply disappeared. He sends the occasional round-robin mail since this started and expects us to get on with it. I have no clue what is going on even if he is sick. No news or direction at all.”

The key message is everyone is different and managers need to find common ground.

3. Train on software usage

Many employees are not comfortable with some of the software programmes and platforms. Make sure that they are properly trained and have someone to support them. By now, they should be beyond the basic manipulations such as turning the mic and camera on and off and using the chat and have moved on to being comfortable in a virtual setting.

Pieter shared “My company did some reverse buddying up so that technically savvy employees matched with less technically knowledgeable employees (they tended to be the older ones) and it’s working out well.”

4. Offer support

Anxiety, depression, and isolation are hallmarks of working from home. Organisations are placing a greater emphasis on well-being programmes. Allocate an opportunity to have a buddy or peer mentor, someone who is their first point of contact if there is a problem. It can be overwhelming for everyone in different ways. Everyone has something to deal with.  At almost a year in, it is now about more than the tech.

Inclusion nudges to manage a remote team 

5. Schedule a weekly meeting

Schedule a weekly online team meeting which should be mandatory for all team members in the decision-making process.  Set up a poll to find a time that works for everyone. For reports who are not actively involved, record the meeting which they can listen to afterwards. Have an agenda and make the meeting focused and short.

Sophia told me “I am spending a huge amount of time in pointless meeting where I’m not directly involved in the action points. If I need to know send me the recording so I can skip through it to the relevant points.” 

Saskia said “Zoom meetings are relentless. It is overpowering. Some days there is no time for lunch or even to go to the toilet” 

I have learned a new phrase “the bio break.”

6. Check-in not check-on to manage expectations

Do not apply the same pre-crisis expectations to the current situation. Everyone is faced with new and unprecedented challenges. Find out what is going on for your team members.  Everyone will have something and a different something. If they are homeschooling kids, they will struggle to meet standard reporting deadlines and respond as they did previously. Maybe their partners are also working at home. Maybe they live in an area where fast broadband isn’t available.

Create jointly agreed timelines that may need to be extended. Today more than ever it is about trust.

Martin said “My boss doesn’t get that I can’t make certain deadlines agreed before this crisis started. I am at home with my partner and two kids running homeschooling programmes as well as working. His parents look after his kids, so his schedule is as free as if he was in the office.”   

It’s important that managers are clear about priorities and a global “everything is urgent” isn’t helpful.

7. Video conferences

Don’t expect everyone to want to switch on their cameras. This is not because they are in their PJs (although they might be) but because they want to keep their home circumstances private. They may feel uncomfortable if their living accommodation is not the same as a colleague or boss who lives in a different kind of home.

Pay attention when asking introverts to speak. They can contribute via the chat options if they wish.

Check out Hannah Morgan’s (aka @careersherpa) thread on this on LinkedIn to find lots of great tips.

Zoom offers an option to have a personalised background which can be helpful. They also offer a chance to “touch up your appearance” an option I am grateful for. Look on video settings.

8. Set up a roll-up open line policy

This is similar to a physical open-door policy in the office. Allocate a 30-minute slot two or three times a week when anyone can roll up to an online meeting if they want to.

9. Don’t make assumptions

Don’t assume that because someone is slower than usual that they are slacking off. There could be something going on for them. They might even be sick. Some organisations have time tracking apps on company hardware. This could be a good time to deactivate them.

Cassie’s disabled mother lives with her family. Her carer can no longer come to the house. She has to fill the gap which means time spent in the “granny flat” on her property, which is away from her computer.

Organisations that demand cameras on all day or have software monitoring programmes deserve a special place in hell.

10. Make communication mindful.

One of the biggest spaces for miscommunication is email. Research shows that there is only a  56% chance of our email communications being correctly understood as intended. Claire Godding, Brussels based Diversity and Inclusion expert suggests using emojis to indicate intention. This is a great idea! Make sure you are not like me and use the right one. The chances of miscommunication using online messaging platforms with text speak, increases those chances. If we are stressed or distracted the problem becomes even more exaggerated.

Use the voice mail options offered by some platforms. This can be a welcome change to both the receiver and the sender if they are feeling isolated. I love this facility on LinkedIn and WhatsApp .

11. Create an online breakout area

This can be a space where people can go for a virtual coffee. Some organisations are introducing games to create a sense of camaraderie.

One organisation has set up a daily check-in process, such as we see on Facebook during a disaster, that everyone confirms they are healthy and safe.

12. Not everyone likes working from home

There has been so much written about people wanting to work from home there is an assumption that everyone wants it. This isn’t the case. It is clear from talking to people over the past months, both men and women,  going into the office is a welcome break. It may be a chance to get away from an abusive, controlling relationship, a dysfunctional family situation, find respite from care issues, or just a change of scenery that stimulates a particular style of creativity. Extraverts such as myself are being challenged!

Many people prefer to go into a physical place of work and this time is very difficult for them. Loneliness and mental health issues will be collateral damage from this crisis.

Bonus: Practise self-care

It’s important throughout all of this is to make sure you take care of you. Good nutrition and sleeping habits are the best places to start. Creating a schedule with good work/life boundaries and closing rituals to stop the morph of work and personal life into one long continuum is also important. If you feel in a good place then it’s easier to be therefore others. Most of us don’t know if we are living in work or working from home.

I have started meditating. Yes really. I am a work in progress but it’s a beginning. Get up move around. Go outside or take up an activity to stretch another part of the brain.

Understanding people’s differences will be a good inclusive leadership lesson for the next normal whatever that might look like.

 

3Plus offers programmes on managing remote teams more inclusively . Find out more HERE.

 

This post was adapted from 12 inclusion nudges to manage a remote team – from the teams  by Dorothy Dalton posted March 2020

Dorothy Dalton Administrator
Dorothy Dalton is CEO of 3Plus International. A specialist in diversity and bias conscious executive search, she supports organizations to achieve business success via gender balance, diversity and inclusion. She is CIPD qualified, and a certified coach and trainer including digital learning.
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