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Leaders in the New Remote Era Need New Remote Leadership Skills
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The #1 means of handling the impact of the current pandemic was simple: send as many employees as possible home to work, thus avoiding contact with co-workers. Aside from isolated occurrences, this was the first time enterprises and organizations had encountered this situation. For many, it was a race to deploy the technology to ensure employees could manage the basics and stay productive while also working remotely.
What started as a quick fix during the pandemic has now become somewhat routine. For most it works so-so, and many employers have noted that improvements could help make remote working even easier and more successful.
The questions now are: How can enterprises take remote working to the next level? What things worked well and should be maintained, and what should be discontinued? Where are improvements needed? What new ideas need consideration? And how do enterprises support remote working once in-person office work is possible again?
Studies predict only 50% of knowledge workers will return to the office again full-time, and most office workers will maintain remote or mobile working at least part-time.
The impact of this cannot be ignored: this dramatically changes the way we work, communicate, and collaborate. In fact, the World Economic Forum states in its manifesto, “Never have we been so aware of our dependence on digital models, and we are not going back. With the power of digital technology so very visible, leading companies must now use technology to transform business itself to deliver for a broader set of stakeholders.” And it is that digital approach that must be applied to considering remote work.
What started as “How do we maintain productivity and keep our employees safe?” has turned in to examining remote working with fresh eyes. Suddenly, employees are equal to customers as a target profile. The opportunity to digitally bridge the traditional physical world in order to redefine experiences and create new value streams is the task of Digital Transformation.
Now, what started as an exercise in crisis management has turned into a strategic topic. The workforce is now the internal consumer of the digital experience—and addressing this requires equal fervor as strategies for improving the customer experience.
Consequently, it is important to improve remote working while making it more productive and effective. Bringing it into a digital transformation context means it is not a quick fix anymore, but it must be established for the long-term.
Beyond making sure that technology runs smoothly there are five non-technical areas to consider in order to maintain and increase productivity while keeping employees motivated and engaged:
Tools and solutions – Make the best out of what is available. Learn more about the tools and solutions that you are using and how to best apply them in each situation.
Collaboration – Agree on how to work together. Define your formal team processes and agree on how to make up for the informal aspects missing in a remote environment.
Team spirit – Keep the team together and integrate new team members. When remote working is institutionalized you will also have to consider how to build spirit and support engagement.
Self-management – Keep yourself motivated and active. Be equipped to navigate yourself in the new environment while staying motivated and healthy.
Remote leadership – Lead your team in the new world. Leading in a remote world requires new competencies and leadership styles.
Each of these five areas need special attention and a conscious approach, though it should be noted that how well a team works and collaborates often lies with the team leader. If this wasn’t previously the case, the functionality and welfare aspects now need to be the case. As a result, many considerations in the list above are, to a large extent, dependant on the skills and behaviour of the leader. Leaders not only play a critical role, they need to become role models for the desired behaviour. As such, leaders need to acquire new skills to lead in these new circumstances.
Maintaining motivation and morale in a remote setting, especially in challenging times, is much more difficult if you cannot meet your team members face-to-face. It is even harder to notice issues, especially at an early stage. If your team members opt not to tell you about professional or private issues it can take longer provide the necessary support and guidance. Good listening skills and empathy are needed to “read and hear between the lines” in order to identify problems and offer help.
This requires far more interaction with the team on a one-to-one basis and the whole group, both in planned settings but also ad-hoc. As a leader you need to be approachable and not hide behind operational tasks – the team needs you more than ever.
An important change for many leaders involves stepping away from micro-managing. They have to trust that everybody will do their best and deliver results in time, even if this happens in unusual ways. Working remotely forces many leaders to try new approaches: Setting a wider frame of objectives and trusting the skills and dynamics of their team to be successful without interference.
An inspirational vision and purpose can provide guardrails that offer orientation, meaning they know in which context to operate in, even if they are working towards moving targets. This frees up time for leaders to work on more strategic topics and focus on what is really important: guiding their team through difficult times.
Strikingly, in an August 2020 KPMG survey, 60% of CEOs said they are “more confident” in their company’s growth trajectories over the next three years than they were at the beginning of 2020. What is critical then, is not to just succeed with digital remote employee enablement, but to also implement robust leadership to ensure remote working does not become the Achilles Heel of corporate growth.
Anke Hirning leads the worldwide Management of Change (MoC) team at HPE. This MoC team is designed to assist companies to achieve their desired business results by proactively guiding their people through technology changes. As an expert in the areas of adult education, organizational development and Management of Change consulting Anke develops programs for customers in all industries to support their workforce to embrace the changes in the digital world. Anke is based in Germany and holds a doctorate degree in Physics.