Leading Remotely

Leading Remotely

The world is being turned on its head by the CoronaVirus pandemic.  Frankly, there is good in this.  It has it rapidly enforced the need for people to ‘work remotely’, a growing global trend.  Driven by unnecessarily wasted hours of commuting and the stress of working in suffocating corporate cultures, flexible working structures have been hindered by old school management styles that insist ‘if you are not at your desk you can’t be working’.   Forward thinking companies have already appreciated this trend and understood the potential benefits. But it does create some challenges for leaders, steeped in traditional management doctrine.

After the initial necessities are sorted such as technology, connectivity, operational functionality, what are the next logical challenges? The two obvious considerations are:

  • How do we optimally communicate?
  • How do I optimally lead remotely?

One of Lead with Humanity’s long-held tenets on leadership is that ‘you cannot lead anything or anyone that you are not connected to’. Simply put, if you are out of touch with, or disengaged from your team, don’t expect them to either be influenced by you, or follow you. If ever there was a time to ditch the ‘I’ll communicate with you on a need to know basis’ it is now. RIP.

So just how do we effectively communicate with our team to stay connected when working remotely?

It is easy to say ‘electronically’.  We have email, text, WhatsApp, skype, and yes, a telephone call. All a good start. But we know from the legendary research of Albert Mehrabian in the 70’s that our interpretation of any communication is driven:

  • 55% by the expression on the speaker’s face, and their body language
  • 38% by the tone, pitch and style of their words
  • 7% by the actual content.

As such we conclude that non-visual communication is the most critical component of effective communication. But any non-visual communication is also the most open to misinterpretation or misunderstanding. We subconsciously ‘read between the lines’ for what is being implied.

So, in conclusion.  We should always default to visual communication tools so that, despite our virtual reality, our teams can, in the very least, interpret how we deliver our words in the most real way possible.   However, I do believe there is much more to think about and so much more that is within our control.

  1. Appreciate the level of uncertainty your team is feeling. This is a new and scary time for them too.
  2. Build a safe holding place for them. Notwithstanding their isolation and loneliness of working remotely, ensure they know that you have their back and your ‘open door’ policy remains.
  3. Communicate purposefully. Show your team that you are genuinely interested in them, their work, their unique challenges and how they are coping.
  4. Be yourself. Be authentic in your communications.  Don’t try to be someone you are not.  It is ok to show your vulnerabilities.  In fact, by doing so, you will likely deepen your connections with your team.
  5. Agree on outputs and timing and then get out of the way. This is not a platform conducive to micromanaging.  Enable your team and then trust them to deliver.
  6. Take the time to regularly ‘check in’. Agree with individual team members on how often they would like to check in and then be reliable.
  7. Keep relationships open, even if your communication is not reciprocated.
  8. Acknowledge the challenges each team member may be facing working from home, such as having children at home and the impact on their spouses. Give them space to deal with additional complexities.
  9. Remember leadership is a ‘giving thing’. Good leaders continually give time, guidance and encouragement. They also give direction, space, hope and energy.  Bad managers take all these things from their team.

You may well find yourself with extra time.  Remember how priceless your time has felt in the past.  Use it wisely.  Lead yourself.  De-stress and reduce any anxiety you are feeling about these extraordinary times.  Sleep more, exercise more, read more.  Stay healthy, connect to nature and give yourself daily gifts of meditation and mindfulness.

In the worlds of Roman philosopher, Senecca “The mind that is anxious about the future is miserable.”

Introduce these practices and you might just find that leading remotely can be very effective, and, indeed, surprisingly liberating.

Pete Laburn