Aspiring to be a leader instead of just a boss isn’t a new concept. But since 2020, many experienced leaders have been leading remotely for the first time. And like everyone else, they’ve faced a whole new set of challenges.
In this post, we’ll address the challenges as well as the benefits of remote work. And we’ve listed 9 tips to help managers and supervisors transfer their leadership skills to the remote context.
Benefits of Remote Work
Remote work offers impressive benefits for all parties involved; employees, leaders, and owners.
Flexibility and Autonomy
The Happiness Index’s Global Workplace Study confirms what business psychology has told us time and again—two of the biggest contributing factors to employee satisfaction are flexibility (location and schedule) and autonomy (the power to decide how/when you complete tasks).
When the desk job was suddenly hurled into the home office by the circumstances of 2020, many employees experienced flexibility and autonomy like never before. And employers were surprised by the positive results.
Increased Productivity, Less Turnover, and Higher Savings
Statistics from leading research institutions, as reported by Forbes, show that remote work leads to a 35-40% increase in productivity, 41% less absenteeism, 12% less turnover, and an average of USD$11,000 per person, per year in company savings.
Recruiting and Scalability
Because remote work frees us from geographic restrictions, professionals can choose where they live, whether it be outside the city, near family, or on an island abroad—and keep their jobs.
Human resources departments now have a much larger pool of candidates to choose from. For the hard-to-fill positions, HR is no longer restricted to applicants living in the vicinity or willing to move.
Companies that are looking to scale their business can use strategic partnerships to grow without the hassle of hiring. More and more businesses are collaborating with remote teams, for development, design, security, QA, etc., on an as-needed basis.
Common Challenges of Remote Work
Surprised by the benefits employers have enjoyed thanks to the home office, many companies are opting to make full-time remote work, or hybrid remote-work, the new standard.
But, the advantages of remote work don’t come without a specific set of challenges. And it’s up to the modern leader to learn how to overcome the obstacles prevalent in remote work.
According to the 2019 State of Remote Work Report by Buffer, the most common problem for remote workers is knowing when to call it quits. As the lines between work and home have blurred together, they’re having more trouble unplugging at the end of the workday.
Overworking is bad not only for an individual’s health but also for their career. Working too many hours is problematic because it leaves room for little else. It keeps people from taking the time to practice healthy habits like cooking, sleeping enough, and doing physical activity.
Those who are putting in too many hours can potentially negatively impact their colleagues and the company. The exhaustion caused by overwork leads to more mistakes, irritability, and less creativity.
Remote workers report feeling stressed because of a lack of approval and unresponsive coworkers.
In a physical office, you can drop by a colleague’s desk and ask a question to get a quick answer. But today, we’re stuck waiting on an email reply or a Slack response before we have the answer we need to move forward.
When it comes to written communication, it’s hard to get a sense of whether someone approves of our work. The 1960’s researcher Albert Mehrabian was quoted for suggesting that 97% of communication is nonverbal, meaning that we mostly rely on body language and tone of voice to interpret a message.
Without being able to hear your voice and read your body language, your team is likely misinterpreting your messages. An email that says ‘good job’ just doesn’t have the same ‘pat-on-the-back effect’ as hearing it.
The perceived lack of approval and misinterpretations are causing unnecessary stress.
Remote workers have also reported feeling lonely and left out, extroverts especially. They describe missing human contact and having someone nearby to spitball with.
This isolation can theoretically lower a person’s sense of belonging to a company although there are no studies yet to suggest that isolation has led to higher turnover.
It will be interesting to see as 2021 unfolds and the COVID-19 vaccine proliferates, whether extroverts begin to leave 100% remote companies for companies on-site or with hybrid schedules.
Boss Vs. Leader
Before getting into remote leadership, let’s review the difference between a boss and a leader.
|A boss has a specific title or position that grants authority to make decisions.||A leader earns their reputation by setting an example for a team to follow, an example that inspires action.|
|A boss tells people what to do and gives straight answers to questions.||A leader practices coaching to guide employees through challenges and teach them problem-solving skills.|
|A boss micromanages/controls details.||A leader trusts their team which inspires creativity and innovation.|
|A boss is focused on profit.||A leader wants to transform the organization and the people in it. A leader focuses on the vision and everyone’s growth. Financial success is part of that but not the main objective.|
|A boss places blame.||When faced with failure, a leader is self-reflective. A leader holds themself accountable for the team’s mistakes and looks for solutions.|
9 Ways that Leaders Can Support Remote Employees
Let’s say you need a web application. If you outsource the web app using this model, the Now that we’ve established what a leader is, how can you transfer your leadership skills online and support your remote teams—especially addressing the three biggest challenges facing your remote workers—overwork, communication, and isolation?
- (Some) Video
When you can’t see each other in person, video calls are the next best thing. Use your video during meetings and encourage your team to do the same.
Video calls are more engaging, making it harder to multitask, meaning everyone will be more focused during the call.
However, proceed with caution. Experts say that video calls require more focus than face-to-face interactions, and are therefore more tiring.
So, even though you can encourage more video interaction, be patient and understanding with those who do not want to use their camera for every meeting.
- A Daily Stand-Up
The daily ‘stand-up’ is taken from the Agile process, Scrum. Even though Scrum focuses on delivering value in shorter times, it works particularly well to improve remote work communication.
The daily stand-up is a daily huddle. It’s a 10-20 minute meeting held at the same time each morning in which the team, including you, updates each other on three things: What you did yesterday, what you’re going to do today, and if any obstacles are blocking your progress.
The daily stand-up is helpful in multiple ways. As the leader, you’ll be able to identify the obstacles your team faces daily. Often, other people are assigning our team members tasks that we’re unaware of. And those tasks can quickly pile up.
When you do a daily stand-up, you gain visibility to see when you need to step in and offer support. Your colleagues will appreciate the backup and through attending daily meetings they will feel more informed.
- Brainstorming Sessions
Many of us get breakthroughs by working through ideas with others. Set up occasional brainstorming sessions.
Members of your team can volunteer to go in the ‘hot seat’ and talk about a project that they’re working on, and others can offer them feedback, or just practice active listening.
Encourage your team to set up mini brainstorming sessions between them when they’re feeling creatively blocked.
Schedule one-on-one video call time with your team members. Prioritize these meetings, meaning, make them regular and predictable.
Ask what’s working, if they’re feeling positively challenged, and what they need from you to be successful. Use this time to ask relevant questions, listen actively, and practice empathy.
- No Attendance Tracking
Trust your team to work on do-not-disturb mode. Don’t interpret the green Slack bubble as ‘working’ and don’t interpret the lack of a green bubble as ‘not working.’
Rather than tracking hours (micromanaging), focus on results.
- Non-Work Conversations
Don’t lose sight of the people doing the work.
Use the time at the beginning of meetings to connect by asking your team questions about things other than work. Personal talk during work hours happens naturally when we’re at the office but it’s something that many of us have lost as a side effect of remote work.
Even though after-work social hours are a nice practice, your employees should be able to feel that work is a place where they can connect to people on a personal level, too.
In a remote work environment where we are more isolated, it’s natural for people to worry and misinterpret slow responses.
Imagine someone sends a critical piece of a project and doesn’t hear anything back for a few days. They naturally start to worry, thinking, “maybe it wasn’t good enough,” or “maybe my tasks aren’t as important as I thought they were.”
Besides providing prompt responses, leaders also foster a calm environment by creating a culture of transparency.
When our team knows we will share important information with them (project changes, company status updates, why this person was chosen to lead a project, etc.) they are less likely to jump to quick, worst-case-scenario conclusions.
- Visible Celebration
Make sure to celebrate wins and celebrate them often, where everyone can see. A fun idea could be a celebration Slack channel.
- Work-Life Balance
Create a culture that values a healthy work-life balance. Keep an eye out for burn-out, but better yet, try to prevent it before it can occur.
Encourage your team to take their vacation and personal days. Touch on the topic during group meetings or one-on-one meetings. Ask your team how they are finding balance.
Call people out for putting in long hours. Stop praising over-work. Incentivize healthy habits, lead by example, and praise those who make an effort.
Both companies and employees benefit from the flexibility and autonomy that remote work offers.
- 35-40% more productivity
- 41% less absenteeism
- 12% less turnover
- $11,000 savings per person per year
- A larger talent pool
- Growth through strategic partnerships with remote teams
Yet these advantages do not come without their own, new set of challenges, namely, communication issues, feelings of isolation, and self-induced overwork.
As modern problems require modern solutions, managers and supervisors must step up as empathetic remote leaders. We hope the 9 tips for effective remote leadership listed in this post equip you with tools you can put into immediate practice and set your team up for success.