#BusinessAgainstCorona: 10 Success Factors for Remote Leadership
Coronavirus outbreak shook domestic economy and forced companies to adjust to the new emergency situation. In the face of the pandemic and protective measures taken, business had to find its own solution and introduce large-scale working from home, although remote working has long been present on the modern market as a work model and constitutes a benefit in terms of working conditions. According to the Global Workplace Analytics statistics #incaseyoudidntknow:
- 95% employers say working from home has a great impact on employee retention
- 46% organizations reported significant reduction in employee turnover
- 37% of 1500 professionals would accept a 10% pay cut in exchange for the opportunity to work from home.
Also, employees who work from home are quicker to return to work after health issues or surgery, they report greater quality and better work/life balance, plus less stress. The results also indicate these employees are more productive in their work.
However, now that working from home is necessary, the foundations of the remote working paradigm started cracking: from a lack of appropriate online collaboration tools to a lack of training for leaders in how to lead teams when employees work from home.
To identify the ways in which these challenges can be overcome, we examined the sources of potential difficulties.
Nowadays, leaders are facing a lack of direct interaction with team members, and as a result, the inability to directly supervise their work. Such situation brings about a concern that employees may not work as hard and as efficiently, while employees struggle with reduced availability of support and help from and communication with their leader. Another challenge related to remote work is diminished availability of information or slower exchange of information within a team. In the remote context, it takes more time and effort to exchange formal and informal information, which leads to less understanding, flexibility, trust, and empathy among team members. This contributes to a feeling of social isolation, which is why loneliness is one of the most common complaints among employees working from home. All this can affect team members’ commitment and requires additional effort to keep up team spirit and productivity.
One of the big challenges faced by people working from home are numerous distractions, especially in time of an emergency situation, when people spend less time outside and most of their time sharing space with the entire family. Team members are not the only ones who struggle with this problem. Leaders themselves may have certain distractions which prevent them from doing their job at home with sufficient commitment and focus.
The above challenges of working from home have also been confirmed by the results of the State of Remote 2019 study.
In order to improve necessary leadership competencies, knowledge, and style, we came up with these 10 key success factors for remote leadership in the time of COVID-19.
- Define communication channels
Although communication is always important for leaders, it remains crucial during remote work, not just in terms of recording decisions and meetings, but also when it comes to everyday team communication, which otherwise runs smoothly in the office. To compensate for these remote work-related communication barriers, leaders should provide their workers with various technological communication tools. Email alone is not enough, and modern technology offers numerous solutions which may improve remote communication and enable setting up a virtual office (Zoom, Skype, Slack, Microsoft Teams, etc.). If your company hasn’t set technological tools yet, basic versions of these tools can be downloaded for free. Before using any of these, contact your company’s IT department to check if there’s an appropriate level of data safety.
- Maintain social interactions in your virtual office
By scheduling meet-ups for coffee breaks and having conversations about life outside work, you’ll give your employees a sense of belonging, being involved and close with their co-workers. Have one-on-one talks, chat and use GIFs and emojis in written communication. Remember that your colleagues are not able to see your reactions now and can’t interpret your nonverbal cues.
Make time for a group meeting. Use first 10 minutes to talk about informal topics and allow your team members to exchange information on what’s going on in their private lives. Encourage them to turn on their cameras. Throw a virtual office party. Set up a video call and have pizzas delivered to your team members’ homes during the call. So, it’s important to take some time out dedicated solely to informal team interaction.
- Structure and clear expectations
Just providing technological communication tools is not enough. It is necessary to give clear and structured guidelines on their use. For instance: “We use video conferencing for daily meetings, but we send instant messages only in emergency.” Also, if possible, tell your employees what is the best way and time for them to contact you during a workday (e.g. “I’m usually available later in the day for ad hoc phone or video calls, but if it’s urgent earlier in the day, you can text me.”).
Setting up clear expectations is of utmost importance for all aspects of remote work. Leaders must set up crystal clear expectations: describe the task to be done in detail, specify the quality standard, i.e. define a task well done, and finally, set the deadline for its performance.
- Monitoring productivity
In addition to setting up clear expectations, it’s also necessary to structurally monitor employees’ performance and productivity. Today, there are technological project management tools (Trello, Asana, Meistertask, WorkflowMax, AceProject, etc.) enabling leaders to communicate with their employees, monitor their performance and productivity, define projects by steps/tasks and monitor performance of these tasks, all in one place – online.
- Demonstrate trust and avoid micromanagement
All newbies in remote work are at risk of constantly checking if their employees are actually doing their tasks while working from home. However, such micromanagement leads to a lack of trust and more stress. Ensure and maintain trust within your team, since this is an indispensable factor for a team to function successfully. Make sure each member is autonomous and communication channels are open.
- Let your employees set their own hours
Allow you employees to organize their work from home on their own, provided that it’s outside the time scheduled for meetings and conferences, and present this as another benefit. Let’s not forget that home workspace is much harder to control and has more distractions than an office, so let your employees define their hours according to the required solution, clearly defined expectations and deadlines. This will help employees realize what their objectives are, it will give them more autonomy and flexibility, which will in turn boost their involvement and devotion, plus overall satisfaction. Note: We don’t recommend this step for newly hired team members and if the nature of products/services/organization doesn’t allow it.
- Show understanding and support
Don’t deny the current circumstances both you and your employees are in. Insecurity about ultimate effects of this situation on overall economy and business makes employees anxious and can easily turn into panic. Identifying and accepting feelings will contribute to greater devotion and emotional attachment to the team. Make comments about the pandemic and talk to your employees about how they feel about this period, keeping a calm and collected tone to eliminate the chance of spreading panic and instability. Research about emotional intelligence and emotional contagion indicate that employees follow their leader’s example when it comes to reacting to sudden changes and crises. If the leader communicates stress and helplessness, this will have an adverse effect on employees, who will adopt and copy this behavior. In such situations, efficient leaders use a two-way approach: They acknowledge stress and anxiety their employees feel in difficult circumstances, but they also emphasize and point out trust in their teams, using expressions like: “We can do this” or “This is hard, but I know we can handle it” or “Let’s see how we can leverage our strength at this moment”. Don’t rely on unverified information or succumb to catastrophizing, but rather determine your priorities (people, data, critical operations) and motivate your employees to find solutions in such circumstances, instead of continuously brooding over negative consequences and impacts.
- Nurture professionalism
Stress that background noise during meetings and calls is not important and show understanding for the new context and working circumstances. This will make you more connected since you’re including aspects of your personal life. That said, don’t go to extremes, but maintain professionalism necessary for doing business, starting from vocabulary and conduct during meetings to appearance (working in pajamas should not be allowed). Your team is not accustomed to working from home and they are still adjusting. As a leader, you set an example of a good remote work context by your appearance, attitude to work and conduct during conference calls. Avoid having around objects that may be distracting during meetings. Turn towards a window or use a lamp so that your team sees you well. Look for headphones or applications that mute noise (e.g. Krisp) and tell your team about these.
- All that praise!
Praise for a job well done and focus are becoming necessary in remote working. Praise creates a sense of importance and involvement despite distance and indicates that employees’ effort really does make a difference especially now when this is even harder due to crisis.
- Last but not least – Investing in employees’ development!
Although this is time of crisis, investing in employees’ development is still a valuable tool for keeping them motivated, enthusiastic and dedicated. This is a great opportunity for employees to attend webinars, online trainings, online individual and group development programs, as well as gamified e-learning methods. This will not only help expand your employees’ competencies, but also reduce stress, improve how a crisis is handled and brand you as an employer who puts their employees first during the time of crisis.