5 strategies for successful remote leadership

Restoring faith after business crisis

The world of work has changed forever, as social distancing measures have forced employees to work from home for the foreseeable future. Even without the Covid-19 pandemic, remote working has its challenges. But when combined with the anxiety and uncertainty this crisis brings, leaders are faced with the mammoth task of keeping their team members motivated and productive. While productivity apps and digital meetings have a part to play, leaders must focus first and foremost on reducing the ‘virtual distance’ between their remote team members. Here’s how.

  1. Lay the ground rules. For remote working to work, unwritten expectations need to be made explicit. Consider agreeing on a ‘team charter’, which sets out the basics such as which forms of communication to use and when expected response times, roles and responsibilities, sign-off processes and so on. Establishing these ground rules will streamline the way you work, avoid confusion, and allow you to focus on the more nebulous aspects of leading from afar.
  2. Unite with a shared goal. It’s more difficult to feel like part of a team without physical proximity. Uniting the team with a common objective builds what psychologists call ‘shared identity’, which can help to reduce conflict. In these unprecedented times, the goalposts are constantly moving and employees might feel as though their work lacks purpose. Be crystal clear about what you’re aiming for, and ensure that every individual knows how their everyday work contributes to that goal.
  3. Encourage ‘swift trust’. When co-workers aren’t visible, it’s easy for mistrust to set in. Don’t let it. High trust encourages new ideas and innovation and means individuals are more likely to go outside their comfort zone; all incredibly useful in the current context. Role model what ‘swift trust’ looks like: be enthusiastic and encouraging in every conversation, assume that others are trustworthy without expecting it to be ‘earned’, and communicate your team’s progress so that everyone’s efforts are visible.
  4. Make it personal. Research shows that teams whose members regularly communicate outside of formal meetings outperform those who don’t. Schedule social video conferences or Zoom meetings, separate to work-related calls, bring some light relief and catch up on how everyone is coping. Feeling that their manager and colleagues care about them personally will help individuals maintain morale and momentum.
  5. Recognize and reward. Keeping spirits high is more important, and more challenging, than ever. Recognition for a job well done is a vital yet often overlooked tool. Don’t forget the power of great feedback: a quick note or call to spell out what they’ve done well helps to reinforce the behavior. In lieu of financial rewards could you send ‘care packages’ to your team members’ homes, or reward them with a take-away voucher to enjoy during a lockdown? Be creative when it comes to rewards: a little gesture goes a long way.
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