Adapting to a remote workforce is an adjustment for employees, leaders, and employers alike. Here's how bosses can be strong leaders for remote employees.
The transition to working remotely has been a culture shock to many who are used to doing their jobs in an office. It's also been especially trying for managers, who are now managing remote workers. May have found it difficult to foster relationships and enforce a team's productivity when communication has shifted so dramatically, both in tone and mode.
However, with the right approach, managing remote workers doesn't have to be more difficult. Rather, the workplace-leadership challenges simply look different—as do the strategies to tackle them.
When looking at how to be a good leader for a remote workforce, it's important to consider both sides of the coin: leaders as well as their direct reports. Both workers and managers alike are experiencing obstacles in their transition to working from home—and the only way to be an effective remote leader is to understand the full picture of an organization.
Although workers are individuals—and should be treated as such—many share common experiences while working remotely. It's important to recognize many of these shared employee concerns in order to implement strong remote-work leadership tactics. Common remote-work challenges include:
- A lack of the daily structure that helps employees get in a work mindset and use their time productively
- A lack of childcare or sufficient time away from childcare duties, which often leads to heightened distraction
- A lack of dedicated space, ergonomic setups, or up-to-snuff utilities such as high-speed internet, which can make work more inefficient or physically taxing
- Increased time spent on video calls, which can cause excessive fatigue
- A lack of social environment to buoy the workday, keep morale high and increase productivity
- More difficulty accessing information from colleagues and managers who are usually available in person
Managers experience their own particular obstacles when working and managing teams virtually. Leaders managing remote workers may experience:
- A lack of direct sight-lines to direct reports, which may upset established leader-worker dynamics
- A lack of context cues, such as body language cues, that reveal how their workers are feeling and responding to tasks
- Increased difficulty tracking accountability as workers may communicate less consistently
Additionally, those managing remote workers often share all of the same challenges that their direct reports are experiencing, which can further compound management hurdles.
Rising to the Occasion
Once managers understand the specific challenges of their employees—as well as the ones they're experiencing as leaders—they can begin to tackle those difficulties. New remote-management best practices can help managers be better leaders for their remote workforce. These include:
Increase Transparency: Communicate expectations in advance of assignments, and be clear with feedback. To be a model for how to spend time, let your employees know what you're working on, and demonstrate approaches to managing workload and personal demands.
Individualize Management: Eliminate a unilateral management style, and instead tailor leadership approaches to individual team members. In order to manage successfully, many remote leaders take into account their employees' personalities as well as home-working situations.
Implement New Daily Structures: Create and enforce a new daily structure to help keep employees on task and also promote accountability, such as video stand-ups or weekly team progress meetings. Ask employees to check in as they move through their week on set intervals, but enable them to elect a time that works best for their personal schedules.
Promote "Socialization": Since in-person interaction isn't possible, find ways to replace water-cooler conversation with virtual interaction to help employees feel less isolated. Examples include company-wide contests, video-call happy hours and meet-and-greets with workers' children.
Offer Options: Offer different ways for people to communicate, depending on how they best feel heard and hear others. For instance, some employees prefer asynchronous communication to real-time chat. As always, take into account requests for schedule and process flexibility, which will help employees find the workflows that make them most comfortable and productive in their home environments.
Encourage Feedback: Let employees know that you're open—and will be receptive—to feedback, both in terms of how things are working in your virtual workplace as well as how you can better support them personally. The more open to feedback you are as a manager, the better you'll be able to identify the most effective remote-worker management strategies.
You're prepared to evolve your management tactics—but what about your supporting resources? It's quite possible that, in order to implement best practices for remote management, you'll need to swap around some of the tools in your toolkit.
As a first step, make sure that the technology you're using enables you the type of management strategies you'd like to use for remote workers. For instance, some platforms are built to facilitate asynchronous communication, while others require teammates to engage real-time. It's especially important to consider the types of tools you're using if your employees are now spread out across different time zones and weren't previously. Additionally, make sure you have a strong project-planning tool that helps workers stay on task and in synch with each other even if they're not directly communicating.
Technology isn't the only consideration. If you believe workers need new or increased access to wellness programs, such as mental health or financial wellness benefits, consider providing them with new options to keep them and their families as cared for as possible—especially amid trying times.
Finally, as some of these new technologies and programs may cost money, now is the time to audit your toolkit and either remove or pause other tools that aren't effective in a remote environment.
Overall, it's important to remember that, like the current global-health situation, remote work is also constantly changing and evolving. Some employees may require different support and resources than they did at the beginning; other employees may find the situation harder or easier as they begin to settle into working from home.
As such, your approach to managing remote workers should remain flexible. Keep evaluating what works and what doesn't, and be open to change, especially as the situation stays dynamic. The more open you are to discovering new things about your remote workforce and their needs as well as your own remote management style, the more likely you are to succeed.