Overcoming the Challenges of Remote leadership

For many managers and their teams, remote working was thrust upon them with little chance to prepare.

Months later, remote working has become the norm, but it hasn’t been without its challenges and lessons.


The crisis shone a spotlight on leadership, with many employees seeking reassurance and guidance that wasn’t always there, mainly because no one could have anticipated the widespread implications that were ahead.


In normal circumstances, a leader would generally be able to restore a sense of collective calm and order among their team, however this has been made much more difficult with everyone working remotely.


There has been no guidebook for leaders on how to prepare for the impact of Covid19 and while there is still lots of uncertainty ahead, there are lessons to be learned to help prepare for future challenges.


1. Communication


Communication within a team is important at the best of times but during a crisis it becomes the core of keeping things together. From a leadership perspective, getting the balance right between too little and too much information is essential. For example, at the start of the pandemic, people were consuming an overload of news, much of which was unverified and in turn caused panic. Whilst a leader cannot control what each individual is googling or reading on social media, they can ensure that staff are kept up to date on how the company is responding to a situation and how this will affect them. Effectively communicating with a team remotely also means actively reaching out on a daily basis to ensure everyone understands their responsibilities and that they feel reassured that their leader is on hand should they need them. It’s sensible to establish a routine for communication so that employees know when to expect information and on what channel they should expect it for example, email, slack, video conference etc.


2. Knowledge Sharing


If a team is used to working alongside each other in an office environment, they’re likely to unconsciously keep each other informed about things in conversation. Remote working tends to make people work much more individually and it can be easy for people to miss important information. One way to overcome this is to ask the team to summarise both “need to know” and “nice to know” information in an end of the week email which can be discussed in an informal segment of the Monday morning team catch up. This will remind employees to consider what information might be of importance to the wider team as they work and reviewing these points together should mitigate any knowledge gaps.


3. Productivity


Without being a micro manager or installing tracking apps on laptops, it can be hard to measure productivity remotely. Much of this comes down to trust and transparency. The current situation has been exceptionally challenging for many people, particularly parents. With schools being closed, many parents suddenly had to juggle home schooling as well as adapting to working remotely. A degree of flexibility and understanding has been required. As a leader, ensuring employees have everything they need to do their jobs, holding regular catch ups and daily check in’s all helps to set expectations and rules of engagement. It is also wise to set out clear objectives or KPI’s either as a team or for each individual employee as this establishes a tangible measurement of productivity.


4. Employee Wellbeing


Reports suggest that there has been an increase in feelings of isolation and loneliness since lockdown but identifying staff who are struggling with their wellbeing is much harder to do remotely. Leaders have had to step up quickly in order to prioritise the health and wellbeing of their work force in totally new ways. One to one catch ups are a good way to have a more personal interaction with each member of the team. Leaders need to be able to offer emotional support and be empathetic to individual circumstances. There are also lots of innovative ways to maintain a team spirit and group interactions which will help to combat those feelings of loneliness. Organising weekly fun team activities such as quizzes, bingo, or virtual coffee breaks all help to boost morale and keep people connected on a more personal level.


We are all experiencing unprecedented times and as mentioned before, there is no rule book as to how best to respond to this. However, with remote working set to be the new norm, for the foreseeable future, it is worth reviewing what’s gone well and where improvements can be made to get the best from employees.


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