Following COVID-19 and the unprecedented shift to remote working, the way we think about leadership is likely to change forever. While many of the key skills are still relevant, they need to be adapted and applied in new and innovative ways to reflect the new reality of work.
Making the jump from in-person to virtual leadership can be challenging. Yet, what you learn about leading a remote workforce now will likely become best practice for your company later on. With this in mind, below are six skills every leader should master as soon as possible.
- Better communication
The importance of communication can’t be overstated when leading a remote team. In a Harvard Business Review Study, respondents emphasised the importance of stellar communication with their manager and their co-located colleagues. “The most successful managers are good listeners, communicate trust and respect, inquire about workload and progress without micromanaging, and err on the side of overcommunicating, all while modelling the same behaviours for others on the team,” write the report’s authors.
- Giving better feedback
Whether you want your employees to improve, or you’re delighted with their progress, it’s crucial to let them know. Leadership expert Kevin Eikenberry recommends that leaders think “leadership first, location second”. He explains: “Everything you’ve learned about giving effective feedback still applies.” This includes making sure you find ways to know what feedback to give, doing it face-to-face – with your webcam turned on – and giving more of it. “You likely weren’t giving enough feedback (negative and positive) before, and the need for it is heightened once people are separated,” he says.
- Supporting your managers
These are strange times for managers. Some may worry about the disruptions to their workflows, others may struggle to ‘let go’ and engage workers from a distance. Some may be failing to trust that work will get done without them being physically there. “All of them will have to manage workers in a new way, and fast,” says Jennifer Robinson in a report for global analytics firm, Gallup. “[As a leader] give them your support, both practical and emotional, during what may be a tough transition. Invest in management development and coaching ahead of the budget plan and be affirming about the situation and understanding about altered deadlines.”
- Leading by example
‘Do what I say, not as I do’ was never a sensible approach for leaders pre-remote working. Now, with people enjoying more autonomy working remotely, it’s more necessary than ever to model best practice in your organisation. “Leaders underestimate how much of what they do is mirrored by their employees,” explains Harvard Business School senior lecturer, Julia Austin, who provides leadership coaching to companies. “Hypocrisy degrades them. Employees not only want to be told what to do, they want their managers to follow through on everything they’re saying, so they don’t feel pressure to keep up or start questioning their own performance.”
- Modelling respect and civility
The lack of face-to-face interaction when working remotely can encourage bad behaviour, including rudeness, disrespect and dismissiveness, suggests Management professor Christine Porath in her popular TED Talk. According to Porath’s research (studying the cost of incivility to businesses), while individual incidents may seem minor, they add up – and detract from the bottom line. Using Porath’s numbers, Cisco estimated that incivility was costing them $12 million a year. Leaders need to demonstrate respect and civility and insist on it at all times from the top to the bottom of the business.
- Understanding what’s important
The most important skill of all? Leaders need to stop thinking about how much employees are working – and focus on the end results instead. That’s what Andrew Thomas suggests in Inc. “When leading a distributed team, focus on the metrics that matter,’ he explains. “Instead of worrying about the time someone works, focus on objectives, outcomes and behaviour. The most important factors are that a remote worker completes their objectives in a timely manner and does so professionally. Focus on what is being accomplished more than you focus on how long it took them to complete it.”