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  • Writer's pictureJanice Otremba

Leading Remotely; it's a marathon, not a sprint

The global pandemic forced most companies to find ways to offer remote work, but what it didn’t provide was a cheat sheet on how to do it the right way.

According to a post-pandemic survey conducted by the International Workplace Group, 70% of Canadian employees would like to continue working remotely at least some of the time. Surveyors highlighted the benefits of a better work-life balance and reduced commute times.

Many businesses are offering remote jobs to recruit and retain top talent, but if they’re not careful, they may be falling short.

Here are some things we, as managers, should focus on with our remote employees to get shit done:

Communicate: More than you think you should

When people work from home, they can feel disconnected from their organizations, and nearly half (47%) of participants in a survey of 441 global HR leaders cited “effective communication” as crucial to their transition to remote work, Josh Bersin and others noted in the MIT Sloan Management Review.

Work productivity, creativity and sustainability are reliant upon human beings and the relationships between them. So, communication shouldn’t just be limited to email, Slack or Teams either. In fact, remote managers need to make it more of a priority to communicate with their teams than they would at an in-office job. Having private voice-to-voice or private face-to-face meetings with employees is crucial. This allows leaders to have difficult conversations and to ask questions on what’s working and what’s not, and to note if energy levels are high or near burnout.

Some companies hired employees during the pandemic and still have never met them in person. Due to geographical locations, that is sometimes unavoidable, but even then it’s important to have those one-on-one Zoom calls to get to know who you’re working with.

Be a human-centered leader: Know your workers’ values

Not knowing what your workers value is like trying to read their personal tea leaves. You are making decisions based on assumptions, not on facts. Although managers can feel uncomfortable with really getting to know and understanding somebody’s values, the more you know, the more you can motivate them to reach and exceed goals – theirs, yours, and the organizations’. That means being a human-centered leader; someone who knows how to put your people first.

When I talk about putting people first, I mean turning your focus to things like their motivation, state of mind, capacity, the environment within the culture of the organization and the context within the department of the organization. While you’re the leader, and you bring your own skills and agility to the job, you want to create a transparent model, so you can align other people’s values and goals.

So often we try to get new people to fit into a team that’s already existing. If we’re taking a human-centered leadership approach, instead of making the new person adapt, we should actually get our team to reorganize itself as a new force entirely.

If we look to co-create a collaborative environment, and everyone -- different values and all -- knows their role, then you are able to gain that culture of belonging, even when you’re not in the same room.

Solve their issues: Technological or otherwise

Once you know your employees’ motivations, you can also learn how to solve their specific issues.

For almost everyone, it’s really easy to disconnect in a hybrid model. When employees disengage, their productivity plummets. You should look for cameras to be on during remote meetings. You should limit hour-long meetings to 50 minutes, allowing time for bathroom breaks, snacks and information absorption. You want to provide brains the opportunity to transition. Sometimes that even comes down to providing the proper tools.

Supplying hardware, internet support or communication tools to enable remote work may sound like basic blocking and tackling, Bersin wrote in the MIT Sloan Management Review, yet when asked what helped them transition to remote work, 45% of all respondents mentioned company-provided or -subsidized technology, including hardware, collaboration platforms, home Wi-Fi or office furniture.

“Senior executives may take home-office essentials for granted, but many employees working remotely for the first time lack these basics,” the Review reported.

What else remote executives take for granted?: The value of knowing their employee’s working styles.

If you know how your employees work, you will know how to keep them engaged and learn what makes them disengage in the first place.

Is it a lack of routine? A lack of having to go somewhere? Do they use the electronic tools, scheduling and reminders at their disposal? Can they self manage? Are they overwhelmed with Slack, Teams, different messaging systems, clients or their own team?

Let’s say you have an employee who is process-driven, and needs more thinking time. Acknowledge that when planning meetings, and schedule a talkback at a later time. Kinesthetic workers may need to be ordered to stand up and shake it out, if sitting through a series of long meetings. Providing at-home standing or walking desks may be worth examining.

And don’t forget about yourself: Consider if your staff connects with the work style you use. Gross, eww, introspection! But think: Are you strategic or tactical? Are you coaching or mentoring? Some of us tend to communicate our expectations the way we like it, but we need to become very diverse. Once we know our peers, we need to understand the impact our style has on each one of those individuals, whether that be positive, negative or neutral. And then we can think about what we need to do if our style is creating a negative impact with a person.

It’s wise to take visual cues from employees’ body language as a hint of what is and isn’t working. It could even help us understand what kind of distractions they’re dealing with.

One of my clients, for example, just couldn’t get his head into work while working remotely. I had him get up, get into his car, drive down the road, order a drink at a local coffee shop and then come back home to start work. While that may not work for everyone, that’s what worked for him.

Honestly? It’s not rocket science.

What makes for a good manager at an in-person gig, also makes for a good one at a remote gig. No matter where your teams work or what technology connects them, great managers take a human-centered approach.

Provide your team with the tools they need, whether those be technological or personal.

Knowing who is working for us, what they value, what they need to succeed and how to measure their accomplishments is the key to success.

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