Wednesday, May 3, 2023

5 Keys To Leadership While Working With Remote Teams

zoom-video-sessionThe current surge of working remotely, driven by the pandemic and international freelancing, has challenged our thinking on collaboration and leadership, both within teams and outside, to other organizations. In my consulting work, I am finding this brings a need for more focus on the human side or empathetic leadership, rather than a reliance on the “command and control” paradigm.

I found some good guidance with practical specifics to accomplish this new type of leadership in a recent book, “Your Resource is Human,” by Melissa Romo. She brings more than twenty years of experience building and working with globally dispersed teams and Fortune 500 companies around the world. I offer here my interpretation of her five key leadership behavior principles:

  1. Help team members find meaning with work. Start with ‘How are you?’ and leave time for the answer. Don’t confuse performance targets with purpose and meaning. It’s all about contributing and being connected to team and company values for improving the lives of customers, or possibly a higher-level purpose, such as saving the environment.

    Another important driver of meaning at work is how the work relates to your career or personal development. Make sure you know your own aspirations, as well as those of the people around you, and focus on collaboration and relationships that further these needs.

  2. Always communicate with optimism and joy. We all need to overcome negative self-talk when we work remotely. Use modern tools, including video, to capture and share the sentiments of optimism, joy, and gratitude from and among remote team members on a regular basis. Be excited about change and the new beginnings it brings for your team.

    Team members who work remotely are also easily forgotten in their need for shared play activities outside of work. It’s still important to schedule virtual happy hours, special fun interactive quizzes, and creative video contests. Make time for play as well as work.

  3. Build respect and trust at the individual level. Trust is hard because it requires giving up control and being honest with ourselves, and with every team member. Leave it up to team members and leaders to decide what schedule works best for them. Prioritize care and concern over inconvenience. Don’t ignore or hide your remote and hybrid workers.

    Remote professionals also need to feel a sense of psychological safety, where they can make mistakes and trust they will not be punished, or offer ideas and trust they will not be laughed at. It takes effort to build and maintain the right culture in a remote work setting.

  4. Set boundaries to enable independent work. Be clear about expectations. Paranoia can run both ways – you might find yourself dependent on a remote worker, with them not sure where you stand. Be accountable for your commitments and hold team members accountable. Help them to know when to say ‘no’ or at least ‘not right now.’

    Also, you have to learn to practice ‘communication patience’. That habit of demanding answers right away may have to be moderated to allow time for people on other time schedules to not have to check and respond to messages at all times of the day or night.

  5. Measure everything and broadcast highlights. Make sure you know what is really happening, through metrics and feedback from others. Highlight individual achievements to the whole team, and connect work output to other teams, company purpose, and vision. Provide coaching and facilitate mentorship from others in the company for growth.

    The best thing you can do for a team member who isn’t performing well is to open-up a dialog about it early. They need to know, and they need to know that you know. Now you can apply empathy to understand personal burdens, versus blockers at work from others.

In summary, every leader has to deal with the many emotional pitfalls of the remote worker, including boredom, depression, guilt, paranoia, and loneliness. It’s up to you to spot where one or more of these pitfalls is leading to a dysfunctional worker, where even your best countermeasures outlined above will not be effective, and counsel that team member to avoid remote work.

Overall, despite the pitfalls, I’m convinced that remote and hybrid work is here to stay, and is a win for wellness. With the right leadership and the right organization design, there is already a significant body of research to prove that remote work makes more employees happier, reduces stress, enhances work-life balance, and increases job control. Make it work now for you.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on on 04/18/2023 ***



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