Remote leadership

How to get it right when everything has changed

The days of “management by walking around” and all-hands get togethers are nearly seven months in the rear-view mirror. These days, business leaders have more in common with coaches and psychologists. If only we could be future-tellers, too.

Leading a work-from-home team during the pandemic is a challenge most of us had to rise to unexpectedly. Some leaders figured out quickly what to focus on, and how to keep productivity and morale on track. Here are four principles the most successful remote leaders are getting right.

1. Set clear expectations. Make sure everyone knows what success in the remote work environment looks like for them — in terms of role, duties, timelines and results — and for the team as a whole. Consider putting it in writing. Include all of the details that matter, including dress code for video calls, and behavior during staff conference or video calls and client or customer calls. Don’t let anyone on the team wonder what they should be doing, or whether you will notice, or if it really matters right now.

2. Focus on the right work. With no daily visibility, it’s easy to assume team members are slacking off or aren’t fully engaged. Employees who have never worked remotely before do need to be managed, but not necessarily micromanaged. It is important to keep team members focused on the work that is truly most important and most meaningful to helping your company and your clients emerge stronger. By focusing on the tasks that are most critical, you can approach your employees with empathy and from a place of helpfulness. Many of them are likely struggling to juggle family demands, are working in a home office without their normal materials and equipment, and are trying to stay productive and creative in a worrisome environment. By keeping them focused and on the right track, you help keep morale up and keep employees’ fears at bay — even if your own fears aren’t.

3. Overcommunicate. Leading a remote team means carving out more of your time to talk with your team — and making sure the conversation always goes both ways. More information is always better than less in times like these, so share as much as you can about the company’s status, plans, timeline for decisions, etc. If you can’t share, be upfront about that, as well. “I can’t share the details yet, but we are working to address this issue and I’ll have more information for you soon,” is better than silence. Try to anticipate questions and concerns and be the first to bring them up. The team is looking to you to show them the path forward — make sure you are helping them see what you see.

4. Commit to flexibility. Things are changing rapidly as the pandemic progresses, as the economy finds new footing and as people make adjustments in their daily lives and habits. There is a lot that just isn’t in your (or anyone’s) control right now. Show your team what flexibility looks like so they can follow suit and adapt quickly when they need to.

Most important, for all leaders, is to be an example your team can follow, and that’s true whether you’re in the office or working remotely.

Kelly Borth is CEO and chief strategy officer of GREENCREST