Article from Chris Underwood, MD at Adastrum Consulting
Organisations have long been adapting to constant technological innovation, which required leaders to move quickly and alter structures and practices to remain competitive. COVID-19 has simply highlighted the importance of developing leaders ready to support teams and businesses to move with change.
The pandemic has undoubtedly accelerated many businesses to adapt to home working, with few companies accommodating their full complement of staff in the office since March. As we experience another national lockdown and the possibility for more to follow, HR teams and leaders are questioning whether a more structured approach to remote team management is required and some organisations have hired a Head of Remote Working. However, this is an ineffective use of resource, which could be better spent on bolstering leadership skills and behaviours that further the organisation as a whole rather than focusing on a potentially temporary state.
Concentrating on softer leadership skills and behaviours, including emotional intelligence (EQ) and excellent communication skills, develops leaders who can adapt their management style to different environments including remote working.
Skills and behaviours for remote team management
The pandemic has highlighted the value of “resilient agility” in leadership. A combination of adaptability with grit and fortitude, it ensures leaders can drive delivery and progress in fast-changing scenarios and support teams to survive and thrive in challenging circumstances. It is underlined by composure and focus. These qualities help individuals to lead teams with purpose and maintain output regardless of the circumstances.
At the same time, empathy is vital for building trusted relationships and networks, and supporting the fear and emotional response colleagues experience in times of uncertainty. For remote working, empathy enables team leaders to encourage team and cross-team collaboration, to motivate employees and understand how personal challenges and other external issues that may impact individual and group work. Leaders with a high EQ drive collective intelligence (CQ), as a result their teams are better at solving problems creatively and can flex to meet the new demands that may arise in rapidly-evolving circumstances.
Great communication skills have long been lauded as vital to good leadership but remote working means that leaders should be able to communicate effectively through digital channels as well as face-to-face. This includes the ability to listen and extract information.
Adopting the best communication style to suit the audience, context and situation is imperative. Increased use of video conferencing has introduced more informality into professional interactions, with colleagues and clients able to see directly into each other’s’ homes and being present for domestic interruptions – whether it is the entry of small children or doorbell chimes from delivery workers. This has forged greater interpersonal connections and has greatly benefitted workplace conversations about mental health and wellbeing, yet leaders must still be able to manage some conversations formally, particularly when delivering constructive criticism or holding disciplinary action.
Adopting new ways of working
Technology plays a key role in the success of remote working and is a given that all leaders must be proficient at using existing technology. However, the companies and teams that were already forward-thinking and curious when it came to new technology were better positioned to quickly adapt to full-scale remote working in the early days of lockdown. Cultivating a curiosity in technology and new digital ways of working ensures leaders are always seeking to improve organisational practices and welcome suggestions from their teams.
Establishing clear rules and working practices clarify expectations and unite huge global teams to cultivate healthy online workplace cultures. Working with leadership teams to share learnings and develop a companywide approach to working from home reduces individuals feeling isolated or over-worked and under-valued. From a wellbeing perspective, leaders must appreciate the importance of socialising and networking in a virtual environment as well as just sharing best practice for productivity. This year has done wonders for employee engagement in company communications and it is important to build on these connections to navigate future transformation.
Training and development in remote environments
While the UK has shifted remarkably well to working from home, HR teams cannot overlook the learning and connection opportunities that are lost without face-to-face interaction.
Tacit knowledge is key to development and innovation, forming a core component of induction and training. It is almost impossible to fully replace these learning experiences remotely. Exploring how to use offices as training centres or creating other arenas to facilitate them is important for future L&D activities.
Where resources are tight, investment in bespoke programmes that address areas specifically important to an individual role or organisation are far more beneficial for the individual, their team and the company’s progress as a whole. This is particularly true for leadership positions.