INSEAD

Remote Management Demands Unique Leadership Skills

Managing remotely

Our COVID-19 world is full of complex economic realities and a drastic switch to primarily remote workforces. Leaders had to transition to new methods of guidance and accountability, with unexpected situations at hand. But even when the pandemic is over, technological communication will remain a key business tool. From email to instant messaging to video conferencing, effective remote interaction is an essential skill more than ever before, and your leadership style will need to evolve accordingly to rely less on in-person oversight and more on trust, objective evaluations, and strong communication.

One core theme has emerged: the importance of humanizing your management style and connecting to your team as individuals facing a uniquely stressful time. This article will examine these changes in remote management styles, with tips on working through a pandemic, and potential avenues for executive growth.

Modern leadership for the remote workplace.

With limited exceptions, the modern workplace is no longer solely linked to offices, boardrooms, and suites, and as INSEAD has noted, this change has oftentimes been drastic. In remote settings, technology is the source of your communication, and your management skills are vital to making that communication run smoothly. Today’s work culture is far removed from the stereotype of the distant, hands-off leader, and current executives have to embrace the variety of communication methods aside from face-to-face interactions. From email to instant messaging to video conferencing, personally interacting with the people who report to you is essential to strong management more than ever before.

Even when the pandemic is over, technological communication will remain a key business tool. It allows mentorship and guidance from afar, even when inhabiting physical spaces is safe to do so again. As you evaluate your company and leadership style during COVID-19, these changes in accountability and home/remote workspaces will allow your employees to thrive and be productive away from the normal office settings. Your leadership style will need to evolve accordingly to rely less on in-person oversight and more on trust, objective evaluations, and strong communication.

Use technology to match your team’s needs.

This may sound obvious, but it’s far from simple. In fact, remote workforces mean leaders have to let go of assumptions.  You may think you know how to use technology effectively; after all, you send emails and video-conference already. But digging deeper into matching your technology use to your team’s unique needs is more valuable than you realize. You can tailor your accountability remote team managementcheck-ins, your expectations, and information-gathering sessions in different ways.

For example, let’s say one of your team members is working from home and also supervising their child, who’s learning remotely. Instead of interrupting their adapted workflow to call them about their current project at any moment, you can send them an email to accommodate their need for flexibility.

If another teammate thrives on visual communication, you can make time for a Zoom call to check in, rather than relying on the phone. While some communications require quick relays of information, acknowledging personal changes within a COVID-19 landscape, and showing your team your own ability to manage with options, will create breathing room from top to bottom. Business as usual isn’t what it was last year; if you understand this, your team will respond positively.

Manage with empathy.

Leadership can be considered as a two-faced role: leaders must now master a delicate dance of public and private availability. Once you grasp this balance of life as a public face of your company, but also as a leader managing people in stressful times, your reputation will improve, and this human side will appeal to happier, more productive employees.

Leadership is about results and profit, but in today’s world you cannot have strong productivity without care and understanding. Your team should look to you as a resource for openness, dialogue, and understanding when personal lives and careers are now in uneasy harmony. Be understanding of minor delays. Give your team a chance to talk to you privately, even from afar. Listen to concerns, and work toward solutions for when pandemic life gets overwhelming for even the most productive members of your team.

Leading others starts with leading yourself.

Self-reflection as a leader is now more important than ever. Understanding one’s own strengths and weaknesses, openly admitting them, and relying on others are hallmarks of a great manager. Research shows that when employees see their managers as people who know their own limits and growth areas, they feel a sense of relief when everyone is struggling in various capacities. This can free up mental resources and boost a sense of belonging and productivity.

While 2020 may have been the year of “unprecedented” change, uncertainty and volatility are here to stay, and investing in growing your individual and collective resilience may well be one of the most impactful steps you can take to hone your change management skills. The INSEAD Executive Master in Change is a unique program that enables you to understand yourself and others at a fundamental level, integrating business education with a range of psychological disciplines – and ultimately, to use that knowledge to lead more effectively through this and future crises.


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About the Author

As one of the world's leading and largest graduate business schools, INSEAD offers participants a truly global educational experience. With campuses in Europe (France), Asia (Singapore) and Middle East (United Arab Emirates), INSEAD's business education and research spans three continents. The school’s 145 renowned faculty members from 40 countries inspire more than 1,400 students in its degree and PhD programmes. In addition, more than 11,000 executives participate in INSEAD's executive education programmes each year. INSEAD’s EMBA programmes are highly ranked by Financial Times, and ranked #1 by Ivy Exec in 2018.