On the one hand, remote leadership is no different from regular leadership. Managers must set clear strategies and goals, attract and retain the right talent, and motivate that talent to reach the stated goals. But when the tide goes out, you can see which leaders were swimming naked. There’s nowhere to hide in virtual leadership, no chumminess to gloss over systemic issues with how an organization is managed. To put it succinctly, virtual management requires the best from managers. Remote leadership requires more empathy, transparency, prioritization, and trust than its in-person counterpart.
Connecting with distributed teams requires more focus to understand their perspectives, their wants, and their needs. Great leaders harness the best out of their teams by understanding and optimizing for different people’s motivations. All leaders should be attuned to changes in tone, attitude, and word choice, to better react to their team. But virtual leaders have to perceive these signals from videoconference screens, phone calls, and emails. It’s much easier to build those connections and read body language when you’re in person.
Remote teams leave a lot of room for asynchronous, hidden information. Asymmetric knowledge drives a wedge between managers, colleagues, and regions. Committing to more transparent knowledge distribution takes bandwidth from other projects, but culture and team synergy disintegrate without it. Great managers will prioritize the time, processes, and technology necessary to disseminate information equitably. Transparency also applies to business strategy. Working remotely can at times be a lonely experience, but for employees who have a clear understanding of what they are working towards, it’s easier to stay committed and engaged.
This is what managers are paid to do. But with everyone in their WFH siloes, not having a clear steer on priorities can leave employees in the dark. There’s less opportunity to ascertain priorities from chit-chat or passive information transfer. Leaders need to mitigate this by making sure their active information transfer, that is to say, knowledge distribution, makes priorities very clear. You don’t want someone sitting alone in their home office having an existential work crisis because they don’t understand how their project ties into the bigger picture. If you’re not there for a pep talk to keep your employees engaged, the next best thing is utmost clarity of purpose.
Managers can no longer rely on presenteeism to understand who is committed to the team. Leaders who have set effective, clear goals need to let go of the reins and let their teams deliver the required results. Micromanaging needs to be replaced by effective coaching, helping teams overcome challenges and find opportunities without trying to drive every initiative. Team building needs to be reconfigured for the remote age, building intimacy into 2d screens and allowing colleagues to build bonds based on vulnerability and respect.
The great leaders of the future will harness these traits to build engaged teams focused on results but built on a foundation of collaboration and information transparency. Fearful leaders will likely bridle at these demands, unable to meet the requirements, but in this chaos, there’s room for a new level of leadership to emerge.
Learn more remote management skills in McKenna Sweazey’s recent webinar.