Twitter, Facebook and Shopify are just some of the companies that have recently announced offering home-working to employees indefinitely. The nature of work is forever changed and leadership must follow suit.
So, how do managers lead effectively in the virtual workplace?
- Take a team-based approach
First things first, ensure everyone in the team has the equipment, technology and technological-literacy required to fulfil their role remotely. A recent survey of 2200 office workers by the Institute of Workplace and Facilities Management reported two in five felt they were working in an “inappropriate” home-working environment and almost a third said they wanted more support from their employer in creating a productive home workspace; such as, office chairs, desks, screens and, crucially, better IT support.
Team cohesion is based on creating a sense of relatedness and belonging through shared goals and a common purpose. At the same time, everyone needs to feel and understand how they individually contribute to achieving a common goal; that is, how their unique skills contribute to the success of problem-solving, decision-making or fulfilling operational tasks as a collective.
- Set clear expectations on output
Leaders of remote employees can no longer rely on “presence” to manage. You can no longer pop your head above your monitor if you want to check in on someone in your team nor witness the work being done in person.
Rather, leaders need to communicate effectively, consistently and frequently to maintain team productivity. That is, communicating the what, the why and the how.
Target-setting video calls at the start of the week are opportunities to both clearly define expectations and empower employees to set their own agenda. Similarly, review meetings at the end of the week encourage employees to identify what was achieved, what proved a challenge, what skills gaps have been identified and what lessons have been learned to apply to the next task. As such, employees are provided with structure, purpose, focus and, essentially, accountability.
- Reinforce psychological safety
Empathy is a fundamental skill of a leader – and one that is exercised more rigorously than usual in the remote working world.
Where physical indicators are lacking, there is a greater need to be more attuned to changes in employees’ emotional wellbeing. In order to achieve this, you need to create and maintain a safe environment where your people feel they have a voice and where they feel listened to. It is also important to be proactive; ask questions about how people are feeling, engage by exploring these feelings together and respond effectively.
Another key element of an open culture is acknowledgement and gratitude. Through kindness and fairness, giving positive feedback and demonstrating gratitude you show people what they are doing well and what they should be doing more of. In turn, they feel more valued and motivated to perform.
I recently wrote a blog about kindness in the workplace, click here to read more.
- Take a long view
You’re a leader, which means you’re also a guide and a motivator. Create an aspirational team by having vision and planning for the future – and involve your people in the process.
The remote office and virtual team remain largely unexplored territories. While some organisations may have dipped their toe in flexible and remote working, for most the need to adopt this new way of working has been thrust upon them.
However, for leaders, this is not a time for treading water, desperately trying to keep your head (and those of your team) above the surface. The coronavirus pandemic has taught us to face challenges head on, to be creative in our problem-solving and to be agile in future-proofing the business. And your team are instrumental in achieving this so involve them.
- And finally, new starters
While unemployment rates have skyrocketed and the number of people claiming benefits soared by 70% in April, companies are recruiting – and many are recruiting into virtual workplaces. So, how do leaders ensure seamless integration for new starters?
Firstly, give extra time, care and attention to the onboarding process. Unlike in a physical office environment, you do not have the luxury of colleagues noticing a new face in the building or that a once vacant desk is now occupied by a new employee. Rather, you need to be proactive by communicating that you have a new member of the team to the company as a whole and arrange one-to-one video calls with colleagues and key contacts from different departments before their first day.
Regular one-to-one check-ins are also essential for helping new starters to feel integrated. New employees have lots to learn and therefore lots of questions – remember your first day way back when?! – so provide them with the confidence and safe space to do so and put them in touch with the right contacts to ask.
Finally, new starters need to create relationships of their own. Regular team meetings, virtual buddy schemes, virtual mentoring programmes and virtual social events all provide valuable opportunities for networking and relationship building.
Are you looking to follow Twitter, Facebook or Shopify’s example and offer remote working for your business? Are you looking to upskill your leaders in this new, remote office environment? At Tell Jane, we offer a range of online webinars and tailored workshops that can support your business and your people, get in touch to find out more.