Authentic Leadership While Working Remotely

Adding the complexity of a remote setting to management can come with intricate challenges. Fortunately, it can also assist in creating authentic, unguarded dynamics between leadership and employees.

Leadership
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6
 Min read
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January 29, 2021

Authentic Leadership While Working Remotely

Adding the complexity of a remote setting to management can come with intricate challenges. Fortunately, it can also assist in creating authentic, unguarded dynamics between leadership and employees. Work-from-home teams benefit from the deconstruction of barriers instilled by corporate over-professionalism. In simple terms, management figures tend to feel and appear more human among their teams in work-from-home environments.  

The overwhelming majority of remote teams work from home in 2020 with alternatives such as cafes and libraries having dwindled. With the home office and the increased reliance on virtual meetings, employees allow a small but uniquely personal invitation into their private life.  

The previous ease of maintaining privacy within the office created social barriers but without those, there is opportunity to become more of a leader and less of a “boss”.

Challenges Facing Leaders While Working Remotely

Leading a team, department or company can prove tricky. The remote office challenges managerial skill in many ways due to the reduced interaction opportunities, lack of non-verbal communications and concerns over the “shirking from home” mentality. Without listing too many, here are samples of potential hazards leaders can encounter:

Communicating Effectively

Communication is an obvious victim from the lack of face to face interactions. It creates the most problems when not managed effectively and is often more nuanced than one might think. The knee jerk reaction for most remote leaders is to over-communicate to replace the open door approach. However, this leads to extra meetings, “Zoom fatigue” and lower productivity. Humans receive 55% of their communications through body language. Video calling means people are working harder to interpret messages and so become tired quicker.  

Tracking Work, Accountability & Trust

Work place accountability is a major consideration for management. The inability to have quick check-ins and the optics of a busy work place places additional strains on trust. Management, responsible for project deadlines, become entirely reliant on staff as their active role is reduced. The opportunity for employees to relax their approach can cause leadership to micro-manage and closely monitor work leading to difficult dynamics.  

Staff Morale and Culture Deterioration

A lack of personal exchanges often means less time to build culture and social connection. The emergence of Glassdoor and other employer review websites reveal how important culture is to employees nowadays. Without the opportunity to enjoy rapport with colleagues, morale, productivity and overall culture can dip.  Building the right culture in distributed teams should be the focus of leadership.

How to Show Authentic Leadership in Remote Offices?

Inspiring remote teams with authentic, relatable leadership is the newest challenge to emerge in the corporate world. With very little opportunity to learn the tricks, many managerial figures have been left to figure it out for themselves. However, the remote office does present the chance to connect and motivate teams differently.  

Agree Communication Tools with the Team

Today’s hyper-connected world has gifted a plethora of communication and project management tools. The efficiency level of digital connections has increased wildly in the past decade. Slack, Hangouts, WhatsApp, Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Gmail and a dozen more have broken down barriers but also created new ones. Everyone has a preference and using too many creates chinks in the armour.  

Use the opportunity to make a collaborative decision involving the opinions of everyone involved. By doing so, the team share responsibility and feel respected in the process of doing so. Each opportunity to efficiently involve the team in decisions gives employees a voice creating trust, belonging and parity in the power dynamic.

Setting the Stall Out Early

Leaders, regardless of setting, ought to lay out their rules of play up front when it comes to meetings, interactions and commitment. Setting clear standards means everyone can subscribe to the same expectations. It can be as simple as discussing meeting etiquette. Laying out effective agendas with definitive end times, realistic outcomes and reducing individual dominance of speaking time are powerful tools for getting the most out of a team without incurring boredom and indifference from individuals.

Having accepted norms maintains accountability and imbues personal ownership. It is not to create opportunities for chastising but to bond together over terms the staff accept and respect. The team lead retains the opportunity to be lenient and understanding but also call for the contribution of different team members opinions.

Showing Compassion and Humanity

One of the main critiques of the in-person office setting is foregoing humanity to maintain professionalism. Everything from the dress code to the communication tone can often seem removed from normality. When this permeates the remote office it creates the conditions for disillusionment, disassociation from the aims and disengagement causing far reaching consequences.  

“Remember the difference between a boss and a leader; a boss says ‘Go!’ – A leader says ‘Let’s go!” – E.M. Kelly

In order to avoid the pitfalls, a leader should be human. Dress semi-casually and show a genuine interest in the lives of your team. Offering glimpses into your home life can demonstrate compassion and authenticity. Employees are much more likely to work for a leader they like, trust and feel appreciated personally by.  

Transparency and Fallibility

Unsurprisingly, there are many methods of encouraging likeability. In order to preserve etiquette and remain productive; the work related techniques are best. Transparency and fallibility rank highly.  

Transparency is often lost in the communication deficits. Tasks are delegated easily with little reasoning. Incorporating the team in discussions about the threats faced, goals and strategies set forth and overarching aims creates the feeling of belonging to a greater collaborative project. It creates the opportunity for personal ownership of success eliminating the disinterest in menial tasks.  

Staff striving for collective success stimulates their problem identification, solution providing and innovation skills. It also creates leadership opportunities. Leaders often fall to the fallacy of having to be right and that their word should be final. It is frequently far more powerful to accept the decisions and ideas of the team over your own as a leader. It shows great respect dispelling common feelings of leadership not valuing the ideas of subordinates. Furthermore, this galvanises the culture and togetherness of the unit.  

“You can be right, or you can win”

This raises the concept of psychological safety  which was found by Google to be the most important factor in team performance. A company that fosters psychological safety allows team members to offer their opinions without the fear of embarrassment or judgement.

Interpersonal Connections

Perhaps the most immediate emotion experienced in virtual office transition is isolation. Staff have ample breaks to gel, exchange news and build their sense of belonging in the office. However, without the communal space, there can be a void of the interpersonal connections which are often highly motivating to staff.  

Intentionally replicating these opportunities is valuable for team morale and overall productivity. Teams are 20% more productive within a happy, engaged environment and it is easier than expected to replace. Informal events such as virtual coffee mornings, Friday happy hours, pizza parties and many more ideas go a long way toward encouraging inter-team engagement. Collaborative work projects and creating intentional teams also further this purpose.  

Finally, one to one meetings add an important dynamic. Individual team members report the feeling of not being seen or heard in the virtual office. Losing regular interactions can be disheartening and it is the role of the leader to mitigate that. Regular one to one meetings offers the platform to individuals to express themselves, raise concerns and seek much needed advice in a non-exposed way.  

Leadership in 2020 has been tested to the maximum. Unfortunately, very few had the opportunity to read a playbook before being asked to spearhead teams remotely. However, authenticity is becoming more and more vital to the remote leader and will likely be the attribute responsible for high staff retention and productivity rates among companies for long into the future.  

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