Leadership and Communication in the Remote Era

The remote era has brought with it myriad challenges for leadership. Being the right type of communicator for this moment will help leaders and managers better tackle these challenges.

Adapting to the ever-changing conditions presented by the pandemic and the forced WFH experiment has been tough for everyone, but managers in particular have struggled.  Now that we are coming out the other side of Covid-19, hybrid has become the dominant model, but many employees are demanding flexibility be built into their new work lives, and there are more remote positions being offered than ever. Managers hoping to go back to the way things were will be sorely disappointed, and may soon find themselves scrambling to stay relevant in a shifting landscape where remote work is not just the future of work, it’s very much the now of work. Managers and leaders that can take teams with them into this brave new world will need to develop communication strategies that are fit for purpose in this remote era. We take a look at what leadership and communication in the remote era involves. 

Be empathetic 

We’ve all had a rough few years. And for the first time in the workplace, maybe ever, it’s ok to say it. Managers and leaders who show up to the current moment by letting their staff know that it is ok to not be ok will be the ones who will bring their team with them. Empathy and support are key qualities that are expected in leadership in the remote era. “The contract between employees and employers is being rewritten,” says Jennifer Shappley, global head of talent acquisition for LinkedIn. “What employees used to accept is no longer acceptable to them. When they aren’t feeling care and love from their employers, they are leaving.” 

Additionally, employees will respond better to managers who show they can relate to what they are experiencing. Author Brene Brown posits that “Being vulnerable as a leader involves a change in mindset that enables you to see through the eyes of the people you lead.” 

Be agile

Remote-first cultures operate on a less hierarchical structure, with collaboration and cooperation being contemporary approaches in an asynchronous setup. Breaking down the barriers that exist between management and team members is a central tenet of remote structures. This mimics the move away from waterfall models of management in projects to agile models of management, the popularity of which is particularly relevant in remote work, which requires higher degrees of flexibility than the traditional top-down approach. Applying the appropriate leadership approach for the remote era may mean the difference between staying afloat or going under, given the leverage which employees have in the context of the current candidate’s job market. Today’s talent won’t tolerate bad leadership, as evidenced by The Great Resignation, so organisations must ensure their managers are able to lead in a way that will retain staff, and that means flexibility over rigidity every time. 

Be relaxed 

Soft skills are hugely important when it comes to management. Managers that are flexible, approachable and easy to get along with will perform best in remote working environments where interpersonal skills are leaned on more heavily because of the physical distance implied in this model. If you can interact with your team in a light, affable and good humoured way while still being professional, efficient and productive, you’ll be winning at the game of management in a remote setting. 

Kamal Janardhan, a leader within Microsoft, says, “We get so transactional, and it wears on the human spirit. I always make sure to check in with my team before diving into work. My go-to formula is to share a positive piece of news, something that invokes humour and a sense of community, and something personal since it sets an example for others to do the same.”

Trust your team

One of the biggest tensions arising between managers and employees is a lack of trust around remote working. It’s no secret that the majority of managers want their staff back in the office, and that these managers think that remote employees are more dispensable than those who choose to return to the office. Leading in the remote era requires that managers have faith in their remote employees to do their jobs fully and well without being micromanaged. Remote workers thrive on autonomy, so it’s counterproductive for managers to keep them on a short leash. 

Sam Levy, a leader at Oracle NetSuite, says, “This should go without saying but as a leader it’s incredibly important to believe in your people. Remember that not everyone works or learns in the same way, and this is especially true for those who aren’t used to working remotely. As we continue to adjust to this environment, it’s important to support your teams in different ways depending on the skills and strengths they accelerate at.”

Communicate good examples 

Whether it’s respecting the timeliness of a meeting, implementing a collaborative workflow, making virtual calls more efficient or letting the team know about a handy feature of a particular tool, there are plenty of good remote work practices floating around among our teams. A good remote leader should be able to pick up on these positive contributions, and communicate the successes to the rest of the team. Not only does this reinforce morale by celebrating these small wins, but it creates a culture of multiplicity around good examples. 

Sam Levy comments on this, saying, “When I see something that works, I communicate it widely. The more we can share these good ideas, the more we will see them in practice.”