What it takes to be a respected, inspirational and effective Leader, now more than ever, in this increasingly virtual business economy we work, communicate and transact in, is fast becoming a key focal point for companies of all types and sizes and geographical reach: local, regional and global. Are their certain personality types/traits, management styles and new ways of working that transcend and succeed in a virtual context, forum and meeting space?  How is remote Leadership viewed and embraced internally by employees and managers and externally by customers and clients?  

According to Southern Cross Coaching and Development, Leadership Coach, Simon Smith and our Corporate and Business members here are some of the takeaways from this dynamic and interactive discussion:

Simon drew our attention to focus on the concerns for companies going back to the workplace and to keep in mind that while many staff are looking forward to and excited about going back to their work place, there are however others who are not. What this means is to look at the different risk profiles, such as those who don’t want to go back due to childcare and/or fear of getting back on public transport. Being back in the office also raises more concerns around staff interactions, with younger colleagues less risk adverse while others preferring to keep a safe distance, which may result or lead to conflict with staff and complaints as they return, in addition to who is coming back and who is not.

While Zoom and similar online meeting platforms have provided an alternative solution for meetings, they nonetheless reveal some difficulties experienced in engaging with people both for staff and clients.  As we return to the new normal, some staff will enjoy going out for meetings over a coffee with colleagues and clients while others will not. It is in these domains that leaders and managers will need to think about how to manage and set the ground rules. And address how some staff are going to feel detached from the ‘mothership’ as they continue to work remotely.

One significant point Simon raised for company heads was ‘trusting people’. As a leader, you have to trust that your team and staff can do the work and be productiveSetting agendas and checking-in on how they are doing is imperative, as well as building trust and making stronger the ‘what’ and the ‘why’. Outcomes and what to achieve should be made clear plus scheduling check-ins to discuss those outcomes. But this can only happen if you have an agenda set with every single person and that all staff are treated the same and equitably. This ensures there is no exclusion or bullying.

A planned strategic agenda with every individual staff/team member is key and essential as it allows and shows that everyone is treated the same so there is no exclusion or bully aspect. It also permits Managers and Company heads to have a Strategic Agenda ‘Check-In’ with staff, so they can start the week and then ‘Check-Out’ at the end of it. Other key aspects include observing the mental health of your team, such as if they are chatty or not. And if they are not, then check-in with them on a separate call.

Another remote leadership dimension is how to integrate this management and approach with hybrid teams: those at home and those who are in the office.  The key here is ‘to ask, don’t tell’. While you can tell and inform your team what to achieve and the outcomes you want, remember that it is up to them to work it out. Make sure they are ‘solution-focused’ in order to be the most productive as possible.  Simon’s example of ‘Software AG’ showed that by asking and not telling, productivity increased by up to 30%.  And be ‘coaching-focused’: ask questions, what can we do to be successful next time and what does a successful solution look like. However, Simon did mention that ‘repair work’ can be difficult at a distance and other participants remarked that company culture, management and workflow can be challenged when you no longer have face-to-face meetings/interactions which can be intimidating for staff and even more so with key personnel and counterparts when they are several continents apart.

Contributions from those participating empathised with Simon’s observations and comments, echoing how they relate to remote leadership and management being challenging when they are not free or able to discuss face-to-face. And, that company culture also has an impact when it comes to employees and teams feeling integrated in the company, while others find it challenging not being able to be face-to-face. Collaborative face-to-face activities and how your staff are dealing and managing emotionally also come into the mix. Simon underlined the need to have a structure and a regular check-in schedule. Be clear as to what are your expectations and the deliverables and remember that check-ins are key

Issues arise when people and staff do not know what they are doing which then leads to procrastination. Ensure you have structured calls and that those staff have time to check-in and get back to you as these regular structured check-ins are crucial/fundamental.

Participants also shared their experiences, observations and input, notably how their staff and teams missed structure and face-to-face team work, catch ups and bonding. Hygiene amongst staff and inefficiencies in the workplace have also improved now that they have to check-in when online. Another positive outcome is that some organisations may no longer need a sizeable office in the CBD.  

Improvement and increase in constant communications with customers, especially in the wholesale and retail space, was another positive observation and outcome, as well as keeping the seller/buyer constantly updated and in real-time. Learning to treat your staff like customers and communicate regularly were also some of the other takeaways.  Many cited seeing working at home to continue with catch-ups over lunch.

Nonetheless, the necessity of a remote, physical office is still important, especially for staff from a social and mental health perspective, as they do miss the office interaction. Moving from office to home, the focus has been clearly on the quality of the work and ensuring everyone is keeping to project guidelines and measuring product outcomes.

The key takeaways from this session that are paramount for successful Remote Leadership include:

  • Be clear on expectations, the outcomes you want, why clarification is required and make sure to check-in with your team. These are absolutely critical and crucial for success.
  • Goal-setting and making sure all your team knows the steps and that the journey itself is part of the outcome
  • Check-out online collaborative tools available that encourage and foster ‘all in it together’ attitudes and behaviour which can be powerful instruments for company heads as we forge ahead in this new norm