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Best tips for managers to improve their remote leadership skills

As we start to come to terms with the fact that working from home is becoming a permanent solution, it’s getting even more urgent to discuss the importance of leadership and managers developing the right skills to lead their teams remotely. Companies are drafting policies on how to make remote work a success, meanwhile managers across industries are navigating the space of remote leadership and upskilling themselves.

We sat down with Dr Laura Hambley Lovett, a workplace psychologist and President/Co-founder of Work EvOHlution, and a board advisor at Cassiopeia, to get an understanding of what tools and skills high-performing managers need to lead highly-engaged distributed teams.

Q: What are the challenges when it comes to managing a remote team?

The biggest challenges I’ve witnessed over the last decade when it comes to managing remote teams are:

  1. Trust-building: Managers trying to build and maintain trust within the team; trust is harder to build and easier to damage from a distance.

  2. Potential risk of overwork and burnout: Managers promoting a healthy company culture with work-life balance or wellness at the core. It’s easier to work long hours, not take breaks, and potentially experience burnout when leading and working remotely.

  3. Miscommunication when working remotely: Communication versatility in a remote team. This means managers are ensuring the types and frequency of communication are tailored to individuals and their team’s needs. It’s not a one-size-fits-all approach, and as remote managers, it is key to become a versatile communicator with your team members.

Q: What are the three most common communication mistakes managers make when it comes to remote work?

  1. Misunderstandings: Expecting that the message was understood as it was meant to be. The “intent-impact” gap is so common when we are working remotely, and managers need to be very clear and ensure mutual understanding rather than making assumptions.

  2. Meeting saturation: Spending too much time and energy in meetings, or even setting meetings without thinking through these essential criteria: a) is a meeting actually needed? b) who absolutely needs to attend? c) what’s the agenda, and can a manager send it 24 hours in advance? d) setting clear deliverables and sharing within 24 hours after the meeting.

  3. Use the right communication channel: Some managers are not intentional about which communication medium or tool to use for which purpose. At Work EvOHlution we call this concept “communication medium match”. Leaders of teams need to be mindful of when video is needed, when to instant message vs. email, when to use Slack or Teams. Too often we get into habits and patterns that may be inefficient or not the best way to communicate or collaborate.

Q: What can companies do to support their managers in this new way of working remotely?

Remote management requires new skills and behaviour, it’s harder than leading when we’re all together in the same physical space. Companies who do this right will invest in developing their managers to become skilled remote leaders. Development is best in a combination of learning from experts as well as on the job. Companies can benefit greatly through assessments to understand a manager’s strengths and gaps when it comes to remote leadership, and offer development initiatives as needed. The Distributed Leader Profiler is a key example that is helping many leaders and organizations globally.

Q: How can managers develop more trust in their remote teams, and what tools would you recommend for this?

First and foremost, developing trust requires getting to know your people. What are their lives like? What challenges do they face? What motivates them in their work? Too often we don’t make time to focus on the human being, and focus only on tasks and outputs.

Once that’s achieved, it’s important to honour commitments. If we can’t meet a deadline, communicate that! Don’t drop the ball as that would literally break trust when everyone is working apart, as we don’t have the luxury of running into the person and talking it out in real time.

Q: How can managers stay connected with their team and boost employee retention during this time of remote work?

Communicate regularly, and in different ways. A quick “drive by” or huddle to say hello is key. Don’t just reach out when you need something. Like any relationship, we need to nurture it by checking in and caring about how the person is doing. One of the most important questions a manager can ask is “how can I help support you?”

Each week is a new opportunity to become a better leader. Ask yourself the one thing you can do to communicate better with each of your remote direct reports, then implement it and review how it went. Take time every Friday to look back and then plan ahead for next week. Leadership is built over time and through being aware and intentional.

Dr. Laura is an organizational psychologist and the co-founder and President of Work EvOHlution, innovative assessment and development solutions for remote employees. She is also an advisory board member of Cassiopeia. Join her for her new podcast that explores the best ways to integrate work and life and live a purposeful life.

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