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How to embrace participatory leadership to design remote work policy

What is Participatory Leadership?

Participatory Leadership is a style of leadership in which all members of the organization work together to make decisions. Participatory leaders know how to co-create and work together with their team in the best possible manner. It’s not a leader who wants to be a hero and say “I have the solution!” or “follow me”.

The type of managers who aren’t afraid to change their mind, and be okay with it. Especially in a remote space, a participatory leader finds value in creating an environment where people can speak their mind, thrive in the virtual workplace and be more productive.

Maya Rimer, a participation specialist, shares why it’s important to involve others in the team and not just ask the people at the top of the hierarchy to make the decisions. “Participatory Leadership is about collective intelligence and understanding that the more opinions we have around the table, the more chances we have in creating something that’s effective, accurate and impacts reality,” she says. “Participatory Leadership is a practice of questions and invitations. It doesn’t command, it asks a question. This style of leadership is about understanding the need for meaningful conversations and diversity of voices."

Why Participatory Leadership Is Relevant Right Now

While COVID-19 has opened the doors for many businesses across industries to create a virtual workspace, the same technology has also created certain barriers and hierarchy concerns in remote teams. When we are interacting physically in a meeting, there are many cues in real life that help predict who wants to speak next, or who has a point to raise and how people feel about what we mentioned. However, in a virtual space, it’s harder to pick behavioral cues, there is a constructive hierarchy and more rigid dynamics.

As the world moves to remote work, it’s harder to create an atmosphere where employees can encounter their manager on the hallways or over lunch and speak their mind. This style of leadership helps managers and employees feel involved in the team, and aligned to the company’s values and mission. The remote workspace needs a leadership style that drives innovation and makes people feel more comfortable to have open discussions while working remotely. The adoption of a participatory leadership technique can contribute to a more collaborative atmosphere in a virtual office.

Benefits of Participatory Leadership

  1. Higher engagement - As more employees are able to participate in the discussions or the decision-making process in their team level, they would recognize that their voices matter. When employees know their opinions are valued, they will be more engaged with their work. This could also lead to better commitment and employee retention overall.

  2. Fostering a problem-solving mindset - Participatory Leadership activates a problem-solving mindset during team-wide brainstorm sessions. This helps employees develop innovative and creative ideas together, as opposed to one person dictating the tasks.

  3. Increase in collaboration - This style of leadership fosters a culture of collaboration among team members, especially in a remote workspace where people tend to feel more ignored and isolated.

Tips for designing a good remote work policy

Participatory Leadership also opens up a space for establishing new remote work policies that allows every member of the company to feel included. Aside from giving employees an extra screen or the budget to buy a work desk and comfortable chair, here are some factors and considerations that managers and participatory leaders can look at when defining their work-from-home policies.

  1. Use Virtual Check-Ins: Never miss a check-in and a check-out in virtual meetings: At the beginning of every meeting, take 2-3 minutes per employee, and have everyone respond to the question, “how am I showing up today”. It’s not “how are you” because we answer that question without ever considering the response. This valuable time opens a window of opportunity for your team members to be real, especially in a time of crisis. Maya recommends if you have up to 12 people in your team, do the check-in together. If you have more than 12 employees, create break-out rooms on Zoom of three people and allot two minutes to each person for this question. This process will ultimately make the meeting more effective and productive, while also having the added value of community building.

  2. Create a space for an inclusive and collaborative discussion: For a fair and inclusive conversation in virtual meetings, Maya recommends declaring an object as our virtual talking stick, and putting it in the middle of the virtual room so everyone gets an opportunity to contribute to the agenda. The person who wants to speak unmutes themselves and says “I'll pick up the talking stick” and says what they want to say, once they are done then say “I’m putting the talking piece back in the middle” and goes back on mute. This way people choose when they want to speak and it also doesn’t put anybody on the spot.

  3. Availability for flexible working: Managers need to lay clear guidelines about how employees can design their workday -- when they need to be available and when their schedule can be more flexible. While some remote workers want flexible schedules, it’s also advisable to build a process that allows them to change schedules (especially when working with employees located in different timezones) but also follow a formal procedure for it. Clear communication about a team member’s workday schedule is important because this helps managers and other members decide when the entire team needs to be available. This way everyone can plan their day around fixed, coinciding hours, and remaining flexible hours. This ultimately will help teams meet their weekly department goals without dropping the ball.

  4. Decide in-advance who's hosting the meeting: Virtual meetings and communication can be chaotic if there’s no host or a process set in advance. While this style of leadership is inclusive and calls for everyone to speak their mind, we want to create a minimal optimal structure to help people understand what’s happening and how we are about to work.

  5. Set communication boundaries: Establish a communication channel (such as direct Slack channel, email threads, Microsoft Teams or Trello) between managers and direct employees so it’s clear where you hold someone for their tasks or goals in terms of accountability. While multiple channels are useful, a designated primary communication channel for timely information is important in a remote workspace. This process will also help to establish which team member is responsible for what task.

  6. Performance metrics alignment: It’s important for managers to set expectations on how their employees’ performance is being calculated. Is there a target number of tickets your team should tackle every hour? Does the marketing team need to publish a certain number of posts on social media per week? Set these metrics for your remote teams so it keeps them on track.

  7. Provide IT support: Along with equipment, companies and managers need to specify if any tech support is offered to remote workers. It’s important to outline in the policy what the remote employees are expected to do and who they should contact during technical difficulties.

  8. Company-wide security: All specific requests regarding official security and client confidentiality must be stated in the remote work policy. For example, if you don't want your remote worker to use a public WiFi, then that should be mentioned explicitly.

  9. Reimbursements and expenses: When writing a remote work policy, consider addressing expenses and reimbursements for partially-remote or fully-remote work spaces. Managers may have employees who need an entire office space set-up in the basement of their home (away from the kids, perhaps), so dedicating a budget for this is worth considering.

Maya Rimer is an Art of Hosting practitioner, group facilitator & activist. She has worked as a group facilitator since the 2011 #Occupy movement, as she found a need to find new tools for communities to grow and co-create. Keeping true to her calling of social transformation, Maya works in a transparent and fun way to create sustainable change in groups, communities and businesses.Maya’s goal is to influence organizational culture at companies and not-for-profit institutions by enhancing communication, compassion and creativity. In 2014 Maya hosted the first Art of Hosting Training in Tel-Aviv, and since 2016 she has been facilitating group processes within Grass-Root organisations in the Greek Refugee Crisis, while also growing the participatory field in Israel. If you’d like to learn more about participatory leadership, you can join Maya for her course on The Art of Participatory Leadership, details here.

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