Click here to learn more about Dr. Tommy Weir.
With remote work becoming the norm, the portfolio of requisite leadership skills has expanded to include the ability to inspire employees from afar. The million-dollar question, of course, is how?
Well, a mix of carrot and stick should form the bedrock of your strategy. “Sticks” don’t have to be severe — they mean simply establishing the ground rules by which the team will operate. These need to be worked out in advance and agreed to by all.
From there, those rules need to be recorded somewhere where they can be referred to if team behaviors begin drifting from what was previously agreed upon. Starting out with clear ground rules will help avert the dangers that can transpire from just letting things work themselves out — which, by the way, they rarely do. Sitting back and allowing things to happen is not a strategy; it is a recipe for resentment, perceived favoritism, suspicion, and low morale.
These days, one of the mutually agreed upon features of a sound, remote working strategy is the use of AI tools to manage productivity. These tools can also help to promote fair and transparent management because they objectively assess performance, which, in turn, builds trust between leaders and workers, as well as within teams. For AI tools to work, they must be embedded with complete transparency so everyone knows what they are designed to do and how the data they reveal will be used in the drive for productivity and the campaign to help employees achieve their potential. Unleashing employee potential is directly related to unleashing the business’s potential, and AI has a lot to offer in reinforcing this critical link.
Communication is vital too. Good communication is fundamental to good team dynamics and to keeping individuals motivated. You will need a mix of individual interactions and team get-togethers — both virtually and in person, once the COVID crisis allows such interactions. These meetings should not be held ad hoc. As a leader, you must commit to checking in with each individual at regular intervals and to hosting team meetings at scheduled times. This is essential to keeping your team focused and helping them understand that you are there to support them. Try not to move meetings around too much — show your people that it is a priority for you to connect with them.
As for “carrots,” you can be as creative as you like. Again, this is something that is best ideated and agreed to by the team members themselves. They can have a lot of fun working out a system of activities, rewards, and treats that they all can share and get involved in to build morale. There are a lot of ideas out there about how teams can unwind and have fun together, even virtually, and your people will be happy to pool ideas and come up with a schedule of events.
Don’t neglect training. Just because you can’t send people to onsite courses doesn’t mean you can’t find ways to help them evolve their skills remotely. Now is a good time to take an audit of what training your people feel they need and what training is appropriate to raise their skills and productivity. It is especially important for the C-suite to invest in training for their leaders — don’t just assume they will have all the skills necessary to lead remotely.
Above all, don’t forget the human touch — even if you have to do it remotely! Make time for small talk and to take an interest in your colleagues. It’s a great way to reinforce team bonds and appreciate each other as well-rounded individuals, rather than just co-workers. If the people in your team understand each other, and their respective challenges, they are more likely to go the extra mile for one another and pick up on when someone may be feeling the strain. And this last point is important — just because your employees are working away from the office, doesn’t mean your HR function is defunct. In fact, having robust HR procedures in place is just as important — if not more so — when it comes to supporting a remote workforce. It may be harder to notice when someone is experiencing burnout or needs intervention, so it’s important to be proactive and reach out on a regular basis. Remote or not, your team’s welfare is still your responsibility.
Working remotely can offer great benefits, but directing it is a management skill like any other, which must be learned, practiced, and constantly updated. If a motivated and productive workforce is what you’re after, don’t leave it to chance.