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Remote Leadership

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By: Bilal Hamade & Dr. Susan Murray

The rapid onset of the coronavirus (Covid-19), is changing the way we live and the way we work.

The 2020 Covid-19 pandemic is expected to fundamentally change the way many organizations operate for the foreseeable future—and perhaps well beyond that. As governments and businesses, globally, practice social distancing, remote work becomes the new reality, to ensure the safety of employees and customers. While some businesses have ceased operations, whether due to authoritative directive, voluntarily closing, or functioning with a smaller workforce and limited hours, others have implemented work-from- home arrangements.

Not only is Covid-19 disrupting our daily lives, it is impacting how we manage our businesses. Traditional or typical behaviours, habits and practices have changed almost overnight, as leaders grapple with ensuring effective and efficient business continuity through remote offices, or working from home. Like government leaders, business leaders have had to quickly adapt to managing the day-to-day activities of their organizations, remotely. Given this, effective management practices are now more critical than ever.

While health and social systems demand first priority, the survival and sustainability of businesses is equally paramount. With both short and longer- term impact in mind, how do leaders continue to ensure the efficiency and productivity of employees? How does a leader ensure that delivering better-than-expected results, is not compromised?

Research shows us that in times of struggle and crises, human nature can steer us in two directions: 1) fear and helplessness, or 2) self-actualization and engagement (Gallup, 2020). If leaders provide a clear direction for a strong way forward, there is a known “rally effect” that translates to the resiliency of employees and, thus, better-than-expected results (Gallup, 2020).

This is a disconcerting time for employees. The physical team has disappeared, and they are now solo. It is this focus on the individual that is critical for managers. Each individual needs clarity surrounding their role and expectations, and the supports necessary so they can leverage their strengths while in a new-working-model situation. For individuals, it is vital for managers to clearly define how they fit into the bigger mission and purpose of the organization.

The relationship between the manager and the employee is even more critical, now. It is essential to know each employee’s individual needs and strengths, identify how their work contributes to business performance, how expectations are defined, and what accountability measures are in place.  This individualized consideration, coupled with high expectations, is central to better-than-expected results.

What does this look like?  What key managerial actions are central to creating excellence in remote performance?

  • Clearly define expectations and tasks

Maintaining a focus on organizational goals is fundamental. Each manager should create an organizational structure that can deliver the expected result, and clearly define the responsibility and the task for each individual, with a common purpose at the core.

With remote management, a manager’s skills in setting a clear task will help reduce any conflict, and make it easy to align people and link the goals to what they do.

  • Individual KPIs

Individuals at home may get easily diverted in this new-working-model setting. The rules of engagement have changed. Managers have less control over work environments, and visibility is lacking. Thus, it is essential to create accountability measures. For each phase, set clear expectations and define Key Performance Indicators that are specific for each task and employee, recognizing their skills and competencies.

  • Communication

Constant, effective communication from leaders is fundamental to success. Coupled with messages of care and compassion, managers can use their remote platform to deliver and transfer information. Effective communication is the critical link between planning and successful execution.

Communication is challenging in person—and even more so, remotely. Leaders need to use simple words, a clear trustworthy tone, and speak with confidence and empathy. Even more so virtually, a leader needs to connect with people. Likewise, the power of effective listening and responding, is respected.  As a manager, ensure you allow employees to share their thoughts and ask questions. Provide time to make sure key messages are understood prior to the end of a meeting. In the absence of physical presence, the online medium of engagement, such as video-conferencing, allows the leader to emotionally connect with employees, provide an opportunity to share key messages, and align work toward a common purpose.

  • Discipline in Execution

This “new normal” for work demands a new level of execution. Discipline is required to create new daily routines and practices to deliver results. This requires a reset on the daily routines of the workplace, to adapt them to remote work, based on business priority.

For managers, part of this routine will include the virtual monitoring and assessment of the implementation, using KPIs. This frequent monitoring and gap analysis will quickly identify the need for corrective actions and changes, if required. As well, it allows the manager and employee to identify and celebrate individual successes related to the goals.

As we navigate this time of global crisis, as leaders, we seek to ensure the overall well-being of our employees, our organization, our society, and ourselves. The complexities of blending work and life at home are creating new stresses. By taking care of, and supporting, individual employees through clear structures, expectations, communications, and routines, leaders create organizational stability and an opportunity to achieve better-than-expected results. It is in times such as these, that leadership is needed and valued most.

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