Leading from Home: How to lead effectively when you’re working remotely

ByHanover Team
Posting date: 01 September 2021

By Marcello Mosca, Partner at Hanover and Richard Waddell. Managing Director of Hanover’s Leadership Solutions.

While there has been an outpouring of advice for employees who have switched to remote or hybrid working, there is less expertise on how to lead from this position. One of the hardest parts of remote working - the logistical nightmare of IT equipment, data and security - might be over, but the teething problems of this ‘new normal’ have only just begun.

The pandemic has been the catalyst of the inevitable; flexible, home-based working. Previously, home working had negative connotations that meant many corporations shied away from offering anything other than office-based roles; but when a global pandemic left them with no other option, it was do or die within a matter of weeks.

This premature arrival meant that policies and training had to be waived in favour of public safety, and almost everyone had to evolve and adapt with no defined or tried and tested procedures in place. Many previously high-performing employees hit the roadblocks of demotivation, stress, and fatigue, with teams separated often for the first time ever.

As restrictions ease, positive aspects of this way of working are coming to light. It’s more cost-effective, many people prefer it, and it increases the opportunity for hiring diverse candidates. It’s especially attractive to the emerging talent of Gen-Z, who want to work on their own terms, as well as parents with young children who may need more flexible working hours. While this is all good news for employees, what does it mean for leaders? What does effective management look like from a distance?

Common challenges for leaders

In order to lead as effectively as possible, you must first consider the challenges that must be overcome. Managers are confronted with the following when it comes to remote working:

  • Lack of visibility and presence 
  • Little to no facetime with team members, and only ‘arranged’ rather than natural interactions
  • The effects that home working has on each individual in your team 
  •  How to pick up on wellbeing challenges, such as stress, worry, or feeling overworked 
  • Distractions at home 
  • Lack of a support system, which means the loneliness of leadership is often exacerbated

5 ways leaders can better manage themselves when working remotely

Research carried out in 2021 by Microsoft suggests that business leaders are ultimately out of touch with their employees’ needs, making the physical disconnect of working from home even more poignant.

Additionally, most leaders were reported to be male, generation X or millennial information workers managing teams and frontline staff mostly made up of female gen Z-ers, with a clear divide between leaders thriving and employees struggling.

While the gender and age gaps are an entirely different issue, there is a tangible discrepancy between the successes of leaders and those of their staff, suggesting that leaders need to bridge this widening gap to ensure a fruitful future of hybrid working.

There are five things all leaders can do to ensure you manage yourself optimally in a remote leading situation:

1. Remain visible

In an out-of-office environment, leaders can become an abstract element of working life, which can negatively impact motivation and productivity levels. You can combat this directly by remaining as visible as possible in a technological form. This requires effective time management and organisation, as well as knowledge of the latest online platforms and workspaces. You could also remain ‘informally’ visible - being available on Teams or your platform of choice beyond arranged meetings. 

2. Manage your resources

While you’re probably over the IT equipment hurdle that working remotely first posed, it’s still important to ensure that communication channels are open and you’re facilitating an ongoing conversation using whatever platform you and your team are most comfortable with. Working alone and behind a screen means it’s more important for leaders to reinforce messages and create clarity than it may be when you’re all in the office together, connected and able to talk more naturally.

3. Maintain a flexible approach

As a leader, one of the most important things to remember is that no two employees, or their respective home environments, are the same. By coupling flexibility with empathy, which we’ll touch on more below, you’ll be managing yourself in a manner that will encourage positive mental health for all parties. For example, you might want to let your team know it’s ok to take a break and go for a walk if you call them while you’re taking the dog out, or let them know you won’t be at your desk for an hour in the afternoon because you’re picking your children up from school. This not only gives you flexibility, but signals that it’s ok for your team to do the same.

4. Realise your opportunities for delegation

While it can be a challenge for leaders to entrust elements of their role to others, especially in a remote working environment, it’s more essential now than ever. By maximising your delegation opportunities, you can truly engage your team and demonstrate that you trust them to deliver, even within the challenges of remote working.

5. Enlist help where you can benefit from it

Being a leader can be lonely enough without the added isolation of a global pandemic and hybrid working. Investing in leadership assessment, development and coaching can create a better business model and give you a trusted confidante to bounce ideas off. Take the time to network with peers to bounce ideas and learn from each other. This will also allow you to take a step back and engage in essential planning for growth, taking the focus away from short term tasks. 

Additionally, it’s important to consider personal as well as professional help. Investing in yourself, for example by hiring a personal trainer or life coach, can positively impact your wellbeing and make you a stronger leader.

7 ways leaders can manage and support remote teams more effectively

After ensuring that you can manage yourself effectively and efficiently - after all, if you can’t do this, how can you support your team in doing the same? - consider how to get the best out of your employees. With rates of hybrid working only set to increase, the following ‘transitional’ tips are likely to become increasingly important.

1. Daily check-ins

Tapping into the leadership self-management aspect of remaining visible, daily check-ins might seem excessive but are key to boosting productivity and motivation. The inability to informally ‘walk the floor’ during the normal working day means that clear, concise and repetitive communication is imperative for getting tasks completed as well as reminding employees of your presence.

2. Prioritise communication

Screen time has skyrocketed, and face time has become almost non-existent, making all forms of human interaction essential for workplace health. Keeping a constant line of communication open - whether that’s on a video call, message chat or talking on the phone - will also allow employees to raise any concerns they might have and allow you to address them effectively.

3. Seek innovative tech solutions

As we move into an innovative era enhanced by AI and UX, online workspaces are only set to become more sophisticated. By constantly keeping up to date with advances in IT, you’ll be able to facilitate the most effective, user-friendly interfaces for hybrid working. 

4. Outcome over activity

By allowing strictly office-based roles to be consigned to the past, you should also encourage all of the expectations that came with them to do so as well. Tying in heavily with being flexible, prioritising outcome over activity but with clear structure and cadence throughout the working week or month will let your employees know that you have trust in them and their own autonomy. This requires a pragmatic approach, rather than remaining a slave to processes that are destined to become outdated. 

5. Protect your team

As a leader, you are responsible for removing any obstacles your employees may face. In their hybrid working roles, there are likely to face different, and potentially more, challenges than those posed by an office environment. One of these obstacles is the extra hours your employees will probably put in, since they don’t have a commute and they do have instant access to their workload. As a leader, it’s essential to protect your employees’ motivation and mental health by avoiding any extension of their existing working hours. By removing as many obstacles that you can, you’ll keep your team focused on their immediate responsibilities, and in turn keep the cogs turning as they should. 

6. Encourage social interactions

Remote working makes for inevitable social disconnect and feelings of isolation for both employees and leaders. While it's important that efficiency and output are still the priority, you shouldn’t discourage social interaction between colleagues on company time. In fact, you could even carve out some time in scheduled meetings, where appropriate, to allow for social exchanges and activities. This will allow leaders and employees alike to experience the ‘coffee chats’ they would have usually engaged in during a normal workday.

7. Provide empathy and emotional support

Above all, empathy and emotional support is key. Whether employees like the changes that come with hybrid working or not, change still takes an emotional toll that is likely to affect their work in some way. While acting with empathy is one of the trickiest skills for leaders to get right, it’s also the most invaluable. Ensure that you also provide resources for emotional support, and make your employees aware that they are there. An example of this is our wellness diagnostic tool, which measures things like physical health, engagement, resilience, and workload, and allows you to benchmark and track wellbeing in your team. 

How remote working has affected talent search 

The remote working era presents a fine line for leaders to tread as they acquaint themselves with recruiting, meeting, and then managing workers on a remote basis.

Hybrid working allows companies to cast a wider net for talent in terms of geographical location, making for an enriched experience that facilitates diversity and inclusion, as well as allowing leaders to look for individuals who don’t strictly ‘fit the mold’ in terms of company culture and ease of management.

However, it’s imperative that you as a leader have an acute awareness of the personalities within your team, so that you cater to their different styles and create true engagement to get the best out of them.

Ultimately, a leader must be able to create an inclusive hybrid working environment in order to take advantage of the further diversity that hybrid working can facilitate. There is a fine line between reaping the benefits of casting a wider search net and potentially further isolating a hybrid worker who doesn’t connect with the existing company culture.

For support in finding, selecting, onboarding, and engaging talent remotely, contact Richard at richard.waddell@hanoversearch.com or Marcello at marcello.mosca@hanoversearch.com.

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