“What worked before we went remote doesn’t seem to be working as well now.”
That sentiment and ones like it have been showing up frequently in leader feedback I am hearing these days.
Leading direct reports working from their homes might seem like leading direct reports in the office. But there are important differences.
Add in the disruption created by the Pandemic and the disruption flowing through every industry, and those differences get amplified.
But those differences might be hard to notice at first. Or, in the rush to make many operational adjustments, leaders might not have had the time or energy to think through all that has changed.
Let’s slow down, hit “pause”, and consider three ways you might be sabotaging your effectiveness with your remote colleagues.
1. Being Too Controlling
This is an easy trap to fall into when you can no longer see with your own eyes what your team is working on daily.
Before you could just walk around the office and see your team hard at work. You could even feel the buzz of the office adding to that sense of productivity.
Now, you have to simply trust that your team is hard at work. A “trust” that can feel fragile.
This is when the “control monster” shows up. You stop believing your team is producing so you are tempted to start “micromanaging”!
You want to know what each of your reports is working on Right Now!
It’s ok that you’re feeling tempted to unleash your control monster. We are all feeling out of control with the disruption created by the Pandemic.
To resist the temptation to be controlling:
- Recognize the “control monster” inside of you. Focus less on status updates and more on building trust between you and your team members.
- Focus on the ultimate outcomes. Don’t insist on the same processes and timetables you had before you went remote – you’ll only be disappointed.
- Continually look for ways to adjust how you get work done. Ask your team what’s working well and what needs improving to be more productive in their work.
2. Not Being Empathetic
Communication runs much deeper than words alone.
When you were in the office surrounded by your colleagues daily you could observe their nonverbal cues as they reacted to you. These cues would engage your empathy.
You could tell if they were overwhelmed, distracted, or stressed.
When you moved to remote work those nonverbal cues moved out of your sight, and perhaps out of your mind.
Rather than ignore or forget your team even has feelings, its time to create space for your team to share their emotions, clearing the way for productive problem-solving.
To maintain empathy with your team:
- Be more available to your team. Let them know its ok to reach out to you with questions and concerns that extend beyond just “getting work done.”
- Insist on meeting with video whenever possible. Seeing your reports allows you to observe their nonverbal communication, providing important cues for you to engage your empathy.
- Model vulnerability. When you share the challenges you face at home, it opens the door for your reports to share theirs.
3. Treating Everyone The Same
“The conversations are varying more than ever since we are now 100% remote. I can’t treat all my employees the same because their homelife situations are so vastly different.”
When you were in the office you didn’t have to worry about re-arranging meetings to fit “nap time” or schedule “productive time” when your significant other could watch the children.
Every one of your team members has unique challenges in managing their home life while working remotely. With the line between work and life becoming blurry.
One Sr. HR leader told me she isn’t focusing on “work/life balance” anymore but prefers instead “work/life integration” – how to create a healthy blending of the two.
To treat each of your team members differently:
- View your role as leading each of your team members into the adjustments they need to make. Ask open-ended questions to learn about their unique situation and adjust your expectations accordingly.
- Keep track of each of your report’s unique schedules by taking notes. Ask about any changes you should be made aware of weekly.
- Don’t be judgmental. Frame your conversations around “how can I help you do your best work given your circumstances?”
Don’t assume what you’ve done in the past will be enough when leading your remote team. Instead, see the challenge of leading a remote team as an opportunity to grow a new leadership muscle.
The more you work at it, the stronger the remote leader you will become!