In an earlier article that I had written, I had focused on how the challenges of remote leadership are largely in the mind. Without in any way undermining that it is a skill to be acquired, the article focused on how we simply overlook certain easily accessible methods that could make this seemingly-difficult form of leadership rather beneficial. These reflections came from having seen certain leaders manage remote leadership like a breeze simply because of the way they did certain essential things.
On request from a reader, I began thinking about those actions that one could put into place daily that might help with remote leadership. I have heard many say that they believe that structures may inhibit intuition and therefore they do not put many into place, but I am a firm believer of at least some structures (customized to needs of course) because I believe it builds discipline. In the case of remote leadership, I believe that the need for structures is even more. Read on to see some ways of remote leadership that definitely need some level of discipline.
Communication the ‘technology vs task matrix’ way
There are various modes of communication that is available to us, but something to remember is that not all of them can be used for just any purpose. Think through whether you are using this technology for routine tasks, special projects or simply to build and/or maintain relationships. Use Whatsapp for routine tasks and for building relationships and not for special projects given that require long conversations and perhaps some explanation. Use video conferencing when a project is new and you want to get your team excited about it. In this case, you are creating a buzz and a level of excitement when team members know that they are coming online (looking presentable versus sitting at home in their pajamas) to see each other and work on something new. Use phone conferences once every week when the whole team comes together to share updates from their part of the world/country. You can even use a phone conference when you want everyone to brainstorm. Like is seen in the virtual world people might be more likely to speak up when they cannot be seen and are in some way anonymous, rather than when they can all be seen and have a fear of being judged.
What this means is that while we have various forms of communication available in today’s day and age, each has its own advantages and disadvantages and therefore its own utility. Avoid using technology and modes of communication just because they are available – plan in such a way that you use them most effectively.
Letting go of control
A big challenge some might face when it comes to remote leadership is the need for control. When one is so far away from where the real work might be happening, it can feel like one has no control over the outcomes. What might make it worse is when you have different team members working from different parts of the world on the same project – the sense of control is almost negligible. Here, I would recommend asking yourself if you are a leader who is comfortable with that style of working. With deep reflections and some tough questions to oneself, you might reach an answer anywhere on the continuum from ‘Yes, I love it’ to ‘No, there’s no way I can do this’. And either answer is okay.
The next step from this reflection is to simply work towards being at the ‘Yes, I love it’ end of the continuum from wherever you are. (I personally would not consider the option of ‘Remote managing isn’t for me’ because with any challenge, a sense of possibility is essential.) To be able to do this, ask yourself what parts of it do you not enjoy and why. Look for a mentor who can help you think through the challenges that you see in remote leadership or even shadow a great leader with a remote team. Finally, as you work towards it, let your team members know what you love about remote leadership and what you don’t. Your team member feels far more connected to you when you share challenges as well, instead of you just listening to their challenges and in the case of remote leadership that is a great plus!
Do not lose the personal touch
Finally, one that sounds contradictory to structures and discipline – keep it personal. Drop in a text once a day asking how your team member is. Call them when you know a text or email sounds like they are not having the best day. Make sure you keep time every now and then when they know that the time is dedicated simply to them. With our busy schedules today, you can easily not have time for all of this if you do not plan for it.
People tend to feel that setting structures to their everyday, especially in their interactions with others, does not remain genuine when guided by these structures. On the contrary, imagine how valued your team member will feel when they know your daily plans revolve around making enough time for them.