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Remote Work Is Here to Stay. It's Time to Update the Way You Lead.

How managers can modernize their approach to succeed in leading their remote team, boost team performance and build a better culture.

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While many employees are anxious to get "back to work," the truth is, the traditional workplace may never look the same. Many companies like Amazon, Twitter and Microsoft declared their intention to lean into a remote office set-up post-pandemic.

One thing is clear: Remote work is here to stay. Research revealed remote work had a positive impact on overall employee experience, and in a recent FlexJobs survey, 95% of respondents reported a higher productivity level while working remotely.

A team is a team regardless of dispersed locations. Moving to a remote-first model demands a mega shake-up of how we engage with people on a day-to-day basis. Gallup reveals that engagement drives people to go the extra mile and creates commitment, not location or pay. Successful pivots to remote work require managers to be willing to recalibrate how they lead their people.

Here are nine practices to uplevel your management approach when leading remote teams and enabling them to thrive.

1. Practice self-governance

Outstanding leadership begins with self-leadership. Taking a self-inventory honestly provides the opportunity to learn and develop new skills and can help leaders push through challenges when they arise, building a culture of self- and team accountability. 

Self-assessment leadership tools can provide an opportunity for self-reflection, helping you assess your strengths and areas for development as a manager and leader. 

Related: Remote Work Is Here to Stay: Are You Ready for the New Way of Life?

2. Leadership coaching for all managers

In these unprecedented times, managers are pulled in many different directions: working extended hours and fielding questions while people look to them for inspiration. Leadership coaching can add value to a leader’s personal growth and shape company culture. By gaining new perspectives, leaders can learn to analyze underlying challenges, work towards solutions and transform teams by modeling these skills. 

Virtual coaching can be helpful in times of crisis and provide a space to regain energy, focus and navigate tough decisions. Not only can it offer managers clarity regarding decisions, but it can also be a way to explore strategies that support business continuity while many people work remotely. In addition, these opportunities allow managers to explore important questions: How do l want to show up as a leader? What motivates you to lead remote teams? How comfortable are you having difficult conversations?

3. Trust your people to succeed

People need the freedom to speak up and be themselves. Remote teams demand environments that support time for exploration, space to listen, learn, provide feedback and relax. Workplace leaders must invest in one-to-ones with people, facilitate open calls to explore challenges, build in time for people to recover from Zoom meetings and, above all, be present during conversations.

4. Adopt more people-centric practices

The pandemic not only shifted how people work, but also the way people connect at work. Remote-team leaders can engage employees by taking stock of proven unnecessary practices and reinventing them for a more effective future. Leaders can paint a compelling, shared vision of the future, align their team on the same priorities and connect with people on a human level.

Frequent, consistent check-ins are critical to staying in touch and fostering trust between managers and leaders. Focused conversations keep everyone’s priorities aligned, including an individual’s development, purpose and mental well-being. A team pulling together in the same direction requires the manager to take the first step, lead conversations that support individual and group growth and ask employees about the experiences they seek.

Technology has played a significant role in bridging the gap created by remote work; however, knowing the right time to switch off technology and focus on human connection can be more challenging for managers. Often described as "soft skills," these human skills place people at the center of decisions. For example, the State of Workplace Empathy survey revealed that 96% of respondents rated empathy as a critical quality for leaders to demonstrate, yet 92% of respondents shared that their workplace undervalued empathy.

Related: Survey Reveals 4 Transformational Remote Work Trends

Empathy is positively linked to job performance and is a crucial component of emotional intelligence and leadership effectiveness. Managers can improve human interactions and lead more effective communication and better outcomes within remote settings by recognizing signs of overwork in others before employees disengage, burn out or leave. Managers can invest in a few extra minutes with team members each week and explore how they respond to their workload. It may involve a conversation about best matching work assignments that can contribute to performance, team goals and employee satisfaction. When managers keep open communication lines and encourage transparency, it is a great way to foster psychological safety and support team members to share personal experiences.

5. Reset your team’s history and relationships

When done right, feedback can drive employee engagement. It can generate trust, influence practices and build habits that create ripples. Leaders can set the tone to re-establish relationships through team exploration of feedback styles and needs and preferences for receiving and giving feedback. Peer coaching can be a catalyst for strengthening relationships and an opportune time to practice conversational feedback skills.

6. Affirm your commitment to growth

When organizations commit to their leaders developing remote-management skills, both workplaces and managers need to consider the following questions: What are the expectations of remote team leaders? What training and learning can be accessed to bridge a skills gap? What feedback channels and types of support will be available? Who do they communicate with when they have questions? This type of exploration empowers employees to lead their learning plan and access support when needed.  

Investing in individual learning sets the tone for team-wide development. In addition, talking to the team about its aspirations and professional goals supports employees to grow within their careers and capitalize on opportunities to put their skills into practice.

7. Build a better culture

When leaders are invested in building a strong team culture within remote work, they should connect with every team member and reinforce how their output significantly impacts the success of their business unit and the service delivery to the client and the organization. When people feel important and connected, they can develop a more profound sense of responsibility towards the team, adopt a better mindset and value collaboration.

McKinsey & Co. employees explore their micro-culture within each area by developing team charters that define how they conduct team meetings, share the workload and make decisions. In addition, they explore how feedback styles nurture individual styles and combine virtual and face-to-face interactions. 

8. Shorten the affinity distance

Employee resource groups (ERG) are often built on cooperation and shared interest and organically bring people together. They can create a sense of group belonging that can build strong social bonds. Developing an ERG with a primary focus on designing social activities can include everyone within a distributed team. These activities can shorten the affinity distance, the emotional separation between virtual team members, and create spaces for them to establish a personal connection with each other. 

Related: 10 Ways Solopreneurs Should Prepare for the Future of Remote Work

9. Lay the foundation for future collaborations

Socializing, even remotely, can strengthen relationships as people can feel a sense of pride when their managers value them apart from their work contribution. Creating virtual spaces and rituals for celebrations or lunch-and-learn sessions is an excellent opportunity for a team member to share his or her specialty. For example, try a team book club, a water cooler chat room or establish Microsoft’s “Virtual Canteen” to enable employees to drop by when they need a two-minute break or a great place to offer relevant news or fun facts.

Angela Kambouris

Written By

Entrepreneur Leadership Network Contributor

Angela Kambouris built a high-level career as an executive in the field of vulnerability and trauma. A global consultant and founder of Evoluccion Consulting Agency, she writes about how the leader’s mindset drives workplace culture, how to cultivate leaders and set the leadership team for success.