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How to Refocus Your Leadership Around Building Relationships in a Remote World

Employees want a relational work experience. Are your leaders providing it?

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Workers and companies are embracing flexible scheduling arrangements. Pew Research suggests that out of those eligible to work virtually, about 7 in 10 do. And McKinsey reports more than half would like to continue working from home at least three days a week in the future. Rather than waiting for a "return to normal," need to prioritize leading remote teams to the best of their abilities.

Becoming a better leader in the remote-first working world isn't as simple as increasing the frequency of video conferences. Business leaders must understand how to build and nurture connections, whether with employees or customers, even while operating in a digital workforce.

Leading through change (especially while working through a pandemic) is a challenge that deserves to be tackled more effectively and creatively.

How can those managing a remote team ensure their team members take advantage of live-instructor training for upskilling or reskilling? What are ways to keep virtual collaborators motivated and engaged beyond offering aggressive and progressive benefits? Where can you source diverse remote workers so they can better serve customers — and how do you keep current employees from leaving amid the Great Resignation?

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

Retooling your leadership talents to handle remote and hybrid challenges

Addressing these questions is difficult, but it's not impossible. Anyone can learn how to be a leader at work — even when everyone feels scattered or works on different in-person schedules. The key is to understand what your team needs. McKinsey & Co. reports employers often undervalue the relational aspects of a job, such as being valued by their leaders and organizations and feeling a sense of belonging. Employees, on the other hand, said those were some of the most important aspects of finding work satisfaction.

If you've been responsible for leading through change, read through the following remote leadership tips for keeping people connected regardless of distance. Work on honing your empathy, staying open to new opportunities, attracting new talent, retaining your best performers and drawing a clear picture for your associates to follow. That way, you can achieve success no matter where the future of work is headed.

Related: 6 Ways Connections Create a Sense of Belonging Anywhere With Any Workplace

1. Seek mentors outside your business or industry

When you're at the top of your organizational chart, you won't always be able to find mentors from within your company — but that isn't always necessary. Mentors can play the role of everything from cautionary advisor to sounding board, so be open to reaching outside your field for potential mentors.

Are you considering joining a board? Do it. Being on a board that's not related to your industry, such as a nonprofit board, will give you greater access to potential mentors. You'll discover what strategies have worked for them in their businesses — and what tactics have fallen flat. One of the most valuable aspects of my service on the Ohio State Board of Career Colleges and Schools is the ability to share the challenges and opportunities surrounding serving an adult learner. Like me, you might find that your interactions as a board member could become the launching pad for ingenious solutions to keep leading with self-assurance even as the working world continues to evolve.

Related: Studies Prove the Benefits of Mentors, So How Do You Find Them?

2. Teach others

Knowing your craft is one thing; sharing your knowledge is another. When you teach, you position yourself as an expert. You also force yourself to find ways to transfer your expertise to learners. By mentoring employees, or by fostering programs within your company, you create an empathetic bond with your subordinates and create more opportunities for active engagement.

Gallup figures suggest that employee disengagement is hovering around 85%. And with loneliness affecting about two-thirds of young adults, you can't afford to ignore the importance of connecting your remote employees with you, each other and your company. The more tethered your workers feel, the less likely they'll be to leave.

Your teaching doesn't have to be a formal mentorship, either. Set up short sessions in which you serve as a teacher. Feel free to come up with other ways to share what you know, such as writing how-to articles, making videos and constructing infographics. Who knows? You might end up becoming the go-to thought leader not just for your company but also for your field, upping your credibility with workers, colleagues and customers.

Related: How Entrepreneurs Create Connection in the Age of Isolation

3. Initiate focus groups

You may think you know how to lead the people you're impacting daily, but don't let hubris guide you. Get a gut check by setting up regular focus groups. Employee and even customer-based focus groups can provide one of the greatest learning experiences you'll ever have. Though it can be tough to listen without responding during intense sessions, do your best to use your ears only.

Focus groups with your remote and hybrid workers can allow you to uncover any gaps in your communication or workflows. You'll have a better pulse on everyone's attitude, not to mention an inside look at any obstacles keeping your team members from reaching their true potential on and off the clock. After each focus group, set aside time for reflection. Then, use what you've heard as a springboard for future decisions.

Right now, there isn't a distinctive workplace norm. Every company is facing a unique internal experiment while leading through change. As a leader of part-time or full-time virtual staff members, you need to concentrate on improving your core abilities so you can be a vital asset to yourself, your crew and your organization.

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