Remote Work & New Challenges for Managers and Leaders
Organizations are experiencing more intense pressure than ever before. Leading virtual teams, across multiple time zones, in the emerging virtual world, are defining new leadership requirements. At the same time as more work is being done virtually, organizations are growing more diverse “by the numbers.” As a result, they have significantly more room to grow when it comes to learning how to leverage diversity to achieve its real promise.
More immediately, growing and more intense focus on social justice for black Americans is opening discussions previously ignored and today demands that managers and leaders at all levels show even greater emotional intelligence—in listening and responding and actually implementing real change.
In addition, the workplace has a more robust set of age groups. GenZ, Millennials, GenX, Baby Boomers, and some Traditionalist or Silent Generation bring the number to 5. This, in addition to multicultural backgrounds and diverse schedules, coupled with shorter tenures, flatter organizations, and a persisting need for more collaboration, make for a clear emerging virtual leadership challenge. Also, all of this is happening as organizations continue to experience a new set of challenges associated with the rise of the virtual workplace due to COVID.
Those working remotely—individually or in virtual teams—have increased dramatically. And while some might “return to work” many will continue to work in a virtual environment post-pandemic. Simultaneously, managers and leaders will have to keep employees positively engaged, productive, and focused on both innovation and creating new opportunities while demonstrating increased empathy, calm, focus, and authenticity. The gap between what employees need now and what existing managers and leaders can provide is widening. More and more the new virtual workplace will call for the development of virtual leadership skills.
All workers—those co-located or working on remote teams—will be challenged. Managers, traditional team leaders, leaders of virtual teams, and others will all have to work harder to stretch and reinvent themselves to achieve the intense demands of today’s organizational life. The time to reimagine the role of manager and leaders is therefore now!
In this 6-part series, we’ll explore the workplace as it experiences the Pandemic of 2020, recovers from it, and use “lessons learned” to suggest new ways to innovate going forward. We’ll share our concerns and insights and discuss actions we can take now to support the workplace as opportunities for working virtually become even more commonplace.
6-Part Series on Working Virtually
- Part 1: The Virtual Workplace – Overview of the emerging virtual workplace.
- Part 2: How Emotionally Intelligent Are You? – The need for Emotional Intelligence (EQ)—now more than ever.
- Part 3: Moving Beyond Fear – Why and how to deal with fear and anxiety in the workplace.
- Part 4: Reimagining the Role of Managers & Leaders – How current challenges have led to a distinct reimagining of roles at work—especially for managers and leaders.
- Part 5: People & Virtual Leadership Strategies – What factors create successful organizations and where to focus and invest now.
- Part 6: Successfully Dealing with Today’s Current Crises – Recommendations & action steps for various leadership roles
Challenge 1: Improving Team Performance
Finding ways to improving team performance as teams become more diverse.
Renewed focus on team performance makes increasing sense in a world run by team effort and results. The challenge of having the right blend of skills and abilities among co-located team members has always been significant. Increased virtual work makes this challenge even greater as virtual team members will be deprived of many of the benefits of face-to-face interaction. Managers and leaders must take all of this into account to promote optimal team performance.
When people work virtually a number of factors change:
- The setting of course is fundamentally different and the quality of technology and other forms of support may be diminished — at least initially.
- People working remotely are subjected to disruptions and interruptions — by family and friends — making privacy and the ability to focus difficult especially during team meetings. Check-ins using video conferencing help, but virtual workers have to adjust to working “alone” from home with all of the associated distractions.
- The need to work with others online and learn how best to “show up” and contribute to a team while engaged in virtual work is different. A new level of expertise is needed.
Let’s face it – remote work is different and we must learn to overcome all of the associated challenges
Team building for the new virtual workforce will also be challenging. Check out this list of virtual team building ideas from teambuilding.com for additional insights. Team members and remote workers have to adjust — not just to working “alone” but to working with others online and learning how best to “show up“ in our new and evolving virtual work environment. They need to know how best to present themselves and to set appropriate boundaries both at home and when working.
As the pandemic has evolved, much learning and adaptation have already taken place within dispersed teams, but the learning and comfort levels of people working virtually vary widely and likely will continue to do so for quite some time. This creates an increase in the differing needs of workers on teams. How to engage in virtual team building will also need to be addressed.
Those continuing to work in a more traditional setting are also concerned with maintaining strong and effective teams. They too are asking how teams can develop and maintain strong bonds and operate in a collaborative way especially when some members are working virtually and other teams essential to their work are virtual too.
Skills such as creating an environment of achievement coupled with an environment of shared focus are more important than ever. Communication technologies must be leveraged and communication skills mastered to promote effective communications across the organization. Leadership development, on-boarding, and understanding leadership styles are all critical when it comes to understanding and leading the workforce — remote and co-located. Virtual team leaders are certainly affected as are managers and leaders at all levels whether supporting virtual work or not.
Challenge 2: Better Supporting Performance
Finding better ways to support performance by encouraging experimentation, timely feedback, and support for moving forward.
In this complex environment, more pressure exists to experiment to achieve new and revised goals and targeted results. Different conditions have made many existing processes and procedures less than optimal – sometimes irrelevant. People are creating workarounds and experimenting with new approaches. Many of these are producing results. But, this level of experimentation requires workers to get meaningful and helpful feedback more quickly.
People need to know how productive they are being (or not) and how they can adjust depending on the feedback received. Providing “negative” or “difficult” feedback has always been a challenge for most leaders and managers. It becomes even more difficult or perhaps even counterproductive when people are feeling raw, scared, frustrated, alienated, or experiencing intense anxiety.
The cycle of managing performance needs to shrink to keep the momentum going. Agile performance management must be understood and handled effectively to get the work done that needs doing. Interpersonal skills that include providing psychological safety, demonstrating empathy, and providing targeted but “easy to hear” feedback are all more important than ever before.
Challenge 3: Encouraging Self-Development
Recognize and encourage the need for more self-development.
With reduced ability to conduct traditional on-site learning due to health concerns and with more work being done remotely, people at all levels need to develop a greater ability to learn and grow on their own. Pressure exists to educate and inform them about many issues and subjects and managers will need to be able to respond in creative ways and also make learning and self-coaching opportunities more easily available. Managers and leaders need to model self-coaching and self-development by sharing their own specific efforts – ones that are helping them be better managers and leaders — while encouraging people to use both new and existing online resources.
Challenge 4: Providing Better Communication and Direction
Keep communication timely and remote workers in the loop.
Faster and more complex change increases the need for more communication. Wherever they are, people need to know what’s going on and how it affects what they are doing. Communication must be done in a timely way to keep things working smoothly. It is hard enough to ensure good communication when people are co-located. It’s even more challenging when people are working virtually. Remote workers need even need more assurance that they are and will be consistently kept in the loop through appropriate and timely communications.
Challenge 5: Helping People Develop a Deeper Sense of “Belonging”
Create a central and clear list of priorities that supports your company vision.
Engagement is always an important issue for organizations. And it can be a struggle to gain people’s earnest engagement when people are in diverse places and on diverse schedules or experiencing current events in profoundly different ways. The most important way to create engagement is not just to create a clear, focused, and powerful vision of what needs to be accomplished, but to create a central and clear list of priorities.
It may take more calls, different types of connections, and more varied approaches but making the effort is critical to ensuring that messages “get through,” are understood, and acted on as intended. Everyone working with a similar and powerful vision and a clear set of priorities moving in the same direction is what makes people feel they belong and are part of something special and meaningful. This is harder to do than ever, but critical to management and leadership success.
Challenge 6: Giving Right Amount of Timely Recognition and Appreciation
Focus on individuals and teams and make it abundantly clear you “get” what people are going through.
When people are putting extra energy and effort to make the most of difficult situations, they often need more reassurance, not less, and want to feel they are appreciated. While everyone may be in a tough place and many are inconvenienced, people still need to feel valued and appreciated. Having the interpersonal skills to respond to these needs, to offer support, and to provide a safe and flexible workplace is vital when it comes to making people feel appreciated.
It’s not enough to give “hi-fives” or offer general comments. In highly effective organizations, managers and leaders focus on individuals and teams and make it abundantly clear they “get” what people are going through and understand and appreciate the extra – and sometimes extraordinary — efforts they are making. Finding opportunities to provide honest recognition and appreciation cannot be an “afterthought” – it must always be top of mind.
3 Vital Competencies for Virtual Leadership
What’s different for managers and leaders now and why do roles need to be reimagined?
Today’s challenges demand new answers. Increased personal strength, compassion, authenticity, vulnerability, and ever-improving interpersonal skills—focused on connecting and supporting people—is required now more than ever. Some have acquired these talents through long and intense development efforts. Others with high emotional intelligence are naturally inclined to be attentive to “people needs.” But most managers and leaders fall short because the demands are great and situations are often new and confusing. Additional issues include less time and availability of support to develop or hone needed abilities.
Great managers and leaders must master three vital competencies:
- Leading Self
- Leading Others
- Leading the Organization
All three are vital today. Mastering each will become even more challenging as the workplace evolves and grows progressively more diverse and complex.
We think one solution is not to complicate the enhanced roles of managers and leaders.
To get traction now, build a fresh understanding of the basics of leadership around some of the “good” or “more positive” outcomes of COVID 19. We discussed these somewhat surprising positives in our first blog in our series about the virtual workplace. Here is a brief recap.
How COVID 19 has “positively” impacted the workplace
- Bosses get it. Managers and leaders can make change more easily because the pandemic has leveled the field in terms of experiencing the new work challenges and creating a common foundation and understanding of why change is needed.
- Performance realities matter. There is diminished focus on the trivial and unimportant and much less patience for nonsense. There is a newfound appreciation for the urgent need to achieve meaningful results.
- Everyone’s priorities are clear. Everyone shares these common priorities: yourself, your inner circle, the organization, and your team.
- Catastrophe is driving rapid innovation. Why NOT do something different?
- Personal accountability and learning are expected. A higher bar has been set for everyone. It’s readily understood and increasingly accepted.
If we accept these positives as a starting point, we can begin to reimagine the role of managers and leaders to:
- Help people create and sustain a high-performance workplace.
- Identify and support potential in more people no matter where they are working or how they look.
- Promote workplace excellence even during difficult times.
The new “to do” list or model for management and leadership includes leading self, leading others, and leading the organization.
QwikCoach has always advocated these three abilities—but has developed an even greater commitment to them as we have experienced the turmoil of recent days. When the pandemic has passed; when there is a sense of increased justice and organizational transformation; when the economy becomes more forgiving with greater opportunities for all – we can acknowledge that real change has been accomplished and tinker some more with the model and consider ways to make it even more robust.
Imperatives for Managers & Leaders
In the meantime, managers and leaders must know what is important and act with these imperatives in mind:
- Everyone is accountable for mutually agreed to and desired outcomes. Crisis mode is putting a fresh push on action over-analysis.
- Focus on helping every person and every team you lead or manage to freshly understand how their work and outcomes are connected to the achievement of the new or revised common vision, priorities, and concrete goals.
- Support with passion and encourage others to experiment, help them get the right feedback they need to make decisions on what to do next, and provide opportunities for them to meet more of their potential by learning and moving forward.
- Respect yourself and everyone else.
- Allow yourself and others to be more vulnerable, transparent, empathetic, agile, strong, and bold.
- Be calm and optimistic and find ways to increase self-reflection, question assumptions, work on personal development tied to needed competencies, risk, and improve every day.
The new workplace is even more complex, psychologically and physically different, potentially more innovative, and more fully humane. The realities of COVID have made many changes to the workplace as we know it. They’ve made virtual work necessary, shown the economy’s intense pressure to aggressively evolve to survive, and highlighted the necessity to address social justice and needed diversity at work. These changes have given everyone “permission” to be bold.
Leaders and organizations are more open to profound change than ever before and need to grasp these new opportunities and run with them. Managers and leaders have to look at old assumptions, reflect and go forward, and actually create organizational transformation in a more mature and determined way. For years we have known the need to transform and make our organizations more humanly sophisticated as well as technically sophisticated. Thankfully our current crisis environment has put some wind at our back.
Sometimes it helps when starting a new and challenging commitment to put on a new suit of some kind to play a new part—to adopt a new role and acquire a new passion for a different time and place. While there is never an end to change and innovation we can try to help ourselves and each other achieve both faster if we keep our vision clear and our priorities straight.
We aren’t throwing out what has worked in the past. Rather we are reminding ourselves—reimagining—what needs to change profoundly now. Managers and leaders must focus and move ahead with our short but powerful list of “must-dos/imperatives.” They must appreciate the immediate need for change, profess it, lead it, and achieve it. Doing otherwise is no longer an option.
Thanks for reading! If you liked this topic, check out part 5 of this series on working virtually called, People and Virtual Leadership Strategies.