It can be tempting to assume that leading remotely is just a matter of doing the same thing in essentially the same way—just translated into a virtual setting. Not so fast warns David Pachter author of the forthcoming book Remote Leadership: How to Accelerate Achievement and Create a Community in a Work-from-Home World. “Leaders often misstep by leaning into what worked for them in the past,” insists Pachter. “The needs and expectations of work from home teams are very different and consequently the behavior we need from our leaders is radically different.” Pachter shares four specific ways in which leaders should adjust their style or focus to better support remote teams.
Manage results, not actions
While the traditional workplace provides leaders endless opportunities for informal, casual, even unintended check ins (like the impromptu elevator chat), remote settings often force those inquiries to feel much more deliberate and formal. In a remote setting “checking in” may show up as a flurry of email inquiries or Slack messages about the same task which can be anxiety-inducing for team members. “Leaders should avoid creating unnecessarily stressful situations for their team and instead, focus conversations around their desired outcome,” Pachter recommends. “Addressing the end goal creates more space for open dialogue and allows employees to feel more engaged and able to communicate any difficulties or needs they run into.” Indeed, what might feel completely normal in a face-to-face setting could be perceived as suffocating micromanagement in a work-from-home setting so leaders should consciously pivot away from focusing on incremental actions and towards broader results or outcomes.
Recruit for stronger alignment
Pachter readily admits that the ability to focus on results, not actions (and avoid micromanaging behavior) requires higher levels of trust and stronger connections between a leader and individual team members. As those can be difficult to cultivate, Pachter highlights the importance of recruiting team members with strong alignment from the outset. “Work harder to recruit people whose goals, prior experience, style, and aspirations are aligned with yours and your organization,” insists Pachter. “If you start by tightening the requirements of who gets on the team, you make leading the team easier and your chance of success greater.” His own company uses the acronym “P.A.G.E” – Passion/Productivity, Attitude/Achievement, Grit/Gratitude & Empathy/Education to outline their determinants of ideal fit. Make sure your organization has clearly identified what “strong alignment” looks like to ensure you’re identifying candidates who will work well with higher levels of autonomy.
Stop problem solving and start coaching
Pachter insists that in successful remote teaming models team members must operate with higher levels of agency and autonomy which requires that individual contributors be more effective problem solvers. Thus, leaders must transition from the role of problem solver to coach. “Coaching isn’t about giving advice or telling people what to do,” explains Pachter. “Coaching requires that you lean into developing a more personal relationship with the people on your team. You want to be able to ask for help, share your experiences—good and bad—and demonstrate the vulnerability that traditionally leaders haven’t.” Clearly, building these strong, authentic connections in a remote setting is no simple task which underscores the importance of relationship building as a core leadership skill—not just in times of crisis but always.
Consider alternate video conferencing approaches to encourage enhanced collaboration
While many organizations have become reliant on a handful of broadly-adopted virtual meeting platforms (like Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Google Hangouts and others), Pachter’s team relied on the Circl.es technology platform to help them manage and facilitate group sessions. Reflecting on some of the more popular providers, Pachter adds, “They aren’t built for collaborative style meetings or forums where sharing is encouraged.” On his preference for Circl.es he shares, “It is specifically designed to encourage a better conversation among groups. The structure and tools encourage people to share and talk more freely.” He found the facilitator tools to be particularly beneficial. “It gives the facilitators tools to highlight the speaker, create agendas, randomize speaking orders so that all can be heard, and even shows how long someone has been talking,” he explains. Obviously, the most commonly used platforms are most commonly used for a reason—they work really well and have become an indispensable resource for so many businesses and organizations working remotely, but Pachter’s experience suggests that it may be worth the time to actually compare features and determine which platform is the best fit for your leadership goals.
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In some ways leading remote teams is a lot like parenting—if it feels easy and effortless, you’re probably not doing it right. Truly effective remote leadership often requires that leaders consciously pivot in a way that may not feel completely natural for them and their typical style. But arguably, that’s what the best leaders do anyway when faced with a new and different situation.