But leadership is challenging. Few things are more complex than human beings and their egos, personalities, and preferences. As a leader, empowering a diverse group of individuals to work in the same direction, while at the same time keeping your own focus on the big picture strategy, is an art form.
Adding another layer to the challenge of leadership is the movement of companies to distributed work. Working remotely is an increasingly appealing option for both companies and employees. But it changes the dynamic of leadership in many ways.
In a remote environment, a leader can’t just call a quick huddle together to get everyone on the same page.
In a remote environment, a leader doesn’t overhear conversations about projects and always have that innate sense whether everyone is on the right path.
In a remote environment, a leader can’t look over employees’ shoulders to see where things stand. Leadership has to be approached differently to keep everyone on the same page, moving in the same direction and driving the company forward.
One of the most important roles of a leader is the culture you create for your team. Culture is a key factor in employee satisfaction and retention. It’s a bridge between high-level expectations and the day-to-day experience inside the company.
As a leader, you have two responsibilities when it comes to culture: 1. What you say, 2. What you do.
First, you need to communicate what the expectations for the culture will be. One example is guidelines or expectations for how your team should communicate with one another. If you want your team to prioritize focus and distraction-free work, you might choose to set cultural expectations for setting up meetings, email/chat response times and interruptions.
You also need to live out your expectations. If you have a set time when the day ends, you need to stick to it. Don’t tell the team that after 5 p.m. they should leave their work at work, then at the same time send a bunch of emails out at 7 p.m. As a manager you have immense influence, so if you are sending a mixed message, then your cultural expectations won’t carry much weight.
Clarity in high-level mission and vision
In a remote environment, it’s easy for workers to work as individuals who are focused on their own tasks but lose attachment to the wider picture. As a leader, it’s your responsibility to hold out the high-level mission of the company.
You need to have a digital space where the top priorities and core values are visible to everyone. Then you need to communicate with them often. Most companies have a specific meeting rhythm for accountability and maintaining expectations.
In those meetings, make sure your team is repeating the big picture goals and that everyone understands where the company is moving.
One challenge of leadership is that you are living and breathing the strategy of the company and can assume everybody is on the same page. But your team can lose track of the strategy as they focus in on their tasks. This is true for every company, but in a remote environment, where there are fewer side conversations overheard, it’s more important to be intentional in communication.
Clarity in assignments and deliverables
One of the great advantages of remote work is you can access talent from anywhere. This means your team may be getting work done at all different hours of the day in many different time zones.
When that happens it’s imperative your team has clear-cut expectations on assignments and deadlines. You can’t track everything in email or you’ll be at the risk of work happening that doesn’t connect to the broader project.
To keep everyone on the same page, you need to have a single source of truth providing a clearly defined list of assignments, who owns them and when they are due.
Meetings and communication
To succeed in a remote environment, you’ll need to establish meeting rhythms. You should have one-on-ones, team meetings, and weekly check-ins. These meetings are where you establish the goals of the team and maintain progress.
Use video for meetings as much as possible. While much of the work can get done with chat and email, these meetings are essential for maintaining eye contact and understanding the full context of what individuals are dealing with.
Part of your role as a leader is to make sure your team feels heard. You need to celebrate wins and offer times for employees to voice frustrations. This access and communication keep the team working in stride and maintains consistency throughout the organization.
Remote work offers big advantages to growing companies, and with the right leadership approach, your team can maximize this opportunity.