We understand figuring out how to be an effective leader through a virtual meeting isn’t easy. Here are three tools for your leadership toolbox to use in your remote or hybrid work environment.
Few events transformed the workplace like the COVID-19 pandemic. The abrupt closure of businesses and workplaces in early 2020 thrust workers into a remote work environment overnight.
This historic event became the catalyst for a significant paradigm shift in how work gets done in organizations. At the time, most companies treated the virtual work environment as a temporary situation, anticipating things would be back to “normal” by summer.
No one imagined remote work would be the “new normal.” Now — 18 months later — we find ourselves in a world where organizations are making strategic decisions to intentionally operate remotely or in a hybrid model.
Adapting to Remote Leadership
As employers embrace virtual or hybrid environments, the employment landscape continues to evolve. Organizations are having difficulty differentiating themselves from their competitors as an employer of choice. The things that used to differentiate employers, such as culture, leadership, flexibility and career advancement, are the aspects most impacted by a remote, onsite or hybrid work environment.
Additionally, remote and hybrid work environments amplify the influence that a front-line leader has on the employee experience, and front-line leaders find themselves responsible for becoming the keepers of the culture.
Many organizations underestimated this role of the leader in a hybrid or remote work environment. These organizations are now scrambling to replace talent who left their organizations in favor of companies who have better prepared and invested in leaders to effectively lead in a remote or hybrid work environment. So what do you, as a leader, need to do to successfully lead and engage employees in a post-COVID world?
The good news is most leaders have the right tools and skills in your leadership toolbox. You just need to use them differently, and, more importantly, with intention. The tools that make you effective in this new world are not the same tools that led to success in the past.
Leaders who can shift their mindsets and behaviors in the way they communicate, solve problems and engage with their teams are the most successful keepers of the culture in a hybrid or remote work environment.
Communication has always been a mainstay in your leadership toolbox. It is well known that frequent and transparent communication leads to the highest levels of engagement.
Most organizations had well-established channels and proven methods of communicating when a majority of employees were onsite. There were scheduled and unscheduled in-person team meetings, regular emails and updates. And, your employees had access to company intranets, newsletters, and hallway or watercooler conversations, which enabled them to feel informed and connected.
In the new world of virtual work, employees do not have the opportunity to engage in person as frequently and have become reliant on electronic forms of communication. Video conferences, teleconferences and webinars fill their days, and emails, chats and text messages overtake their inboxes.
Your employees are saturated with messages, making it highly likely they’re missing important information. Leaders who can communicate with intention are having the most success leading in virtual world. This means you not only share and relay meaningful and timely information, but you also invite discussion and dialogue around such topics in a way that formulates and strengthens relationships by asking thoughtful questions that generate insights.
Communicating with intention also involves deliberately making time for relationship building with each interaction. To preserve healthy organizational culture in a virtual world, focus on maximizing your interactions with employees to engage in their thoughts and opinions and ensure they receive the necessary information and context to perform their best work.
Problem Solving Tools
One of the many lessons the pandemic taught us was the power of creativity when solving problems. Employers plunged headfirst into figuring out how to sustain their operations remotely and embraced and deployed the most creative and innovative ways of making that happen… and it worked.
Embracing a creative approach to solving problems not only yields a better outcome, but it also gives others an opportunity to stretch and contribute in ways they never imagined possible. Learning and innovation go hand-in-hand, and if you break out of an established pattern to look at something in a different way, you’ll suddenly begin to see possibilities and solutions you may have previously overlooked.
Leaders should embrace and foster creative thinking out of their employees and create an environment that rewards innovative efforts. If you encourage employees to share ideas, reward employees for taking calculated risks, and demonstrate a willingness to continuously improve, you’ll have the most sustainable success into this new way of working.
Every employer strives to achieve an inclusive environment where people feel valued, appreciated and respected. In a pre-COVID world, employers benefitted from having multiple opportunities to — and other people who — influence and shape an employee’s experience. In a post-COVID world, the employee experience is primarily shaped by the person they have the most contact with.
As front-line leaders, you have the most influence in shaping how inclusive employees feel their work environment is, but you have fewer opportunities to achieve success. This means you need to ensure during every interaction with an employee you focus on ensuring your team feels their contributions are valued, that their voices are heard, and that their opinions count.
You must leverage your skills in a different way to ensure employees’ experiences reflect this, regardless of whether they are in the office. Whether it is intentionally engaging remote team members during meetings, reaching out to individuals who aren’t in the office, or creating a safe environment for people to share their ideas. Most successful leaders in a hybrid work environment agree it’s time well spent.
As in any profession, a well-stocked toolbox is essential to success. Sometimes when the world changes around us, we have to think about using the tools in our leadership toolbox differently. Leaders who reach into their toolbox time and time again for familiar tools to solve every problem the same way will struggle to succeed in a virtual world.
In contrast, if you reach into your toolbox for those same tools with the intention of using them differently, you will succeed more as a keeper of the culture in a virtual world.