Leadership Strategies in a Virtual Remade Workforce
Mar 26, 2021
BY KIMBERLY S. REED
The COVID-19 pandemic is forcing corporate leaders around the country to draw on their best skills to become agile, adaptive leaders.
For many, this has challenged their fundamental beliefs that you need your team to work in an office space to maintain efficiency and achieve productivity. In recent months, numerous surveys of corporations have shown that many executives have been pleasantly surprised. According to a survey by Mercer, the large HR consulting firm, 94% of 800 employers said productivity was the same or higher than pre-COVID-19. And a study from Harvard Business School, released in September 2020, says the average workday has been extended by 48.5 minutes during the pandemic.
Over the past year, I’ve learned that I, too, had to pivot. I’ve learned a great deal about my own approaches to management. Let me share some ideas that will help you succeed in leading your once in-person teams in a hybrid environment.
The success of the team in remote working is directly tied to your leadership style. That means you have to find a way to adapt your style in a virtual environment. For example, if you’re a classic micromanager, you’ll need to incorporate new methods to have your team members track projects through the usual online tools to provide the kinds of detailed updates you need to feel comfortable about the projects that need to get done.
If you’re a hands-off type manager, then you need to let your team members know what kind of information you want, when you want it, and how to deliver it: Via a phone call? Videoconference? Email? Special online form? The more clearly you define and express your needs as a leader of your company, the more your fellow C-suite executives, division heads, and employees will know that work has to get done with the same enthusiasm and commitment as when you were working in person.
We all miss the days when we could just drop by someone’s office to talk about their work or the day’s events. There’s an awkwardness that we all feel now. Should I call? Should I send an invite for a videoconference? As a corporate leader, you should build into your schedule time to meet individually with all of your direct reports on a regular basis—at least weekly. Talk about the work at hand, but more important, allow time to breathe. Feel free to engage in conversation about how you’re personally managing life in this new normal as a way to open the door for colleagues to share their insights.
Consider this a judgment-free zone. The information you receive should serve as a sign that you know what is happening now is not normal. Acknowledge that you, as a leader, are struggling in your own way too. At the outset of the pandemic, Alphabet, the parent company of Google, challenged its senior leaders to find out what its junior team members needed. Ruth Porat, Alphabet’s CFO, explained to CNBC in November 2020 how the company’s G2G—“Google to Google” training—served as an important tool to engage its team members to listen and respond with tools and skills to help people successfully complete their tasks remotely.
Just because you’re not working in person doesn’t mean you can’t celebrate your wins. Share via the corporate intranet, email, or social media the launch of new products and services, and the great work of your employees within the company or within the community.
On your regular daily or weekly meetings—via phone or videoconference—take time to acknowledge the good work of the team or an individual that went above and beyond to get a project or task completed. Then there are the little things that matter. Remember to recognize a co-worker’s birthday or work anniversary. Now more than ever, those moments could make a huge difference in a person’s life to know that as busy as you are, you see them.
Too often, particularly now, corporate leaders are so focused on keeping the business moving forward and making sure they generate ROI that they forget to say “thank you” to the people around them who are working harder than ever. Express that gratitude in words and actions. Say the words to the team and individuals during those phone calls or video meetings. Show your gratitude by offering an employee a gift card to their favorite store or a local restaurant.
The little things do matter now more than ever. By showing gratitude, you will feel good, but you also will make others feel they are worthy, valued, and contributing to your organization’s success. Helping team members feel grateful is infectious. There’s no better way to improve morale than having team members who are happy in the work they do because their boss has recognized them. Some CEOs are doing daily check-ins via videoconference with their team members just to say “thank you” for the day’s work and to let employees exhale after another intense day.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Kimberly S. Reed, “The Corporatepreneur,” is the chief transformational officer, Diversity, Equality and Inclusion Strategist, Reed Development Group, and bestselling author of Optimists Always Win! Moving from Defeat to Life’s C-Suite (HCI, 2021).