Remote Leadership: how to manage

by Lara Scalvinoni, Associate Manager of Excellence Education

Hybrid working, smart working, remote working, are all expressions that increasingly characterize the current world of work and are profoundly redefining it.
The process of disruption between office work and remote work, which began with the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, is by no means destined to stop, on the contrary. According to research by Buffer, a company that analyzes social and work trends around the world, 98% of people would probably prefer to work remotely for their entire lives. And, again, 73% of all industries are expected to have at-home employees or freelancers by 2028, according to Upwork.
As always, however, there is also the other side of the coin to consider, that of the obstacles to which remote workers are subjected: according to various reports, in the first places we find the sense of isolation, the complexity of communication and the difficulty in unplug at the end of the day.
If it is therefore clear that the way of working within a team changes if it takes place remotely, it is equally clear that the figure leading this team, i.e. the remote leader, must also evolve.
On the one hand, the scope of the leader’s tasks does not change, generally remaining that of delegating tasks, defining objectives and motivating his collaborators. On the other hand, what must change, or rather, adapt, is the leadership style.
So what are the strategies that a remote leader must implement so that their team continues to work effectively remotely, keeping themselves healthy and happy?

    To do this it is necessary to find a balance between synchronous and asynchronous communication methods, choosing the most suitable tool for the information to be conveyed.
    For example, it is certainly useful to set weekly or monthly moments with the whole team and regular one-to-one meetings through video calls, but this is not always the only channel for communicating. Let’s think about the so-called “screen fatigue”: paying attention during a video call requires much more effort than a face-to-face meeting, as it is more difficult to process the non-verbal signals of the interlocutor.
    It is therefore necessary to evaluate the scope of the message we want to communicate and the response time required: for a formal communication that does not require interaction or immediate response, we could opt for an email or, on the contrary, for an update message to be followed up in time In reality you could use an instant messaging tool.
    If this strategy is always valid, whether I work remotely or not, it is even more essential in an often domestic context in which distractions are around the corner: declare what the objectives are to be achieved and insert them into a precise programming using a project management tool makes sure you set up the team’s mindset at a professional level and conveys the sense of working together, even if physically isolated. Furthermore, the focus increasingly shifts from activities to results: not being able to constantly check whether everyone is doing their duty with a simple jump to the desk, the remote leader will mainly have to evaluate the delivery of results, leaving the worker, where possible, the freedom and flexibility in how these are achieved. This is why it is essential to clarify what exactly is expected and define the operational flow within which the team can discuss, ask questions, clarify doubts and update Even more than before, the objectives must therefore be SMART, i.e. specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound.
    The prerequisite for the focus of the work, as we have said, to shift to the result is the remote leader’s ability to build trust within the team. To do this, the secret is to give more autonomy. Even if it might seem counterproductive, delegating more tasks or enabling team members to take on more responsibility for working times and methods makes them feel more valued, increases their sense of belonging, motivates them to excel and take on more initiative, leading them in turn to trust the leader. The latter, therefore, does not abandon his team: he always remains in contact, not through exhausting micromanaging, but by providing guidance and support when necessary.
    To overcome one of the main challenges for a remote worker, that of social disconnection, and make remote working more sustainable, it is essential that the leader creates socialization opportunities that go beyond the project boundaries. Green light therefore for informal chats, virtual coffee breaks or a chat outside of work before moving on to the official agenda of a video call: all moments to recharge the batteries in which conversations strictly related to work must be reduced to a minimum, but which at the same time they could give rise to new insights and ideas. It is on these occasions that the leader genuinely shows that he cares about his team.
    Another difficulty of the remote worker is keeping life and work separated. Establishing boundaries, guardrails, between the two dimensions is vital to creating a healthy working environment and avoiding burn out. In addition to making sure that everyone in his team has managed to carve out a space in which to work and that they have the necessary tools available, the leader must be the first to encourage this separation between private life and work: for example, while moving with flexibility within traditional office hours, each with their own routine that the others must be aware of, must establish which working hours are shared by everyone in which they can collaborate, safeguard the lunch break moment and define a definitive stop time , in addition to which you will no longer respond to emails.
    With remote working, the immediate recognition of goals is often missing. The remote leader’s task is to ensure that these moments are not missed: the results achieved must therefore be celebrated through, for example, public emails to the entire team, messages in the group chat or, even, appreciation during video calls. In this way, a positive climate will be created that will motivate us to always do better. The new challenge of the remote leader is this: on the one hand, using technology effectively and on the other, knowing how to manage new interpersonal dynamics. Because leading a team remotely is different, but it can be just as effective.