Vivian Susko

Remote leadership: why your approach matters

In-office leadership tactics simply won’t cut it for the next generation of workers; with 73% of all teams predicted to have remote employees by 2028, a hybrid workforce is the future of many industries.

Having started out as a distributed company, Minim has already begun rolling out resources on how employees can prepare for the shift to a permanent remote working policy. To help make the transition for managers a little easier as well, I sat down with several members of Minim's senior leadership team to get their actionable insights and advice on leading a distributed workforce. 

Remote leadership

Building a company culture 

Establishing a healthy team dynamic in this remote era will require a strong foundation of trust.  As Minim’s own CEO Gray Chynoweth explained on the Culture of Innovation podcast last month, companies who foster a trusting environment will see more innovation in 2021 and beyond than those who don’t. Tune in here to listen to the full interview.

Unfortunately, remote managers are experiencing some trust issues with this newly distributed workforce; 38% of managers agreed that remote workers give a worse performance than in-office workers, with 22% still being unsure. The impact of this skepticism? Many workers are now feeling micromanaged and scrutinized. That's why a more hands-on managerial approach is quickly going out of favor, with 54% of  employees now saying that they would leave their job for one that offered more flexible work time. The next generation is even more adamant about trust and freedom; when asked to rank workplace benefits in order of desirability, Millennials placed flexibility at the top of the list, even higher than monetary perks like student loan support. 

Laissez-faire leadership

Put simply, autonomy is the name of the game with this new remote workforce. Many organizations are already adapting to these needs by implementing various degrees of laissez-faire leadership, a “let them do it themselves” approach that focuses on completed projects rather than clocked hours. This is certainly true here at Minim, where employees are encouraged to craft a work schedule that aligns with their preferred lifestyle and creative flow. For Andy Piggott, SVP of Customer Success at Minim, laissez-faire leadership is all about balancing autonomy with guidance: 

"The key to successful autonomy is communicating expectations," explains Andy. "Ensuring your teams know what their priorities are and more importantly, reminding your teams frequently of their goals and the companies goals can help shape activities and engagement." 

Of course, we know this hands-off technique isn’t ideal for all industries or management styles, but it’s still important to recognize that a more flexible, high-trust environment is quickly becoming an employee preference. We recommend starting off small and finding the right balance to compliment your team. And don't forget: go easy on yourself! It's perfectly normal for stress to creep in as you begin to hand off big projects, especially if you've always been a "do it yourself" type of worker. 

"Letting individuals complete tasks in their own way can be hard," continued Andy. "It's important to be available to coach them towards the needed result, but avoid over-managing. This has the advantage of bringing new approaches and innovation into the way things get done."

In other words, giving team members the chance to earn higher levels of your trust won't just take a few things off of your over-crowded plate, but may even result in better team solutions.  

Most importantly, when mistakes do occur along the way, always strive to give your employees the benefit of the doubt. Remember: a solid foundation of trust will always pay off in the long run by empowering your team to innovate, speak up with new ideas, and perform at the highest possible level.  As long as you are upholding a supportive and secure culture, failure can be your team's greatest teacher: 

"Failure is sometimes an outcome of autonomy, but it's undoubtedly an opportunity to learn and develop," said Andy. "Having a strong feedback cycle is important to building on the rapport and trust needed for a high-performance, autonomous team." 

And speaking of feedback, if there's one practice you choose to implement into your leadership approach after reading this blog, let it be the glorious time-saver known as asynchronous communication. 

How to collaborate effectively if your team is remote

Miscommunication is the achilles heel of even the best management teams, and new research is indicating that remote workers are now twice as likely as in-office employees to feel frequently misunderstood or unappreciated in the workplace. 

This means that remote leaders will need to get a bit more creative when it comes to keeping team members engaged and informed. Rather than an onslaught of team-wide meetings packed with information, we recommend trying out some methods of asynchronous communication with your team, such as a messaging platform, collaborative document, or an email chain.  These forms of engagement tend to be more productive while also allowing for more flexibility, which is exactly why Nicole Hayward Zheng, CMO at Minim, prefers them: 

"I’m a huge proponent of thoughtful asynchronous communication wherever possible," explained Nicole.  "When working on a distributed team, it’s very easy to get into the habit of filling an entire calendar with meetings used primarily for information sharing and updates. This communication pattern can put the squeeze on the time and space people need for deeper creative and analytical thinking. Not to mention, it causes real brain fatigue. To create better balance, leaders can institute tools such as Slack, Monday, Google, and Loom and set a good example.”

This isn't to say that companies should do away with meetings and video conferencing altogether. Research has found many benefits to scheduling 1:1’s, and it can be important for employees to get some face time with the person behind the screen. Most of the time, however, what you have to say could probably be put into a quick message as long as it isn't urgent, allowing your team members to focus on projects without having their workflow broken up by mandatory meetings.  

If you’re managing too large of a team or don’t have time for 1:1s, try sending out a pre-recorded video or voice message en masse next time you share exciting news instead of holding a meeting— the reaction will speak for itself! Sending out regular weekly reports or monthly newsletters is another great option. And last, but certainly not least, be sure to check in on your employees from time to time with a quick email or ping. As a team leader, it's your responsibility to keep an eye on the wellbeing and workload of your employees. 

How to prevent burnout  

The average workday is now 48.5 minutes longer with WFH, and the number of meetings is up 13%. At this rate, it’s no wonder that over two-thirds of the workforce is reporting burnout. Things like unclear requirements, a build up of high-stress projects, poor communication, and lack of recognition can all easily contribute to prevalent concern, so this is an area requiring extra vigilance from team leaders.

Monitoring employee performance and workload is a great way to gain insight into whether your employees are overwhelmed or underdelivering. We recommend leveraging an AI-driven performance measurement tool like Prodoscore for detailed, accurate reports on employee behavior and activity. You can then leverage these metrics to find out what your employees need for an optimized, balanced employee experience. 

Finding a work-life balance

Now that work lingers on our kitchen tables and nightstands, encouraging your employees to log off will be paramount to preventing burnout. When you take the time to guide your team members towards their perfect pace, workload, and stopping points, you’ll see team performance and productivity shoot up like never before. 

On the topic of work-life balance, let’s not forget about finding balance as a team manager. Leading by example is likely the only way you’ll get your employees to take well-deserved downtime and communicate their needs. Here’s a pro tip: try not to stress about the state of your home being caught on Zoom. Chances are, you’re not the only one with kids, parents, or pets that haven’t memorized your meeting schedule. Nobody's WFH life is perfect, and establishing that grace and transparency early on will help to create a high-trust environment.  

Conclusion

Employee preferences are shifting in the wake of COVID-19, and the next generation of workers are looking for more flexible schedules and versatile methods of communication. Whether you switch to a laissez-faire leadership style tomorrow, or simply start by cutting out that one unnecessary meeting next week, each step is moving your team closer to optimized remote performance.

There’s never been, nor will there ever be, a one-size-fits-all approach to leadership. With this new WFH era putting our in-office practices to the test, however, the time for testing innovative new approaches to virtual leadership is now. 

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