Back in March, when the COVID-19 pandemic began to hit the United States in full force and businesses told employees to work from home, many workers thought they’d be back to business as usual fairly quickly. All that changed when cases of the disease began to climb and companies were required to adapt to a whole new world of remote work for the foreseeable future.
A few months on, some people are still struggling with the shift to working online. While some people are enjoying the flexibility and convenience, others are struggling with the lack of access to their colleagues and other limitations caused by remote work.
Leaders have to recognize that each of their team members has different feelings on remote work during the pandemic. If you want to be an effective leader during this remote work reality, here are 6 skills that are absolutely crucial to success.
Empathy & Emotional Intelligence
Everyone is stressed right now. Between being cooped up at home with family members and children, working, and not being able to participate in many stress-busting extracurricular activities, most people are not feeling their best. A good leader must recognize these challenges and display empathy and emotional intelligence when communicating with employees. That’s pretty easy to do during the COVID-19 pandemic since most people are having similar struggles!
What does leading with empathy mean? It means taking the needs of your employees into account, in addition to the needs of the organization. It means really taking the time to think about what your team members are going through and being empathetic about their struggles as those struggles relate to work.
Emotional intelligence—the ability to regulate and understand your own emotions and being able to perceive emotions and empathize with others—goes a long way in making employees feel less stressed and more relaxed at work.
Motivation via Remote
One of the biggest challenges leaders are facing during the COVID-19 pandemic is motivating employees who are working remotely. It’s easy to build energy during team-building events and in-person meetings, but it’s harder when everyone is calling in over the phone or via video chat.
It’s important not to give up on motivation when working remotely. Inspired employees are more productive and are generally happier to be “at work,” which leads to great work and excellent morale.
To inspire and motivate from a distance, leaders should study the principles of performance psychology. Performance psychology involves tactics like energy and stress management, goal-setting, attention control, and team-building. Although you might have to adjust the methodology involve in performance psychology for the remote office, it’s a good place to start in learning how to motivate virtually.
Company culture is unique to each organization and can make teams stronger or weaker. Companies with toxic cultures tend to lose employees rapidly, while companies with positive and inclusive cultures tend to have much lower turnover rates and happier employees. But how do you maintain your company culture when the “office” isn’t there anymore?
Leaders need to be able to problem-solve and think critically in order to maintain their company’s culture in a remote setting. In the process of maintaining your organization’s culture, you should start by thinking about the organizational values that form the cultural foundation of the company. What makes the culture different? Why do employees value working for your company?
By asking yourself these questions, you’ll gain a basic roadmap for how to maintain the company culture virtually. What are your employees missing out on by not being in the office, and what could be an acceptable substitute during this period of remote work? Cultural maintenance isn’t easy when you’re having to adapt to a whole new way of working, but it’s essential for maintaining engagement, productivity, and morale.
As a leader, it’s your job to set the tone and expectations for communication and behavior. It’s important to ensure that conduct continues at the same standard as it would in the office, and to make sure that everyone understands the expectations for positive, timely, and professional communication.
But aside from professionalism, communication tends to get weaker when people aren’t working in close proximity. Things get missed, people lose sight of their goals, and teamwork can suffer. It’s important to be proactive in maintaining strong communication when working remotely.
Leaders must have strong communication skills and be willing to help their team members develop this key skill as well. Regular check-in meetings with the team as a whole and individually, setting expectations for communications, and emphasizing discussions over video are all important for keeping communication within your team strong and effective.
Dr. Leilani Carver-Madalon, assistant professor in the Master’s in Strategic Communication and Leadership Online Program at Maryville University advises leaders to communicate explicitly and frequently.
“Leaders also need to be strategic about which channels of communication they are selecting and need to be careful not to default to one channel. For example, when COVID-19 first happened and many people began working from home, many leaders defaulted to Zoom meetings and employees found themselves spending hours and hours on video conferencing calls. Video conferencing can be fantastic for webinars and teams but is not a good channel for a quick question, where an instant message or a text may be much more effective,” says Dr. Carver-Madalon.
Organizing people working in the same space together is hard enough. It becomes even harder when people are working from their own homes. Leaders must have strong project management skills in order to ensure that projects are completed to the company’s quality standards and within the prescribed deadlines.
As a leader, you need to have your own organization system and methods for solving common problems that will inevitably come up. Being able to deal with hiccups quickly while working remotely will help to ensure that the work gets done and your employees won’t feel stressed or burned out in the process.
Let’s face it—a leader’s major roles are to inspire teams and fix any problems that may come up. Problems are a fact of life in any team situation, and leaders who expect them can be better prepared for solving them. Strong problem-solving skills can mean the difference between a happy and productive remote team and a grumpy, disengaged workforce.
While it’s always better to prevent problems before they occur, it’s not possible to prevent every issue. Anticipating problems like tech issues for remote team members, poor work or lack of productivity, and misunderstandings between team members will make you better equipped to deal with them. Coming up with a basic problem-solving framework is a good idea for anyone in a leadership role.
According to Amy Taylor-Bianco, program director for the online Master of Science in Management program and Academic Director of the Robert D. Walter Center for Strategic Leadership at Ohio University, “in business leadership we often favor bold extroversion over reasoned, introspective thinking. We look for extroversion with a dash of introversion. We can mobilize these strengths in our teams by leading with strong information, requiring regular hours, pushing time sensitive communication and providing planned opportunities for interaction and feedback.”
Leading in a remote environment isn’t easy, but it isn’t impossible. If you’re a little weak in any of these areas, then it may be time to brush up on these essential skills. You’ll help your team (and your company) navigate the pandemic more successfully and reduce stress for everyone involved.