With the evolution of technology and a shift in corporate guidelines, today’s leaders can be confident that at some point in their career they will be charged with the management of a remote employee or team of employees either full or part-time.

The percentage of employers offering at least some remote work has reached 40 percent from just 22 percent in 2019. Health and safety concerns initially drove that growth, according to Catherine Hartmann, Managing Director of Global Work, Rewards and Careers Practice Leader at Willis Towers Watson in Ojai, California.” Once people do something for a couple of years; it becomes more difficult to return to the way things were. Certain contingents of workers have since built their lives around remote and flexible arrangements, so employers are now considering whether they should lean into the hybrid work model. The big question is how to allow in-person connection time that some people are longing for, and at the same time allow flexibility so people can enjoy a work/life balance?”

As Roy Maurer outlined in SHRM Online (March 2022), more companies are adopting a hybrid work model, where employees work remotely several days each week and work in the office on other days or even a fully remote work model. Therefore, leaders must effectively manage persons who will not be in the office/workplace every day. Brent Gleeson, CEO of TakingPoint Leadership, recently detailed several key actions that successful leaders of remote teams consistently undertake.

  1. Schedule daily check-ins – often via video conference – Especially for leaders and teams new to remote working, this action is vital. And where email, phone, and texts may have once sufficed, managers who are most successful in leading a remote workforce use video conferencing much more often.
  2. Over-communicate Because working remotely brings new and unexpected challenges with the tasks, responsibilities, and desired outcomes of the position, it is nearly impossible to communicate “too much.”
  3. Take advantage of technology Today, most companies have been forced down a path of digital transformation that previously took months, if not years, to adopt. Tools like Zoom and Microsoft Teams – which most leaders/employees are already using daily – provide simple communication platforms. Although it may be a bit uncomfortable at first, once fully adopted, it is a fantastic way to support engagement strategies, and for getting things done.
  4. Establish rules of engagement – Remote work becomes more efficient and satisfying when leaders set expectations for the frequency, means, and ideal timing of communication for their teams. For example, “We use video conferencing for daily check-in meetings, but we use IM when something is urgent.” Also, create opportunities for the best time of day for team members to reach their leader and the leader to reach each team member. And make sure peers are sharing information as needed.
  5. Manage expectations – This is always imperative but has become increasingly essential in this current environment. As previously mentioned, many organizations and teams have had to significantly pivot, which means the same employees may now be refocused on new tasks which impact ability and motivation and, therefore, performance and outcomes. All leaders of remote employees must set clear expectations and request feedback to ensure alignment.Don’t simply assume the team understands where they need to focus their energy.
  6. Focus on outcomes, not activity – Although this is a best practice for increasing engagement and empowering any employee, clearly defining the goals and desired results provided by remote team members is even more important. And ensuring they have the training and resources to develop their plan of execution enhances creativity and ownership.
  7. Define the purpose of key outcomes – Defining the “WHY” various strategies and actions are necessary to achieve objectives, while linking everyone to the overall company mission, is essential for any team. But, with a remote team, connecting with employees so that they fully understand the overall purpose of the organization’s function and how their role fits within this purpose is the bedrock of high-performing remote teams.
  8. Provide resources consistently and remove obstacles – When leading a remote or hybrid team, each leader needs to understand that their team members may now need new laptops, better Wi-Fi, and newer technology such as headsets and webcams. Remember that remote employees can face physical and emotional isolation, distractions at home pulling them in multiple directions, children engaged in home-schooling, etc. The leader must ensure that each team member can remain focused on their immediate responsibilities. Every effort should be made to remove as many obstacles as possible.
  9. Show flexibility and empathy – Leaders need to recognize that each team member has a different home environment. Some will have spouses and children. Some won’t. Some will have private home offices while others may be taking meetings from the closet, bedroom, or bathroom. Some may be at Starbucks. Some may be experiencing challenges in their relationships. The point is that a leader needs to understand the unique circumstances of each employee. Finally, with this information in mind, it is crucial for leaders to acknowledge stress, listen to their employees’ anxieties and concerns, and empathize with their struggles. Research on emotional intelligence tells us that employees look to their leaders for cues about how to react to sudden changes or crises. Remember, “calm can be contagious.”

Although certain leaders and corporations may assume that as the threat of COVID-19 dissipates, all employees will easily return to their previous office/workspace, that is not going to happen.  The remote work environment is here to stay. For optimal success in this new world, an organization and its leaders must adopt these critical responses.

About the Author

For years, E.A.S.I.-Consult® has been operating remotely with client companies worldwide.  More recently, we have been able to help organizations – and their leaders – excel in a world of remote and in-person employees/teams.  As a leader in researching and identifying key capabilities necessary for exceptional leadership, we assist organizations to reach their full potential.

Joseph Gier, Ph.D. is Vice President – Consulting Services at E.A.S.I-Consult and is a licensed Psychologist. E.A.S.I-Consult works with Fortune 500 companies, government agencies, and mid-sized organizations to provide customized Talent Management solutions. Utilizing scientific approaches, E.A.S.I.-Consult provides superior results to Business – Driven by Science. Our specialties include leadership and leadership potential assessment, online employment assessment, customized skills assessment, competency modeling, leadership development, executive coaching, 360-degree feedback, online structured interviews, and EEO hiring compliance. To learn more about E.A.S.I.-Consult, visit www.easiconsult.com, email ContactUs@easiconsult.com, or call 800.922.EASI.