Leadership in the Age of a Remote Workforce

October 25, 2018

Remote workforce

Today’s managers must be prepared to lead remote employees and hybrid teams of onsite and offsite members, who may be working outside the office or located across time zones or countries. In a survey of 18,000 professionals globally, IWG found that 53% worked outside their main corporate office for half the week or more, and 70% worked remotely at some point during the week.

To meet the challenges of managing a dispersed team, leaders must be intentional in their approach to communicating with and coaching employees, according to Kevin Eikenberry, co-author with Wayne Turmel of The Long-Distance Leader: Rules for Remarkable Remote Leadership (Berrett-Koehler, 2018).

Eikenberry, chief potential officer at the Kevin Eikenberry Group, pointed out in an AMA Edgewise podcast that remote workers do not face a lot of barriers to changing employers. As a result, leaders must be even better. “The barriers to movement are lower, which means that the responsibilities and expectations of leaders must grow if we’re going to help retain those top people who are working at a distance,” he said.

Leading the remote workforce

These tips from Eikenberry can help you become more intentional as a leader:

Clarify expectations. When you don’t see team members all the time, you must be clear about the work involved, the quality expected, how work will be done, and methods of communication to be used, said Eikenberry.

In terms of technology, the leader’s job is to help the team determine which tools will be used, and when, to make them most effective. You may not need to know the technical aspects of a technology, he said, but you do need to know how it will make meetings, communication, or collaboration more successful. Then, you need to model its use. “The number one factor that will get [team members] to use it is if they see you as the boss using it,” said Eikenberry.

Help remote team members see the big picture. While remote employees can be very productive, they also may become more siloed and insular in their work. According to Eikenberry, the leader must help them to continue seeing how their work fits into the big picture and coach them on collaborating with team members.

Promote team cohesion. When a team is spread out, conversations among members may become transactional, with a focus on handling business. “We don’t spend any time building the relationship like we would if we were walking down the hall or peeking into someone’s office…,” said Eikenberry.

In addition, onsite and remote workers may have misconceptions about each other, such as seeing working from home as cushy or thinking onsite people are tapped for projects. To encourage cohesion, Eikenberry suggests that the leader make things transparent, ensure that remote employees are included in project teams, and avoid dumping work on onsite people because you happen to see them.

Be intentional in your coaching. The ongoing conversation that’s needed to coach team members does not occur automatically with a remote workforce. The leader should set up times for one-on-one calls, said Eikenberry, so that employees know you’re checking in and making yourself available, not checking up on them.

To develop the relationship and level of trust that make coaching successful, he said, “we’ve got to be very diligent in having ongoing dialogue.”

Listen to the full podcast with Kevin Eikenberry.

For podcasts on a variety of topics, visit the AMA Edgewise library.

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American Management Association is a world leader in professional development, advancing the skills of individuals to drive business success. AMA’s approach to improving performance combines experiential learning—“learning through doing”—with opportunities for ongoing professional growth at every step of one’s career journey. AMA supports the goals of individuals and organizations through a complete range of products and services, including seminars, Webcasts and podcasts, conferences, corporate and government solutions, business books and research.

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