The shift from physical in-office work to remote work (the “new normal”) is inevitable. With this shift, remote leaders will need to learn the new skills required to meet the challenges of a virtual workplace.
Here are the top 5 skills to becoming a successful digital manager:
- Communication, Engagement and Collaboration
- Emotional Intelligence and Empathy
- Planning and Goal-setting
- Feedback, Performance Management and Trust
- Tools and Tech Solutions
1. Communication, Engagement and Collaboration
Remote leaders and C-suite members can ensure good leadership skills by frequent and transparent communication as well as being engaging with all employees, but it’s even more imperative when it comes to remote workers. Equally important, is the ability to identify causes of communication breakdown and lack of engagement, then implement steps to address them.
Engagement is even more essential in a remote work setting. Although the inability to be in one physical space does not allow for the free-flowing, spontaneous sharing of ideas; interactions and mutual dependence have not disappeared, so leaders must use different techniques to ensure virtual engagement. For example, by encouraging employees to participate in virtual events, to be active during and after online meetings, as well as sustaining a positive attitude and keeping enthusiasm high, employers will be able to build and maintain strong and trusting relationships with their employees.
Moreover, being an engaged listener is also critical as a remote leader; conversations with your team can’t be one-sided/one-way monologue of the leader talking to the screen; barking orders over a video call doesn’t win any affinity or loyalty. Additionally, remote work removes some of the power of personality; charm is less powerful, whilst collaboration becomes ever more important. Leaders who rely on their interpersonal skills will need to adapt, given that remote leaders are most often chosen because of what they do, not because of traits ascribed to them. Therefore, collaboration is crucial, especially with regard to new team members; newbies must be integrated and welcomed as best as possible and this can be achieved by lots of virtual communication, collaboration and introductions.
Ultimately, a remote leader must communicate, collaborate and engage with his employees to agree on how to work together. They must also, define formal team processes and agree on how to make up for the informal aspects missing in a remote environment. An open and honest dialogue with your employees is needed about what strategies should be emphasised and what could be improved.
2. Emotional Intelligence and Empathy
Secondly, in 2021, possessing qualities such as empathy and emotional intelligence will be important factors in determining whether digital leaders will earn respect and find success in any organisation they lead.
It is much harder for workers to convey how they are feeling and for employers to identify since the majority of communication is via email. So, digital leaders need to observe employee behaviour, expression and engagement in video conferences. Effectively communicating with faces on a screen is a skill that encompasses knowing how to manage the flow of conversation and measuring the amount of input coming from the different images.
Remote teams seem to value digital leaders who are able to connect them with help and resources they can use on their own. Scheduling in routine check-ins will help managers to gauge how their team members are feeling; employees should be aware that the virtual “door” is always open.
Many employees care about company culture, and empathy is something they truly value. As a C-suite member, it is essential to be empathetic and to ensure that remote team members feel included, it’s better to over-communicate so they don’t feel isolated or disconnected. Any personal employee issues that aren’t coming up in team meetings can be spoken about via one-on-ones. In fact, according to Ravi Gajendran, associate professor of global leadership and management at Florida International University College of Business in Miami – “remote leaders can foster member inclusion in remote teams through personalised leadership by reaching out to each member, which in turn can translate to greater innovation.” Personal connections are critical for members feeling part of the team.
Leaders who know how to foster connections and relationships will have an easier time keeping their employees happy and clients retained. When leaders introduce or sustain empathy, they are champion leaders. Empathy empowers employees to be creative at problem-solving and work together to develop solutions, as a result your team will be stronger and more connected.
3. Planning and Goal-setting
Remote teams seem to respond well to leaders who have a clear plan, share the plan and keep an eye on upcoming tasks. The importance of a planned remote work culture is vital for success. Digital leaders identify the underpinnings that drive their organisation’s mission, establish a match between their values and actions, and define the best practices needed to create an environment that’s healthy for all their employees and the business.
Digital leaders must also be goal focussed, have the ability to set goals and they must inspire their team and communicate a compelling vision for the future as this is essential for your remote workers to understand the end goal. This shows employees that their leader has a clear purpose to manage and guide them to meet goals and targets. New Goal-setting strategies such as rethinking how goals are set and identifying key performance metrics will be critical to managing remote workers in the new normal. It’s also critical for employees to understand how their work impacts the results and vision for the team— research shows that employees who feel like their work directly contributes to a higher purpose are more engaged in their work.
4. Feedback, Performance Management and Trust
If your employees don’t hear feedback, they can make two assumptions: they’re doing well or failing miserably. This unknowing can create a lot of unnecessary stress, which can be exasperated by being remote. Remote leaders can work to actively engage in feedback, praising accomplishments, as well as addressing areas for improvement. If employees are going the extra mile, it is vital for employers to be supportive, acknowledge this hard work and recognise these professional achievements in order to maintain an engaged and motivated team, where their employees realise the importance of their role in the company’s success. Continuous feedback will become essential as managers strive to help employees navigate their job responsibilities and meet performance expectations.
Some companies are also making performance reviews ongoing rather than annual. Remote leaders will need to set expectations for, manage and maximise team performance across distance. Working remotely changes the teams interpersonal dynamics, so trust is an essential foundational element, for a remote team to function well. Virtual performance management is founded on trusting your team to complete the work and aligning metrics that are specifically tied to output. Setting and communicating clear expectations that you can measure in any setting is vital. It’s also about incentivising constructive contributions and celebrating achievements. Digital leaders need to take planned steps to build and maintain trust, to compensate for any connection gaps that may arise due to remote working.
5. Tools and tech solutions
With technology advancing rapidly, remote leaders must make the best out of what is available as well as learn more about the tools and solutions that they are using and how to best apply them in each situation. Since demand has increased for C-suite hard skills in tech, C-suite members must come together to drive a successful technology strategy in order to deploy technology efficiently and productively. It is important for digital leaders to update traditional processes, as more evolved digital leaders will harness technology and data to improve decision making and drive organisational intelligence.
Cybersecurity is also extremely prevalent in the new normal of remote work and has become a top priority for business leaders to mitigate cyberattacks and build cyber resilience. Thus, digital leaders will need to upskill and hone their cybersecurity knowledge and skills.
Furthermore, with regard to communication technology, remote leaders not only need to master their own skills of effectively communicating with their team but also must establish the tools, channels, applications and best practices for their team members to communicate effectively.
Here is a table for the best technology tools to manage teams remotely: