The responsibilities of a leader have undergone significant changes over the past five years. With the shift from traditional conference rooms to remote work arrangements, leaders are still struggling to find the most viable ways to maintain personal connections with their teams, effectively manage activities, and reach collective goals. Although remote work offers greater flexibility and often leads to increased productivity (by 13%, according to a Stanford study), it also poses challenges regarding effective leadership.
There is an urgent need across all professional industries to humanize, support, and show respect for employees—especially those operating in remote or hybrid environments. But how exactly can this be effectively accomplished? Let’s explore the top four strategies leaders can implement to empower employees at all levels.
REMEMBER, WE’RE HUMANS FIRST!
Many leaders say that one of their favorite parts of their job is supporting team members in their development, growth, and success. But from behind a screen, it’s easy to lose sight of the human and emphasize tasks and outcomes more than the people executing them.
It’s important to remember that employees are whole, multidimensional individuals with lives, purposes, and responsibilities outside of their work. To create more meaningful relationships with employees, leaders can create opportunities to connect with them in more personal settings. Perhaps that means annual off-sites for the full company, or online water cooler meetings where attendees discuss their passions and interests. Similarly, having one-on-one check-ins demonstrates the value they bring to the table, not just the work they do. Learning about colleagues’ passions outside of work creates a deeper level of trust. Working in a remote capacity means actively making space for these conversations and initiating them.
Another important reminder is that we are all human and thus capable of making mistakes. Acknowledging these mistakes, correcting them and sharing learnings is important to create an empathetic and transparent environment. By doing so, teams will thrive and grow much quicker than employees who don’t have strong relationships within their company.
“Micromanagement” is arguably the most despised word in all business jargon. Unfortunately, all too often, professionals experience some form of shoulder-hovering management, including constantly being “pinged” for updates in remote workplaces. This approach is less than effective—with 68% of professionals claiming micromanagement decreased their morale and 55% reporting that their productivity also took a blow.
Instead of defaulting to managerial babysitting, leaders can encourage their teams to identify and implement their own processes for success. The first and most important step is ensuring that every employee understands the company’s business goals. With that understanding, leaders can help connect employee tasks to the broader outcomes and explain the ‘“why” behind their team’s efforts. From there, they can better empower their teams to develop processes for reaching those goals. Allowing those we lead to march to the beat of their own drum and excel in their careers on their own terms will give them the freedom to discover solutions that magnify their skills and scale their productivity.
This approach to leadership allows for diverse thinking and execution, with everyone bringing something different to the table—including working styles. It is important, however, to be open about preferred working styles and share them with team members and then collectively decide how to adjust to each other’s preferences. Leaders can set the tone by being open and transparent and setting boundaries around their preferred working style.
McKinsey & Company cites “intrinsic motivation” as a significant factor in employee health, reporting that self-motivated people are 46% more satisfied and 32% more committed to their work. That type of motivation can only come from the freedom and trust an organization’s leader gives, as it has to be implemented from the top down.
Effective, open communication is important in any work environment, but it’s absolutely essential when working remotely. It builds trust among team members and creates a sense of reliability and dependability.
Focus on addressing concerns, resolving conflicts, and providing and receiving constructive feedback, as all will lead to better performance and productivity. As leaders, we set the example for our teams and ultimately inspire them to be equally transparent and communicative. For example, simply asking how colleagues prefer to receive feedback can have a positive, lasting impact. While some employees may prefer face-to-face video calls, others may want written feedback via email to reference and save for later.
More sage advice: it’s not always about what is said, but when it is said. A report from June 2023 found that unresponsive managers were 25 times more likely to be labeled as a “bad boss,” whereas managers who respond in a timely manner are five times more likely to be seen as a “good boss.”
Frequently, leaders think they need to know the answer to every question before responding. That simply isn’t the case. Employees know that their managers have their own responsibilities and can’t always provide immediate assistance. In those cases, a simple and prompt acknowledgment that the request has been seen and will be followed up on goes a long way. Responsiveness is key for showing employees that they are heard.
BE RESPECTFUL OF TIME
In an effort to keep a pulse on team activity, leaders might feel tempted to overload their team’s calendars with check-ins and status update meetings. There is not a single professional out there who has not thought, “This meeting could have been an email.” Resist the urge to schedule superfluous meetings that eat into your team’s precious time and daily productivity, as it ultimately boils down to a lack of respect.
Meetings that genuinely add value are those that are less focused on rudimentary updates and more focused on professional development or creative brainstorming. Influential leaders can coach and support employees in these meetings by ensuring alignment between objectives and tactics. It’s an opportunity to identify areas of opportunity and set goals to strengthen weaknesses. Showing an active interest in the bigger picture instead of just day-to-day details puts a stronger emphasis on achieving larger company initiatives and demonstrates how all employees contribute to the success of the business.
The evolution of the modern workforce is not set to slow down anytime soon, and this is something to be excited about. Who doesn’t want more effective and efficient ways to work? Change can be overwhelming at times, but we must keep up with these changes and let them serve us instead of the other way around. Leaders must think of their teams as humans first and embrace new strategies that lend themselves to overall employee engagement and reflect what the modern workplace looks like today.