Amid the global pandemic of the Coronavirus, many companies are rapidly implementing mandatory work from home policies. While remote work is not uncommon for some companies, the scale and immediacy of these initiatives pose new and significant leadership challenges. Of course, this will not be as simple as sending employees home, asking them to sit in front of a laptop and phone, and then expecting them to keep calm and carry on. These are uniquely unsettling times. Executives who suddenly become virtual leaders may need to modify their usual management techniques and processes to help their teams succeed in this new business situation, while also demonstrating understanding and compassion in supporting individuals.
The typical office environment is filled with social cues that grease the interactions of co-workers and managers. Check-ins on projects happen almost casually, questions are answered with a few steps to the next office, and modifications in project timeline expectations can adjust with little formality. When everyone works remotely, those informal and often subconscious social cues are lost.
This puts a responsibility on the shoulders of the remote manager to recreate the guidance and feedback that employees typically find at the office. And it is fair to say that not all leaders are inherently equipped for managing remotely. The leader that is charismatic, inspirational, and strategic in an office setting may chafe against the disciplined, high-touch, individualized management style that will best support employees working remotely. The executive whose leadership style centers on large group meetings will face new challenges. Many leaders will need to significantly adjust their style to meet these new demands. For virtual leaders, over-emphasizing management fundamentals will be the key to team success and to offering individual reassurance.
Challenges for Remote Employees
Here are five challenges that all virtual employees are likely to encounter:
Management Goals for Virtual Leaders
To meet the needs of remote employees, virtual managers will want to consider the following practices:
Success (or Failure) Is Up to You
Perhaps the thorniest challenge of working from home is that the amount of work you do is entirely your responsibility. For virtual employees and managers alike, your failure or success depends on you—your ability to focus, to hustle, to connect with colleagues and clients. When it's just you at home, you can't blame a pesky boss or chatty co-workers for your lousy or unproductive workday.
And even if you work as part of a virtual team, you're still the only team member around. Some folks love the thought of working in solitude, but even the most introverted among us can start feeling a little claustrophobic after a few weeks at home, alone, staring the same project in the face. It can get lonely. Be ready for that and try to schedule some connect-with-the-outside-world time, like a lunch hour (even if you take it at 3 p.m.).
In our response to the coronavirus, we are breaking new ground as a society. Skilled and compassionate virtual leadership will be a key element. It is worthwhile to be prepared.
This article was co-authored by Rodney Warrenfeltz, PhD, Managing Partner, LeaderMorphosis LLC.