Organizations around the world have scrambled to adopt remote working as a strategy to drive business continuity as the world continues to adjust to the changes brought about by the pandemic. Indeed, the recent period has seen the most radical shift in working practices in relatively modern times, as workers have had to transfer their base of operations from their offices to their homes. The corollary of this change is far reaching and still unfolding. Indeed, some large organizations are extending their remote work options beyond the pandemic.
This makes this trend more than a stopgap. A question that comes to mind is how working relationships would be transformed by this new paradigm. As organizations have evolved over years, one must consider the assumption that working dynamics have become optimized over time for the office. What does remote working mean for the leadership role, and how can leaders navigate the change in working dynamics to get the best out of their teams, taking into cognizance the ongoing transformations?
Up until recently, working relationships have significantly been shaped by office space. For a lot of people, physical interactions between team members are essential to the team reaching its goals. Managers have been accustomed to physical interaction with their subordinates whereby communication is made via verbal and nonverbal cues, physical meetings, retreats, conferences, and the like. Some managers might even argue that some essential work skills and work culture traits can only be passed on via physical observation of interactions in the office environment.
Other benefits of the office often stated are that it makes management of people more efficient; it promotes regular contact of employees, which can strengthen relationships and make employees feel like they are part of something larger; and it reduces distractions. With the radical and largely unexpected shift to remote working practices, some leaders are now asking if they can still reach their goals outside of the confines of an office. But is all lost? Can the perceived limitations of leading teams under a remote work approach be adequately addressed? Are there even gains to adopting a leadership style that embraces remote working? Proponents of remote work hold the position that it provides tangible benefits to the employees, the team, and the organization at large in terms of productivity, employee well-being, and cost savings.
Whether or not you are a proponent of remote work, the reality of its arrival in organizations is well evident. Hence managers will have to find ways to lead and thrive under such settings. This includes measures such as structured communications whereby expectations are more clearly defined and the connection of tasks to the overall big picture are outlined. Leaders will also have to address relationships and build a sense of camaraderie by increasing rates and channels of communication with regular check-ins with team members and the entire team.
Leaders will have to create opportunities for such interactions whereby team members can socially interact with one another and reduce virtual detachment. Another item that leaders will have to come to terms with is the increased autonomy that arises with remote work. Properly handled, this presents an opportunity for employees to take larger shares of ownership for their work. Hence, the leader must properly define the goals, empower the team members with resources, and give them that space to execute.