A Stress-Free Guide to Leading Remotely

by Sarah Jones, Personal & Career Coach

After a year of Coronavirus-related stress and the difficulties of adjusting to lockdown life, it’s safe to say that many of us aren’t really feeling on our A-game right now. And if you’ve become a manager, or stepped up your leadership role during this time, the challenges are likely to be tougher than ever. A survey by Terminal found that three-quarters of managers had never had to tackle remote management before the pandemic – and we’re still learning!

It’s one thing learning to lead face-to-face in the ways that we have always adopted before 2020 – face to face, and in a shared office space. But remote working and digital technologies have plunged us into entirely new and sometimes difficult ways of working.

Let’s look at the very real issue of digital fatigue, for example. It’s now not uncommon for working people to have up to 30 hours of video meetings as they work at home during the week. Could you imagine having 30 hours of meetings in-person every week before Covid? All of these Zoom or Teams type calls are – frankly – exhausting.

Evidence has shown that the brain has to work extra hard just to focus on video calls (let alone on tackling the work that results from these calls!) Yes, there are benefits to working from home and taking commuting time out of the equation, but digital meetings lack all of the benefits of face-to-face communication, rapport and… dare we say it… fun.

Working and living from one space is an emergency measure. Furthermore, it isn’t conducive to innovation, energy, passion and productivity; all things that we would normally bring to our roles.

The good news is, however, that the end is in sight. With lockdown finally coming to an end soon, now is the perfect time to rediscover your passion for great leadership and to inject some fresh skills into the mix. Yes, we are likely to still be working remotely for some of the time but with the prospect of in-person time to look forward to, providing a welcome balance. Let’s use this time to reinvigorate ourselves by reviewing the ways in which we lead remotely and by adding some new techniques and the results of a year’s experience into the mix.

With that in mind, here are some helpful tips to build your confidence and remote leadership abilities in equal measure as we move into the next phase of lockdown lifting, and a gradual return to some kind of normality.

Be there
When we’re sitting in offices together, conversation flows throughout the day. From big breakthroughs to micro-chats by the coffee machine, this kind of normal conversation has been sustaining us for millennia. Sometimes these interruptions and the need for small talk can be wearing, especially in open-plan offices when you need to concentrate, but most of us have come to appreciate the value of social interaction. Without it, it’s hard to feel connected or part of a community. Remote workers report that they feel lonely and struggle to collaborate and communicate without face-to-face time. So until that can happen, make sure you are visible and approachable.

Seek out the internal social media that your company uses and add to the feed. Interact with posts, add content, pose questions and put yourself out there. Keep your humour present and be ready to chat. Leaders who are visible and active in these feeds will show that they are there for their people. Check in with your co-workers, consider keeping a public calendar, book in small coffee chats, say thank you by calling, writing an email or making it public. It’s easy to forget how much impact you can have on others when you are engaged in the (sometimes thankless) job of leadership!

Micromanagement is over. The Harvard Business Review found that managers struggle to trust their homeworkers, with 38% believing that they don’t perform as well as their in-office counterparts, and 41% believing that they wouldn’t stay motivated for the longer-term. But employees report that they have remained at least as productive when they work from home – three-quarters in fact. So managers need to face up to the fact that they are simply overcompensating for the remote angle by endlessly micromanaging and checking up on what their team is doing.

Rather than hassling everyone for constant updates, create a teamwork tracker and a delegation tracker so you know what everyone is doing. Ask people to add a daily update at the end of the day. Have regular catch-up calls, but don’t overdo it. Show trust in your team and treat them like the adults and professionals that they are. Offer support when it’s needed and offer autonomy and responsibility. You’ll earn an empowered, productive and happy team as a result – and one with performers who are ready to take the initiative rather than constantly needing to be told what to do.

Keep learning
Encourage your team to keep learning and invest in the training budget. Look at remote training options – these are a great way to keep everyone focused and excited about their work during lockdown. Make sure you are being curious too and investing in your own learning; perhaps a course on digital engagement and management will help you? Digital empowerment is likely to be a huge selling point for tomorrow’s CVs so you won’t be doing your career any harm by upskilling on the tech front and becoming a confident tech user – and even a strategic management tech adviser.

Prioritise mental health
We’ve all seen the figures relating to mental health during the pandemic. As a leader, you must take this seriously. Some of your people will be burned out, or approaching it. They will be feeling isolated, unsure and tired. If you think your team are working extra hours, encourage them to stop. Endless overtime – driven by fear – is a bad thing, which benefits no one. Encourage your team to log off for the day at the right time. Don’t send emails yourself out of hours. Respect boundaries and encourage your teams to invest in their health, wellbeing and own interests away from their work screens, building this in as a discussion point in your team catchups.

With luck, we will all be back together again soon. But in the meantime, these steps will help you to lead and support your team through the last of lockdown – ready to enjoy the myriad benefits of ‘real life’ working once again.

About the author

Sarah Jones is a seasoned personal, life, business and career coach. Born with an entrepreneurial spirit and an insatiable drive to help others find their happiness, she founded her successful coaching business to help people find purpose, meaning and direction in their lives and careers. Sarah has been through many of the roadblocks and challenges she coaches on, herself so is able to empower others to identify and reach their full potential.

She works with individuals on a one-to-one basis for personal and career coaching; and both on a one-to-one and group basis for businesses. She has also devised several  programmes to help people personally to reach their desire potential. Sarah is also a regular speaker and media commentator.

To find out more about Sarah’s coaching programmes for individuals, executives, teams or organisations visit: www.sarah-j.com.