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Why leading teams remotely has become an essential skill

10 May 2021 By Mike Parkes

The move to online working has meant managers have had to adapt to get the most from their workforces, says Mike Parkes 

The pandemic has thrust new practices and ways of working on to individuals across the globe. With the combination of lockdown, homeschooling, competition for wifi and homes that were not designed for working, there is an exotic mix of pressure, stress and challenges for individuals and leaders alike.

But the skill of leading remotely is not new. Many leaders across the globe have become highly skilled at leading from afar; in fact, Momentum Results began researching this more than 15 years ago. Presented with the challenge that so many highly successful, single-site leaders struggled to make the transition to multi-site leadership, we set out to identify what differentiated the outstanding from the average, and from the poor performer.

Since that original research, it has been extended to examine leaders with teams across countries, continents and the globe, and has revealed that the skillsets that served leaders well in single-site leadership rarely suits multi-site leadership. In fact, it’s arguably the most challenging transition leaders make in their career, as it’s the first time they stop leading from being present and start leading from being absent. 

The pandemic has widened this challenge, with leaders with no previous experience of leading remotely being pushed into acquiring this skill overnight. They have had to learn how to provide direction, inspire, enthuse and engender performance all down a lens. 

Some of the core skillsets remain the same:

  • to create clear direction within which individuals can make their own decisions;
  • to engender engagement in individuals and teams from afar;
  • to diagnose business performance at a distance without losing sight of local nuances; and
  • to enable others to take ownership and responsibility. 

However, leading remotely through the pandemic has also required leaders to:

  • show increasing levels of concern, support and empathy for individuals working in particularly challenging environments;
  • support individuals to help themselves and so manage their own circumstances, such that they are able to manage their own day, their priorities, conflicting schedules and agendas, as well as sustain their engagement;
  • provide greater clarity of direction, embodied in the priorities, and be ruthless about what can and can’t be achieved, as well as removing unnecessary bureaucracy and hurdles; and
  • find more innovative ways of keeping their team engaged in the solitary environments they often find themselves in. 

So, a year on, leaders continue to grapple with leading remotely, facing on the one hand the familiar business challenges as the initial disruption has settled, while equally facing fresh challenges as the human reactions to the pressures and strains of this way of working continue to evolve by the day. 

Mike Parkes is a partner at Momentum Results and author of Leading Remotely 

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