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Leading Remotely Doesn’t Mean Remote Leadership

With the workforce dispersed, CEOs have to be even more intentional about how they communicate with, and are visible to, their people.

Today’s situation is as novel as the COVID-19 virus we now confront. The scale of the public health crisis extends well beyond anything we have seen before. It is already challenging our approaches to work, school, life and human interaction. Many organizations have quickly mandated teleworking for all or part of their workforce. Others are scrambling to manage the absence of staff as schools and child care sites close until further notice. And social distancing removes the usual ways in which we connect with others.

More than ever, we need strong leaders.

For safety, we are forced to keep our distance. Yet, leadership should be anything but distant, particularly in times of crisis. So how do you avoid remote leadership and instead, lead remotely?

• Be visible. The more uncertain or challenging the circumstances, the more important it is for leaders to be visible. To literally show us that they are concerned, in charge and moving forward in the face of a crisis. And that visual connection need not be limited to CEOs or senior executives. All leaders can communicate important messages about the team’s work, progress toward shared goals, required changes, etc. visually—via livestream, video-conference platforms or simply a video file embedded in a text or email that can be viewed on mobile devices.

Technology is a great enabler of remote work. And fortunately, many people are accustomed to using technology effectively to interact with family and friends at a distance. Leverage that knowledge and embrace its responsible use for work interactions, at least for the duration of this crisis.

• Reach out. Proximity makes it easier to check in with each other, to share ideas on a whiteboard or simply chat around the water cooler. When we are not physically near to colleagues, we’ve got to be more deliberate about including people in the conversation and work. And because of the nature of this COVID-19 crisis, many people are working remotely for the first time. Further, it’s a dynamic situation; you may not have all the answers. That’s okay. Reach out to staff proactively to take their pulse. Ask staff for their perspective on the critical things impacting your business both right now and in the near future. Leaders that reach out to staff proactively from afar also demonstrate new ways of connecting and interacting.

• Trust your people. People are naturally distracted by what’s happening around them right now. They are coping with unexpected disruptions in their lives and families. And because the impact is systemic, usual contingency plans or support networks simply aren’t available. We are all learning on the fly. Trust your people. Working with a wide variety of organizations, I’ve learned that most people strive to do a good job. They want both their companies to be successful and to actively contribute to that success. Leading remotely includes empowering your staff to do the work you’ve asked them to do and trusting that it will be done.

This is no time for remote leadership. Your entire workforce may be remote, but your leadership cannot be. Leading remotely must be visible, connected and empowering.


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