For several reasons when it comes to remote work, some managers become a little bit nervous. It seems like they associate mobile work with a lack of control and performance decrease. So you could imagine their reaction when remote work became the new organization of work in most countries and for an unknown period due to the corona crisis. Some surveys showed that the main fears for managers about mobile work are: loss of control over the work that has to be done, lack of perception of team “mood” and failure of information flow.
Remote work – face the challenge
Worldwide remote work is one of Corona crisis side effects. Teams not used to work remotely have dived headfirst in an unexplored world without notice and preparation.
How can you as a manager maintain efficient and positive management while feeling that you are losing control?
Manager’s first reflex is to protect the business but without an informed and organized team, it cannot work efficiently. In unstable situations like this crisis, it is the responsibility of the manager to set up new work conditions where everyone can achieve the team’s goals. Communication is an obvious challenge and it has to be adapted to the circumstances. The way to send and receive messages is crucial.
In the Management Development Program (MDP) we learnt techniques of communication and got tips to overcome this “management distancing”. Being aware of our leadership style and how it was impacted by remote management was the first to activate the required agility to adapt our management.
During the MDP, we took a closer look at all manager’s responsibilities: planning, organizing, communicating, directing, controlling – How can we nuance the theory in the light of the lessons learnt during the actual crisis?
Be aware of your leadership style
Leading is already hard. Leading a remote team is even harder. Famous leaders from the last decades obtained results applying very different approaches.
During the first MDP’s session, we were asked to talk about the type of leader we are and the type we would like to be. This self-reflection allowed us to be aware of our strengths and weaknesses and if we are on the right track.
Leadership styles in a remote work organization
Every of the 22 participants described their style in their own words: transparent, authentic, trustworthy, reliable, responsible, social competent, appreciative of different perspectives, focusing on strengths, believing in persons, buy-in of team, making us feel like “WE did it”…
None of us used the word “Commanding”. Would Margaret Thatcher’s leadership work nowadays on the “Millennials”? However, is there one best leadership style to lead a team successfully in a remote work organization?
The principles of good leadership
TÜV Rheinland has defined three leadership principles.
We are agile in our leadership approach. Agility is the main attribute in this context: the ability to apply smooth processes and adapt to the uncertainty.
We establish a proactive communication culture. Effective communication – managers control dialog situations actively and systematically. We take into account not only the factual but also the emotional levels in our personal interactions.
We encourage our employees to make their own decisions. Set clear scopes of decision making and guidance. Trust instead of micromanagement.
Leadership and management are easily confused. Leadership is close to the ability to inspire the 4followers. Management is leading a team to achieve a goal.
Leadership style is part of managers’ personality and history. Management can be taught and adapted if needed.
Knowing your leadership style helps you to adapt your management to the situation the team is facing. In a remote work organization, managers need to work on strong communication and coordination.
Effective communication is key!
It is not new that communication is a key piece of management. It might be even more important for remote management as little mistakes tend to have more impacts or are more difficult to catch up.
Interpretation is already a serious disease of professional communication. But with the distance, it can get worse, as there are fewer opportunities to sort things out. We might be tempted to choose to write emails when we do not meet our team but oral communication is still essential to keep close contact.
Finding the balance
In the MDP programme we have analysed the most important ingredients for effective communication: It requires a balance between listening (1) and asserting (2).
Some items might take some importance when it comes to remote management:
1. Listening (receiving)
- Listen: Often, we cannot see our interlocutor. It is even more important to LISTEN carefully to perceive his mood and avoid misunderstandings.
- Ask/Mirror: Again, if we want to get feedback and want to know how the message has been received, we need to ASK. Additionally, with mirror questions, we encourage our partner to continue to add details to what the person is saying without influencing it to go in a specific direction in terms of content.
- Summarize: It allows clarifying and ensuring we all got the same message.
2. Asserting (sending)
- Make goals clear and encourage your partner to repeat them so that there is no room for interpretation. It helps to assess the buy-in of the team.
- Make a clear statement – Use simple sentences that are easy to understand. Repeat the main message. The interlocutors might lose track.
- Stay focused and calm: So your partner will stay focused on the message and not on your voice tone.
The usual rule to ensure a balanced speaking time is of course still valid when we talk about remote communication. We should remember that the purpose of communication is not to try “to win against the opponent”.
Virtual meetings for the feeling of togetherness
Currently, virtual meetings have replaced the face-to-face meetings, hallway conversations and quick chats in front of the coffee machine.
Establishing a ritual of scheduled daily or/and weekly meetings is crucial. The target is, as usual, to reach a clever balance.
Too few meetings could leave team members feeling isolated. Too many meetings … No need to finish the sentence, we all experienced this.
We have made the interesting experience that stress can grow a lot more quickly when possibilities to communicate and to share experiences are reduced. And of course, even more, when the context is itself inducing anxiety.
It is of the responsibility of the manager to create opportunities that allow the team members to share experiences, issues, success which may be expressed less spontaneously with traditional field management.
Remote work is often related to the concern of team leaders to lose contact with the team. Maybe managers will even experience a surprise here!
Distance management does not mean that you lose connection with the team – it might lead to the opposite. By setting up regular communication times and communicating in smaller groups or even with individual colleagues, the manager might get closer to its team members than when they meet every day. The relationship with the team can get deeper with distance.
Tips for your virtual meeting
We might think that it is easier to invite more participants to a virtual meeting. In fact the opposite is true. Participants tend to lose focus faster than with face-to-face meetings when the topic is not directly in their area of interest (without talking about connection problems and other issues whose probability increases with the number of participants)
The duration of a meeting (dependent on the agenda and the number of participants) is critical for remote meetings. We recommend splitting a long meeting in several short and very focused meetings where distractions are limited.
The feeling of belonging to a group can be affected by remote work but it is also possible to compensate this effect with active and structured communication: information meetings to keep the team aware of what is going on in the company, workshops, informal communication. As remote communication leaves less room for improvisation and spontaneity in the relationship, it is also important to re-create some spaces for conviviality (like virtual coffee breaks). Otherwise, the professional relationship can be reduced to a purely formal collaboration based only on strict targets.
Organization of work in remote teams
The organization will require particular attention. The manager has the task of creating a balance between “group organization” and the “personal organization” of individual team members. Remote management can indeed affect the usual balance between trust and control.
Delegate instead of being a “control freak”: Team member’s real need is to know their scopes of decision making so that they justsend regular reporting instead of having to ask constantly for validation.
Avoiding micromanagement is the goal:
- Clearly communicate priorities and expectations
- Clarify often the targets to keep people on the same tracks
- Ask employees for feedback on areas where they need support
- Be clear about what you need to know, and discuss with team members ways to share information
In some situations more reporting is required. However, it should not go so far as to risk being interpreted as a lack of trust. A more formal scheduling is certainly necessary, since short arrangements in passing are no longer possible.
Some ideas for creative management
The manager can also think of some adaptations, depending on profiles of the members of its team. We already mentioned that isolation’s feeling can accelerate and increase stress. But solutions can be found in work organisation:
- creating pair working for some specific tasks
- Organizing short workshops to include the right people in the decision’s process
- Coaching more personally some members of the team to help them with time management, project management, customers relationship etc.
- Structuring communication to offer a framework to inform, to report, to share, to support
Remote team leader – the super hero of management?
It can be expected that mobile work will become part of the “new normality”. What we have experienced during the last months will help to build the future organization of work. Managers must already envision the advantages of this way of work organization.
In our blog article was a lot of “more”: more communication, more scheduling, more coaching, more agility …
Does it mean that the manager must be a superhero when it comes to remote management?
The answer is no, of course not!
There is no magic recipe but some key ingredients that have always been in the heart of management: organization and communication. The manager needs to know himself and the team well enough in order to adapt its management in the relevant way and to restore the balance that it was able to find for in-office management.
In the end, it is all a question of agility and of trying to learn constantly from the field.
Academy and Life Care Business Stream Manager
Marianne Garcia is Academy and Life Care Business Stream Manager in France. She lives in Paris and loves this city despite all terrible disadvantages. Her main focus is to scan the broad field of TÜV Rheinland expertise for content, which she then processes into training formats for the customers. She particularly likes this balance between the technical world and people that makes up the work in Academy Business.
Local officer Human resources
Bérénice Dehoey is Local officer Human resources in France. Living in Paris, she looks after all four TÜV Rheinland entities in France. Together in a team of three, they take care of more than 250 employees. As an HR generalist, she supports both employees and managers day by day and answers to their needs and concerns. Bérénice is glad that the role of an HR manager seen as a pure personnel problem solver has shifted to a business partner role, involved in promoting corporate values and shaping a positive culture that enables the organization to succeed in its service to customers.
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