We lose a lot of information, when we have online meetings. Therefore the risk of mis-interpretation is exploding!
Harvard Business Review published an article some years ago, where they discussed productivity and feelings. Just comparing the normally satisfied people and those with negative thoughts of the organization, they found that satisfied people are almost 50 % more productive than negative. This in teams, which are doing the kind of work, you find people doing from home during restrictions. The difference comes from how people feel! If you fail in your tone, you fail in keeping the feelings up, sometimes you actually take people to fear and negativity!
For pretty many people working extensively remote is a big stress creator. When their stressed mind gets a “bad tone” signal, their brain starts to look for and hence see risks and threats in almost everything . Specially as there is no one saying “no, he/she did not mean it like that”. That builds negativity towards you and the task they are working on. Your leadership is put under extreme when you lead remotely. When you do it right, you can on the other hand get very good results. And actually, remote leadership is not very complicated, as there are simple procedures to follow. Remote leadership is about 3 basic rules and everyone can learn to use them. When you follow those rules, you are much more likely to keep your employees feeling good and engaged, meaning higher productivity too! If you choose so!
The challenge comes from the point, that of the old leadership behaviors and approaches none is delivering what it takes. Not even the coaching style leadership, which is closest to result delivering leadership. Those, who try to lead using their old approach, making just minor adjustments to it, have high risk of failure. When you are not in the position to get the full message of people, you don’t often even see that people don’t take your message as you meant to. If you are used to lead through pace setting and try to use it when leading people remotely, you are likely to find that your leadership power evaporate. Remote leadership is the 7th leadership skill, which we must learn to master.
When you master remote leadership, you do higher commitment and engagement, better results and often with less work. Mastering remote leadership is about mastering 3 things. Coaching style leadership, creating written content and ensuring that everyone is made to talk.
Coaching style leadership is the key. You get people’s commitment when they are part of the solution and they have created the solution. Coaching style is saving you time, as it leads to constant learning and improvement of your people. There will be less need for your input on daily issues. In remote leadership you should add to your coaching style a strong reminder of the vision and key strategic choices made. That to ensure people, that their work is important and there is a goal you all share.
You cannot use only talking when leading people remotely. You need to write text. In that text you give more instructions with less communication. And your text is not supported with your tone and pitch, nor you body language. As you write text (be that email, SMS, Slack, Teams or what ever) do the following; write your text, add emojis on some places, put that text aside for at least 60 minutes, review the text carefully and make adjustments. In reviewing your text, ask yourself “is this seen as aggressive / passive aggressive by people? If it is, then you need to rewrite it to be more engaging and positive solution oriented. Emojis can help to ensure your tone in the text. It is very good to use them here and there as tactful indicators.
When you have online meetings, people who in face to face meetings would have given their input through facial or body language messaging, disappear from the discussion. That has a double negative impact; firstly their engagement and commitment will start to dilute and secondly your team will be missing some of the vital diversity. Both of these have negative impact on productivity and a bit later also on team cohesion. To avoid that, you need to get everyone to make comments in the discussion. The best way is that you have a piece of paper with the names of the attendees on your desk. Tick the name as someone speaks. Those, who have not said anything, invite them to participate using open questions.
If you are in doubt of how to do this, if your natural leadership style is something else than that of coaching style leader, you can get some help. Take a course (digital microlearning based ones are the best) on coaching style leadership. Or get a coach, who can help you to learn to master coaching style. We are here for you, in case you feel that you could get more out of your team.
Your partner in making success happen, Kari I. Mattila, emotional intelligence advisor