The Coronavirus pandemic has demanded a major shift for workplaces and leaders everywhere are struggling to adapt from leading in the office to working remotely. Since the 70s, many organizations have relied on in-person leadership and collaboration to get their jobs done. So, for some, making the shift to 100% working remotely is a major challenge. Whether your organization has experience with work-from-home positions or has been forced to adapt (and fast!), one thing’s for sure– leading through a screen is not the same as leading on the scene. 

We understand how challenging it can be to lead a team of people, period– regardless of a major shift in scenery. But the good news is, you don’t have to step on the same land mines many leaders have in order to learn how to lead effectively when working remotely. We’ve rounded up 3 barriers you can avoid so you can make the shift more easily and be well on your way to leading your virtual team to success.

Barrier 1: Limiting beliefs about the way work “should be”

To remain competitive, while also creating the conditions for people to do their best work, it’s critical that leaders not only listen to employees (they’re asking for more flexibility at work), but also pay attention to the research.

In 2016, Gallup’s State of the American Workplace report showed that 43% of employees are working remotely in some capacity or another. The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) advocates that productivity, creativity, and retention greatly improve with remote work opportunities.

Still, in spite of the data and research on working remotely, business owners, leaders and managers cling to the traditional concept of work: in the office, with a set schedule, for 8 hours per day, 40 hours per week, and under the supervision of managers walking around.

There are ways to make working remotely effective for you, your organization, and your employees, but first you have to challenge your beliefs about where and how work gets done.

Barrier 2: Negative assumptions about employees

The second mistake is making assumptions about employees. We commonly hear:

  • Employees are lazy.
  • Employees aren’t motivated.
  • Employees aren’t trustworthy.

Here’s the thing: If you have these perceptions  about employees, your performance management skills probably need a boost regardless of if you are leading a virtual team or not. Secondly, these beliefs (whether justified or not) aren’t serving you, your organization, or your employees.

Imagine being a dog trainer and assuming that most dogs are stupid. How would that affect your effectiveness? The same is true when we make negative assumptions about the people we lead. These assumptions affect our behavior as well as our ability to lead people effectively (working remotely or in the office).

Barrier 3:  Avoiding Vulnerability

Another barrier is letting our own discomfort with vulnerability (the emotion that occurs when something is risky, or there’s emotional exposure and uncertainty involved) drive behaviors. The fear of disappointment, failure, or “looking bad,” makes leaders feel emotionally exposed. Leaders are afraid that productivity and performance are at risk when employees work from home, or another location of their choosing, and can find the uncertainty surrounding working remotely intimidating. They might be wondering:

  • What if my employees are not actually working 8 hours a day?
  • What if my employees are doing personal things during work hours?
  • If I can’t walk around the office to supervise my employees, will they get anything done?

As mentioned above, the biggest opportunity leaders have is not controlling where and when the work gets done, but rather learning how to lead more effectively when employees are working remotely or flexibly.

Which barriers are getting in your way when it comes to remote working? Is there anything you can change within yourself to lead more effectively when you aren’t in the same room with your staff?

Strengthening your virtual leadership skills will not only help you now, but will make you even more valuable to organization. It can also open new doors as the demand for working remotely increases globally.

We hope sharing these barriers helped guide you… but if you’re still struggling or wanting more support, join us for our virtual program, Leading Virtually™, or schedule a call to work with us one-on-one. We’re here to help you on your leadership journey.