Is leadership an innate ability or can it be taught? Fortunately for businesses of all kinds, leaders’ skills can indeed be improved through training. By investing in courses that impart so-called soft skills around communication, collaboration and empathy, you can help managers at all levels of your company direct, motivate and inspire their teams.
Such training is more important than ever. Leadership ability is at a premium today, with rapidly changing and difficult conditions caused by the drastic expansion of remote work. Managers need to have well-developed skill sets to get high levels of performance from employees they rarely, if ever, speak to in person.
The Importance of Focusing on Remote Work
Chances are good your company engages in at least some digital collaboration. Even before COVID-19 impacted the business world, organizations were embracing work-from-home and telecommuting to expand their pools of potential workers and appeal to candidates who value flexibility. Now that lockdowns have forced still more firms to embrace remote work, the concept is everywhere.
When investing in educational content for your organization’s leaders, you can specifically select materials designed with remote work in mind. This ensures the best practices conveyed by the courses are highly relevant to digital teamwork and collaboration. When the training modules themselves can be delivered in an asynchronous online form, it’s easy to connect with remote managers of off-site employees.
Focus Areas for Remote Leadership
The characteristics of good people management are relatively universal. The challenge facing remote team leaders involves implementing those traits despite having fewer ways to communicate with their employees. As the Society for Human Resource Management pointed out in a pre-pandemic overview, virtual team managers need to find ways to inspire accountability and responsibility via the contact channels available to them.
Clarity is critical. Since a manager cannot walk to a remote employee’s desk spontaneously to check in, that leader must set out a schedule for conversations and progress updates. Each task should have a timetable specified in advance, and workers should be very aware of expectations — surprising an employee with a deadline can be demoralizing and counterproductive. With that said, if a project does slip past its initial deadline, managers should display empathy rather than assigning blame.
One potentially underrated aspect of remote leadership, especially among teams that feel forced into work-from-home models instead of embracing them on purpose, is the ability to inject flexibility into the workday. As industry expert John Eades wrote for the LinkedIn Pulse blog, there is value in releasing workers from the standard nine-to-five workday if they feel more comfortable on an alternative schedule.
Giving people time in their days to exercise, take in some fresh air or eat lunch at a nonstandard hour is one way for leaders to help their team members settle into new remote routines and potentially increase their contributions. Trying to exert heavy influence over the pace of the workday and keep it in line with the strictures of an in-office schedule can be counterproductive. Leaders will have to rewire their own thinking first to make sure they are managing their people effectively on the less constrictive new model. The greater comfort that comes along can be worth it.
Of course, along with freedom and choice, home working comes with challenges, such as a temptation to lose sight of work-life balance and the sheer impact of loneliness. Eades urged managers to be upfront and open with their employees about the struggles they may face, and encourage them to talk through problems rather than worrying about punishment for having trouble.
Training Courses for Digital-Era Leaders
The employee education materials that focus on remote leadership are designed to help your personnel overcome the technological barriers that prevent them from delivering a high-quality experience to the people under their supervision. For example, it’s easier to misunderstand others when dealing exclusively through video or audio calls. Making eye contact over video chat is notoriously hard, and it can pay to think extra hard about conveying ideas clearly, without relying on expressions or body language.
In addition to overcoming communication issues, managers can take digital courses that familiarize them with the struggles their remote workers are going through, from the pains of isolation to the risks of distraction. When leaders give specific thought to the large-scale difficulties of working remotely, they are well equipped to keep their teams on task and help them deliver results for the company.
Considering the enduring appeal of remote work models, from savings on office space to hiring flexibility and reduction in commuting, it’s clear that even in the years after COVID-19’s greatest impact has receded, widespread work-from-home is here to stay. By giving managers knowledge of both the challenges and opportunities of remote leadership, you can face this new landscape confidently.