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Remote Leadership Takes a Concerted Effort

Not that good leadership in general doesn’t take calculated skill, but if we’re looking at the huge pandemic-driven swing from few to many leaders becoming remote workers, it’s worth talking about how an absence of physical presence impacts how leaders need to execute on their role to be successful.

It’s all about interfaces

An illustration of an old Nokia phone

The kinetic work of leadership is mostly about interfacing with people. The abrupt move from in-person to going remote seems akin to replacing your keyboard and mouse with your old Nokia phone keypad. It’s not that you’re left entirely dead in the water, I mean if you are old enough to have used one of those devices you’ll know we got pretty adept at playing snake and composing full sentences with 10 buttons. But certainly, it’s an initial major hit to productivity if you don’t make the specific effort to adapt.

It’s at this point that I can’t help but recall the beginning of the pandemic. For myself, I had not worked remotely full-time before, but I think I was lucky for a few reasons: First, being an engineering manager, there were fewer obstacles to overcome being distanced between screens when the work me and my team were doing was already so natively available on those screens. Second, my tactical approach to leadership helped me very quickly understand that those same tactics had to be translated and adapted to remote work.

The big apparent insight in breaking down the situation was that remote work meant a steep decline in natural opportunities to interface directly with people.

Concerted is the Key

It’s really the exact word I want to press upon in my point here: Concerted means to jointly plan or coordinate. And so effective remote leadership means a leader being deliberate in creating opportunities to meet with their folks, but also to arrange and do it in a way that works for all parties. Truly an effort of communicating to communicate more is needed: Let’s talk about work, but first, let’s talk about how we talk about work.

Taking this extra step fills a void that physical spaces innately provide, from the position of your desk to theirs, or the sizes and availabilities of meeting spaces; their physical fixedness guide us to fall into a communication pattern and cadence that just works. Having the deliberate conversation that figuratively breaks the fourth wall of your computer screen helps to break down the actual digital barriers between leader and led.

So if you are a leader, or even just being led remotely, and you feel like that loss of physical space has not been accounted for, I think these thoughts can provide a solid basis for how you can begin to fill the gap to establish stronger leadership ties. Embrace the meta of it and have real conversations about how to have better work conversations.