Challenges of remote leadership and the need to see what we refuse to see in our teams and companies

09/08/2018
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At the beginning of this year I was elected member of the board of the Czech Association of Systemic Constellations (CASK). This means that I started working voluntarily with a wonderfully diverse remote team. As such, I’ve been given a chance to test my theories about the role of communications and emotional intelligence in handling things remotely and also about the substantial toll taken by the absence of these two competencies on trust and on overall team performance.

Let’s take a quick look at the biggest challenges faced by remote teams in general.

1.    Absence of leadership. A remote team works only if its manager works. If the team vision, goals and work processes are not set up and made crystal clear from the very beginning to everyone involved, distance will take care of turning every attempt to work effectively into chaos. The reaction of a system in the absence of leadership is to self-regulate; thus, everyone attempts to become a leader – only not a leader for the team, but for one’s self. While the authentic group leader represents and protects the interests of the group, the “individual leader” emerging in the absence of group leadership goes after immediate goals and individual visions, often stepping on the toes of other team members. The team morale degrades until, ultimately, everyone is forced to admit that it simply doesn’t work this way and the team dissolves sooner or later.

2.    Lack of measurable goals and performance indicators. In remote leadership even the best intentions cannot replace clearly set goals for the team and for its members. Managing people remotely means managing their performance even more than in the case of teams in-situ. That’s why short-term (weekly), mid-term (monthly) and long-term (yearly) team and individual goals need to be set up and agreed upon, then consistently tracked and measured through transparent performance measurement systems.

3.    Absence of face-time. Any remote team leader should understand the value of face-time both at the beginning of the project and during the existence of the team. This time should be spent on getting to know each other, setting up the group vision and goals, understanding each other’s priorities and working styles, and on developing trust. May we like it or not, deep human connections cannot flourish in a dry, remote environment. Should we want to build a team based on trust-driven relations, we need to make sure that we nurture as many options to spend face-time together or in a one-on-one setting as possible.

4.    Lack of team conversation on boundaries. The purpose of working remotely is to boost team performance and individual comfort, focus and efficiency. The process is meant to turn not only the individuals, but the whole team more agile. But where are the boundaries between agility and chaos? We can all contribute in a focused manner to the common goal only when we have a clear understanding of the goal and a clear sense of boundaries – our own, our colleagues’ and our group’s boundaries in relation to other teams, divisions, stakeholders and the whole enterprise. It helps tremendously to understand how our colleagues work and when it’s ok (and not ok) to call them. It is absolutely vital to have clearly defined roles so we don’t constantly step on each other’s toes. Understanding and working with boundaries is a job for emotionally intelligent people. Which takes me to the next challenge…

5.    Emotional intelligence in communications in remote leadership. In a face-to-face environment people find numerous ways to adjust their behavior based on clues we don’t even know we’re catching from the others’ body language, voice tone etc. All this is vastly missing in remote leadership based on intermediate communications. Regulating our behavior – self-mastery, one of the most important components of emotional intelligence – is thus even more important in remote leadership than in managing office teams. By the contrary, when working and leading teams remotely we need to remain constantly on  tiptoes and to give and ask for feedback that stimulate healthy conversations leading to mutual understanding and, ultimately, trust. That’s why it is essential to pay special attention to the role of emotional intelligence in communications when working remotely and to do a conscious effort to boost self-understanding, self-management and empathy in your team. By placing emotionally intelligent communications to the core of your remote team values you gain an edge that will make your team not only successful, but also individually fulfilling. For what can be more rewarding than achieving bigger goals from the comfort of your home office or your mountain or seaside cottage?

We can achieve all that and more working remotely. Currently, only 5% of Czechs work remotely compared to the EU 12% average; the numbers are prone to increase. As the number of people less willing to commute and more striving to balance health, family and work performance is growing, we need more emotionally intelligent, communications savvy managers. This poses a challenge for companies whose corporate training budgets seem to be frozen in the economic crisis level regardless of the accelerated market growth of the last few years.

Multinationals operating in the Czech Republic need to understand that, if they want to succeed in the future, they simply need to let more of the profits made locally in the Czech coffers, so Czech branches can invest more into infrastructure and people development. At the end of the day, the saying that "what you don’t see doesn’t hurt you" is nonsense in business. In remote teams it is precisely what you refuse to see that can hurt you the most.

This blog post was first published on my LinkedIn Profile Account. 

I focus on strategic communications, emotional and systemic intelligence and personal and organization leadership. I help leaders and future leaders to develop their strategic communication skills, to build reputable personal brands and to boost their team and organizational leadership. I support individuals, teams and organizations through advisory, training, coaching and mentoring services.

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