Flexibility is the name of the game. Employees demand it. Companies know they need to embrace it. Yet, the ways digital leadership has adapted are rushed, not thorough, and unsustainable. It’s no surprise, since much of the rapid shift has occurred during a global pandemic.
Friendly reminder: Emergency remote working is not sustainable remote working.
However, two other powerful dynamics are roadblocks to a sustainable shift to flexible work. First, misalignment on goals and priorities for future hybrid teams at an organization. This leads to different teams using their time and energy troubleshooting challenges in isolation—and often reverting to old behaviors. Executives hold the responsibility for setting and clarifying their vision for a digital workplace transformation.
Second, leaders resist changing their own working behaviors. In order to help remote and hybrid team leaders overcome this resistance, we’ve broken down the keys to effective digital leadership into manageable and achievable pieces. We’ve worked with companies across a wide-range of industries and vision types and have identified the key areas where digital-first leaders need to focus.
3 Essential Skills for Digital Leadership
These three metaskills are critical digital leadership skills managers will need to build in order to activate, magnify and reinforce effective digital-first practices.
This skill has clearly been emphasized as workplaces have needed to adjust to rapidly changing dynamics throughout 2020, 2021, and as we head into 2022. A leader’s ability to develop trust, psychological safety, and a belief in the ability to work well together will future-proof a team.
Effective communication is the backbone of team productivity. However, not all communication is equal. Helping teams balance synchronous and asynchronous communication will preserve energy, improve productivity, and optimize outcomes.
Hybrid teams, where employees are split between offices and working remotely, are at increased risk of inequitable experiences. Leaders must increase their focus on inclusion and shift their mindset and habits to combat distance bias, but also enable connectivity with one another.
8 Essential Practices for Digital Leadership
Translate these metaskills to everyday work by successfully leveraging eight key practices and behaviors for effective remote and hybrid work.
Myth: Sync meetings are where work gets done.
It’s official—unnecessary and inefficient meetings are leading to burnout. Yet, some meetings still have a purpose for teams, especially when it comes to connections. Leaders need to quickly learn or relearn:
- when a meeting is needed
- what makes for effective and inclusive virtual meetings
- what a blended meeting is
- how to implement blended meeting norms and practices
Achieving meeting effectiveness will reduce time spent in synchronous meetings and alleviate burnout.
Remote Performance Management
Myth: Team members should be in the office to be able to meet performance expectations.
Office environments have too long relied on presence as a proxy for productivity. This same tendency has shifted to remote work where an employee’s green circle availability symbol has become an indicator of productivity. All virtual leaders must develop the understanding and processes needed to measure performance based on outcomes not actions.
There are additional nuances and complexities that hybrid team leaders need to address. It’s critical to maintain consistency with work location switching. Overcome human nature biases that favor physically seeing and casually connecting with in-office employees vs. their remote counterparts. This shift involves creating new practices to set expectations and reviewing results regardless of employee location.
Myth: Team members working away from the office feel more disconnected.
Remote workers have a (justifiable) fear of being “out of sight, out of mind” and therefore missing out on promotions and opportunities. Social capital is one of the seven keys to remote career development. When leaders understand how to help their employees strengthen their social capital, they reduce employee isolation, build trust, and increase access to career opportunities and promotions.
Establishing connections in remote and hybrid teams not only supports career development, but can also contribute to increased problem-solving and innovation.
Effective Use of Tools
Myth: New tools always fix the problem.
Teams often turn to new tools to solve remote or hybrid team challenges—and there is an impressive array of fun and effective options available. But by constantly experimenting with new tools, teams can find themselves overwhelmed by communication, wasting time trying to decide what tool to use or where to find information, and frustrated with inconsistencies related to how tools are used.
“It’s important to recognize the distinction between having the right balance of communication tools and knowing how to use them. Effectively balancing #async and sync communication takes practice.” —Tammy Bjelland, Rosie Report
Leaders must prioritize and focus on what tools are most valuable to their teams. Then set expectations for when and how to use them. Creating a Communication Charter can help remote and hybrid teams facilitate this tool alignment.
Myth: Working online equates to being available.
Setting, communicating, and respecting boundaries is a key step in preventing overworking and burnout. Boundaries are important at an individual level, but they’re also extremely beneficial at a team level for remote and hybrid workforces. Key steps that leaders can take to align on team boundaries include:
- Classifying business priorities and areas of focus
- Identifying how and when team members work best
- Identifying when team members are available for synchronous work
- Establishing a team boundaries agreement
Leaders need the skills to establish but also reinforce team boundaries to reduce team burnout.
Myth: Employee autonomy makes managers obsolete.
Autonomy is the freedom employees have when doing their job. Autonomous work, powered by async collaboration, means employees can get work done at different times, across time zones, and with flexible schedules. When leaders can effectively empower autonomous work, they unlock two key success factors for remote and hybrid teams:
- Flexibility. Flexibility is in high demand and empowered by autonomous work.
- Satisfaction. Autonomy in a role is a major contributor to job satisfaction.
Increased flexibility and satisfaction increase employee retention, which is critically important in today’s job market. Leaders can enable autonomous work by improving access to information in documentation and reducing micromanagement.
Myth: Decisions happen in meetings.
TLDR: you don’t always need a meeting to reach consensus or make a decision. As we mentioned in focus area #1, over-dependence on sync meeting time is leading to overworking and burnout. Employees are spending their workdays in back-to-back meetings, and then, instead of disconnecting and recharging, are working in the evenings to complete work.
Leaders must reduce the reliance on synchronous time to make decisions and move forward. In fact, decision-making is more consistent, thorough, inclusive, and in some cases faster, with a shift to asynchronous components.
Creativity and Innovation
Myth: Working remotely inhibits innovation.
Though effective remote teams have known this for years, more research is coming out that remote working can be better for innovation—but it does require rethinking how to accomplish innovation. Hybrid team leaders must learn how to provide their teams with the space, structure, and resources that allow creativity and innovation. This is a combination of facilitating deep work and increasing psychological safety.
Our newly refreshed Leadplaceless virtual leadership program lowers the barriers for remote and hybrid leaders to develop these behaviors and practices. The three-hour Leadplaceless training is hyper focused on these topics of critical importance for effective and sustainable remote and hybrid teams. Not only do leaders learn about these topics, but they how to develop, adjust, and implement these practices specifically for their team’s needs. Start now.