Remote management or remote leadership?

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The recent boom in government enforced working from home situation is now exercised by hundreds of thousands of workers world wide. Many, who has years experience doing it, some under the tight supervision of micro managing bosses and just by their managers nice allowing. Never before was working from seen as something positive on a larger scale – it was more of an “option” you could exercise if you really have to. This post is not about how good it is for a company to be good at working remotely – it’s a post about remote management leadership. There is a huge difference between management and leadership, and the usage of the two has a huge implication on how successful companies will be with their “home offices”.

Sure, the pressure from employees to be able to work remotely has created the concept from the beginning, and later on also gave life to office policies like “no desk policies” where you don’t even have your desk but instead you play “Musical Chairs” every morning you choose to go in to the office. This post is not about that either. But it all ties up nicely in the end. I promise. Bare with me.

True, working for a manager with micro managing syndrome is not going to save you by reading this post. It isn’t going to help you at all. Sorry. It may even get worse now that the control freak can’t see what you are doing exactly all the time. With this hanging over your shoulder, it may be that you feel the need to “face time” in a new way. No I don’t mean the Apple app “Facetime” – I mean spending time looking like you work. It’s a behavior easily called out in an office environment usually exercised by some less confident people and sometimes copied by junior colleagues thinking this is how to do it. It usually goes like this: coming first and leaving last, sighing when others are leaving the office, making “fun” jokes or remarks like “are you taking the afternoon off?” or saying “have a good weekend”, trying to force others to state their intentions of being so crazy as to leave their chair and walk out the door. Or it could be planning meetings at 17.00 or calling people just before closing time. The list could be long. These behaviours now could creep into Slack and Skype and create obsessive behaviours to look like you’re “online” and “active”. That green symbol can not go dark!! None has nothing to do with real work efficiency or performance on any level. We all know that.

Managers, either they have the aforementioned condition (micro management) or that they actually believe that management is about “checking in” and controlling others – now will invent new ways of doing the same but virtually.

In order to fully explain what I mean with that management is bad, I realize I should write a piece about it but I wanted to instead sing the tune of the need for real leadership – so I’ll keep my rant short. The short version: Imagine a boolean (true or false) world that has two types of managers. Either they are Type X: Managers which tells people what to do and collect updates when it’s done (and in the same time disables people by driving them to just report progress and are in effect extending their own thoughts only) and Type Y: Leaders who grows others by enabling people to take their own decisions and come up with their own ideas because they empower people: by not telling people what to do, but instead paves the way by setting clear strategies and goals. Ok so we have those two types. Now with the way I’m writing is clear that I think leadership is superior to management. Cool. So let’s move from here. For all the hundred posts you have read on LinkedIn on why self-motivated and resourceful people is better lead than managed, I join that choir and my addition to the topic is the way we could keep being good leaders by encouraging others, even though we are now working from home. This is about that. Remote leadership.

Remote leadership is about trusting, challenging, involving, giving space, encouraging, respecting and supporting. Just like you knew it would be. Just like before. Nothing changed because we are staying at home right now*. Ok.

*There is one little thing though worth mentioning. It’s always been a tabu to have your kids around when working from home. It’s been frowned upon and seen as a “you are not working, you are taking care of your kids – take vacation or sick leave instead because I get annoyed by your <insert kid age group name here> screaming while we are Zooming. ” Now, we have no choice – the government told us to stay at home, with schools closed (in many countries). So not only do you as a “worker” need to do your job, you also need to keep your kid(s) happy. Tough job. Not easy. No I’m not providing a solution. Just adding that real leaders respect people and their life situations, so if you are blessed to have a leader as “boss” – good on you.

Ok so lets back on topic. Good leadership starts from within. Good leaders have discovered themselves (nope, not thru any special meditation, healing or weird cult stuff). They have understood that feedback from others had a certain reason and they could take this feedback and understand it as a way that people “experience” them as leaders, and with the knowledge that others experience them this way they can choose to react differently and, crazy stuff, could change some of their behaviours that was annoying people, even though they didn’t mean it.

So with all this start stretch – leading remotely is no different from leading in an office. It’s as important as ever to be reachable, open, have time, listen, trying to understand others perspective – but also to lead by showing the way forward, asking for help, sharing the tough times, helping and last but not least – to give feedback to their staff.

Staff that’s inexperienced receiving feedback or have just received overly positive feedback, or even just saw it as “negative” may need some help understanding how feedback could be understood and responded to (that’s another post) – but the message is that just because we now are working remotely, there is no excuse to change the feedback loop. People want feedback, still, and may need it now maybe more than ever. Who does not want to know they are on the right track and what they are delivering is good and appreciated? Or that it’s not “entirely” but with some small tweaks it could be golden? Or that asking others for feedback on their work just is a part of the process and that the sum of what we do just gets better by letting others chime in on it?

One mistake in our now fast paced Slack-chatting or Whatsapp writing could be that a lot of our messaging gets lost as we just use words, and they are received with the current mood of the person reading it. That means: easily misunderstood. It could easily be read wrong. So lift that phone click that Call button and say it face to face. Don’t have to book meetings for every interaction. Click the button. It doesn’t hurt with a quick face-to-face chat.

A hundred million years ago I wrote my master on “What motivates millennials to reach their full potential“. In there, after some research, I concluded that people (staff) of all ages wants:

  • Feedback
  • Responsibility
  • Flexibility
  • Rewards
  • Support

It’s as true as ever, even in our remote Corona world.

Stay safe!