What Business Leaders Have Learned From Heading Remote Teams

The pandemic has altered the workplace dynamic, likely for good, with one of the most dramatic changes being the pivot toward remote work. While the emergence of the Delta and Omicron variants of COVID-19 clouds the picture for the immediate future, it would appear that many organizations are trending toward a hybrid business model, which enables employees to work from home at least part of the time. The workforce prefers the flexibility such an arrangement offers, and management is open to the idea, having seen their companies thrive during the outbreak despite the fact that everyone was scattered.

One survey showed, in fact, that nine of every 10 workers believe they are at least as productive when working from home as they are in the office. Eight of every 10 say they are happier working remotely. Nearly half say they would take a five percent pay cut to work from home at least part of the time.

This desire for greater flexibility is one of the major reasons for the “Great Resignation,” which saw 4 million American workers leave their jobs in July 2021, followed by 4.3 million in August and 4.4 million in September. At one point in mid-year, Monster.com reported, 95 percent of workers were considering changing jobs, and 92 percent were willing to switch fields entirely.

It would appear, in fact, that many people have “had some epiphanies” during the pandemic, as Texas A&M psychologist Anthony Klotz, originator of the term “Great Resignation,” told the BBC — i.e., they have reevaluated their careers and decided that they want to go in a new direction. The result, economist Mark Zandi told CNBC, is that those in the labor force “are in the driver’s seat for the first time in 30 years.” They are seeking not only more money but different working conditions. And that involves, again, the freedom to work from home.

That has brought challenges to business leaders, not the least of which is ensuring that their teams remain engaged and productive. Technology, particularly Zoom, has helped keep everyone on the same page, but managers themselves have also been put to the test. Can they communicate effectively? Can they make sure their team members aren’t tuning them out?

The latter is a considerable challenge, even in the best of times. A Gallup study of over 100,000 organizations showed that U.S. employee engagement in 2021 stood at 36 percent, the same as in 2020. Maybe it should be taken as a good sign that it didn’t dip even further, given all the turmoil businesses have faced since the onset of the pandemic. But 36 percent is still anemic, and business leaders must endeavor to improve upon that, in an age where remote/hybrid models are fast becoming the norm.

Tech will obviously continue to play a role; that much is clear. In fact, 38 percent of companies upgraded their video technology in 2021. At the same time, it is a mistake, in the estimation of leadership consultant Carol Kinsey Goman, to believe that engagement is simply a matter of having the best gadgetry. Goman, writing for Forbes in October 2021, points out that establishing a visual presence is critical — that every gesture and every facial expression makes an impact.

She cited a study showing it takes the brain a mere 200 milliseconds to read someone’s facial expression and ascertain their emotional state. As a result, she writes, it is essential for a leader to make eye contact during Zoom meetings — or as much as that is possible. It is essential to project warmth and openness.

Other experts emphasize the importance of fostering an environment where communication and collaboration are the norm. Still others note that scheduling regular activities and giving periodic feedback resonate with remote workers. And finally, there is the value of unorthodox connections — playing team trivia games, for example, or pausing virtual meetings so team members can introduce pets or children as they wander in the background.

In my own experience, teams presenting “plays” or “acts” together on Zoom can bring the broader team together in a way no meeting ever could. A group cooing lesson, led by a comedian, can do more to bring families and teams together than you might imagine.

In short, the little things matter. Unorthodox things matter. They bridge the gap and bring organizations together. And ultimately they can make a company, no matter how far-flung, dynamic and productive.

Here’s wishing you a dynamic and productive 2022!

Originally published at https://www.linkedin.com.

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Bev Thorne is Chief Marketing Officer at Sprout Mortgage. https://www.linkedin.com/in/bevthorne

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Bev Thorne

Bev Thorne

Bev Thorne is Chief Marketing Officer at Sprout Mortgage. https://www.linkedin.com/in/bevthorne

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