The most effective managers are inclusive managers. But how can managers lead inclusively when working with remote teams?
Using the tenets and principles of professional coaching, managers can get beneath the superficial layers of engagement by shifting the focus away from telling and persuading toward asking the right questions and listening.
Managers can also work with their teams to co-create a space for self-reflection at the level of a person’s core values, beliefs and motivations to find what they need in order to have a sense of connectedness and psychological safety during times of uncertainty.
Likewise, creating an environment where everyone is valued, respected, and empowered to do their best work when working remotely requires a deeper understanding of the unique needs of each individual.
Start by asking empowering questions across three core dimensions: self, others and the business.
Self: Leading inclusively starts from within.
Understanding our individual positions and progress when it comes to inclusion requires that we have a conversation with ourselves. Consider the following questions to help guide your interactions and decisions when leading remote teams.
• How can I recognize and leverage the unique strengths and contributions of each individual while working remotely?
• What specific actions can I take to create an inclusive remote work environment?
• How do cultural influences impact working remotely?
• What specific actions will I take to mitigate bias and microaggressions in virtual interactions?
• How will I create psychological safety in a virtual environment?
Only when we choose to be completely honest with ourselves can we begin to meaningfully consider the experience of others, especially those different from us.
Others: Exploring identity creates greater connectedness and productivity.
Personal identity is a multi-faceted concept you develop about yourself that evolves over the course of your life. This may include aspects such as culture, spirituality, socioeconomic status, ethnicity and education level. A holistic view of identity explores a compilation of institutional, systemic and structural dynamics as well.
Studies that consider the positive effects of diversity suggest that acknowledging employees’ nonwork identities can benefit both individuals and organizations. A good starting point for leaders who are new to focusing on identity in their roles is to reflect on the following question: How can we affirm and value people’s true identities beyond their utility at work — especially when working from the sanctity of their homes? If you are not sure, ask your team.
Leaders can also explore the intersections of personality preferences and capabilities for remote work to build a holistic view of each team member. Doing so helps employees feel valued and respected as they share their thoughts and needs relative to three key insights:
• Identity: Who I am
• Personality: What I prefer
• Capability: What I can do
Practically speaking, the need for managers to effectively adapt and connect based on an individual’s unique needs is amplified when all interactions are virtual. It’s important to identify the preferences of each individual and work together to co-create an environment conducive to everyone doing their best work.
To co-create an inclusive remote work environment, you can further explore the following questions with your team members:
• What do you need most during this time?
• How can I best support you and your work?
• How do you prefer to communicate while working remotely?
• What specific actions will help create an environment conducive to you doing your best work?
It can be really hard for managers to find harmony with caring for the needs of their teams and focusing on the business in times of crisis. And while there is no single right answer when it comes to striking that balance, in my experience, leaders can never go wrong with a servant-leadership philosophy. Servant leaders create a purpose-driven culture where everyone is aligned to serve each other and their customers.
Business: Leverage remote working environments to gain new insights and improve productivity.
A two-year study by Stanford University found that there was a significant increase in work productivity among people who worked from home. The study design included 500 employees divided into two groups — a control group (who continued working at headquarters) and volunteer work-from-homers. The study showed a productivity increase among the telecommuters that was equivalent to a full day’s work.
Managers can lean into their curiosity to explore new possibilities for the betterment of their people and their business during times of disruption and change. Consider the following questions to gain valuable insights:
• How do we best serve our employees’ wellness and well-being during times of crisis?
• How can we harness the power of disruption to positively transform our ways of working?
• What are the mindset shifts needed to successfully transition to a completely virtual workforce?
• What are the specific skills needed to effectively maximize engagement and productivity while working remotely?
• How can we work with our customers to reimagine possibilities for meeting their needs?
Managers all over the world are working to improve their skills for leading remote teams. What if, rather than expecting managers to have all of the right answers during these unprecedented times, we tasked them with asking the right questions? We need leaders who are consonant with what they need to be curious about, what truths are being revealed and how to lead inclusively.