How business leaders can optimise remote working success
If 2020 was the year of embracing remote working, 2021 will be about optimising remote success. The last 12 months have seen companies across almost every industry quickly shift their practices and processes to fit pandemic restrictions, in addition to weighing up the pros and cons of real-world offices. In the near future at least, distanced operations look set to stick — with studies predicting a twofold rise in fully virtual workers globally. And for business leaders, that means there is an increasing need to refine remote strategy.
Many leaders have now incorporated an array of digital collaboration, management and conferencing tools into their daily routines. But to maintain organisation-wide productivity, and a strong profile, they’ll need more than just pro-level video calling abilities.
Maximising overall performance and individual influence will call for tailored adjustment: focusing in particular on fine-tuning their internal and external communications for the virtual-centric climate, as well as aligning with a new set of Zoom-era protocols.
Maintaining internal motivation
As noted by McKinsey, interactions between leaders and teams are essential to create the social cohesion and unified culture that organisations need to thrive. Often, the best setting for these interactions is in the physical world, where leaders can see their workers, assess performance and offer face-to-face support. In the current situation, however, they must find different ways of driving motivation, innovation, and connection.
At a fundamental level, that calls for better clarity. Leaders must clearly communicate goals and roles to ensure every employee understands what the company objectives are, how their specific contribution fits in, and what specific measures they will be evaluated against; with an emphasis on outputs that can be easily and accurately tracked at a distance.
When it comes to sustaining workforce connection, leaders should look beyond simply being visible. Research has shown 46% of workers feel the best managers are not only accessible, but also reach out to team members on a frequent basis. Making time for regular check ins and updates — be that via video calls, emails, or instant messenger chats — will help foster an ongoing sense of belonging, appreciation and trust that inspires workers to keep aiming higher. This is especially true when individual conversations are combined with open meetings that bring remote workers together and include opportunities for spontaneous interaction and collaboration, such as unstructured fireside chats and virtual socials.
Cementing their thought leadership position
By now, it’s well-recognised that disengaging with wider topics, trends, and developments until COVID-19 passes isn’t the best option for business leaders. Contributing to the right conversations is essential to drive consistent business success; with considered thought leadership activities playing a vital part in upholding public awareness and favourable perception.
Tapping available opportunities such as webinars and online conferences is therefore key. But the question is: how to do so effectively?
It almost goes without saying that leaders must continue to ensure the events they hold, and attend, are a good fit for their business, industry, and knowledge base. But it’s also worth noting the importance of maintaining high value for audiences. Although online events leave more room for informality, too little cohesion can also mean that value is diminished for attendees — leaving them uninspired and more likely to be tempted by the huge selection of alternative digital content.
To maintain interest and maximise positive results, online appearances and events must be just as carefully planned as real-life presentations, with equal focus on bringing genuinely useful insights to the table — such as unique points of view and exclusive research data. At the same time, however, it will also be important to avoid the ‘death by PowerPoint’ trap. Always a risk at increasingly tech-powered events, turning online discussions into lectures is all too easy and further heightens the chance of lost attention.
To guard against this, leaders must use tech to their advantage. Thanks to the virtual event boom, there is now a profusion of new tools they can leverage to limit passive viewing, increase audience participation and enhance the likelihood of future attendance. For example, platforms such as Slido and Cadence allow hosts to integrate interactive elements, including live polling, networking, and Q&A sessions.
Mastering the new online etiquette
We’ve come a long way from the early days of video calling that brought much deliberation over bookshelves and unexpected cameos from family and pets, even giving rise to the phenomenon of ‘Zoombombing’.
Conference calls have turned into something of an art form, with more emphasis on cultivating a well-balanced personal presence than setting eye-catching backgrounds. There is greater awareness of the need to bring in elements of offline-level professionalism and treat online calls as ‘mini-presentations’ where crafting the right image still matters. This not only includes factors such as business-appropriate clothing — and perhaps moving away from comfy pyjamas — but also paying close attention to signals that indicate how engaged participants are, such as where their gaze is focused, response time, and body language.
In short, video calling is becoming subject to its very own etiquette rules. And among the most confusing aspects of these new procedures for leaders and their teams are camera and microphone conduct. For example, being on mute was once the default standard, especially for larger meetings. But with most client meetings also held through video calls, keeping audio enabled is sometimes essential to demonstrate constant engagement; not to mention allowing for faster reactions to client queries.
Cameras are an even more complex area. Should they remain on at all times to show attendance and active listening, or are there certain situations where some attendees should slide the shutter to avoid being a ‘distraction’ — such as calls where they are coordinating or moderating discussions, rather than participating? When users are on screen, there is also the need to remember that they are under a ‘film-level’ spotlight where every expression and gesture is amplified, and visible to all.
As pointed out by David Levin — Creative chief at That Lot — in his humorous guide to successful remote pitching: it’s hard to steer conversations in the right direction when you can’t see or hear reactions, and few things are more disheartening than an instant row of blocked out webcams. In addition to enhancing their individual understanding of which option is right for each specific context; leaders should consider investing in up-to-date media training for their entire organisation that includes etiquette lessons for the world of Zoom and other video conferencing platforms; process, audio, cameras, and all.
Remote working might pose an array of complex challenges, but it doesn’t make effective leadership impossible. By focusing on clear cross-team communication, crafting engaging online events and adapting to new video conferencing rules, leaders can harness virtual operations as a chance to build even closer team connections, elevate their profile, and cultivate a commanding online presence — placing them in a strong position to succeed post-pandemic.