Larry English: 3 Essential Leadership Skills for the New World of Work
I published my book, Office Optional: How To Build A Connected Culture With Virtual Teams right before the Covid-19 pandemic began. The timing was fortuitous. Seemingly the whole world switched to remote work; what I thought would happen 10 years out was rapidly taking place in a matter of weeks.
Over the last two years, I’ve been asked many times to predict what the future of work will look like. While some of my predictions seem to be coming true, while others are still a long way off two things I know for sure: The world of work isn’t returning to a pre-pandemic “normal.” And the leadership style of the last 70 years no longer applies.
New Leadership Skills For A New World Of Work
Multiple global studies have confirmed that remote and hybrid work are here to stay: The 2021 Microsoft Work Trend Index found that 73% of employees don’t want to go back to full-time office life. The Future Forum from Slack found that 93% of knowledge workers want flexibility in their schedule and 76% want flexibility in where they work.
Companies must offer the option of remote work – at least part-time – or risk losing talent. As teams are increasingly distributed and virtual interaction becomes the norm, leaders will need to flex new muscles to keep their people engaged and inspired.
So how do you lead in this new world? The most effective leaders of tomorrow will prioritize relationship-building and sustainable work-life balance. They’ll accomplish this by:
Building trust: Although it can be tempting to try to keep tabs on virtual employees the same way you could if everyone were in an office, this violates the No. 1 rule for effective virtual leadership: Trust. Leaders need to hire good people, and trust that they’ll get their work done.
Employees who feel trusted feel more engaged, more energized and less stressed, which in turn leads directly to better business results. Instead of tracking every movement of your virtual employees, put metrics in place to measure their output and schedule regular check-ins to evaluate their work product.
Fostering connectedness, inclusion and belonging: When you’re in the office, you automatically build relationships with those around you through bump-ins on the way to the conference room or in the lunchroom. That doesn’t happen when you’re virtual. Leaders will need to bridge this gap, encouraging connection to prevent remote workers from feeling lonely and disconnected.
Some ideas for how to achieve this include:
- Carving out time at the beginning of virtual meetings for friendly non-work conversation. This is company policy at Centric Consulting, Just a few minutes to connect as humans goes a long way toward building deep, trusting relationships.
- Checking in on employees regularly. Leaders should habitually connect one-on-one with their people. Do they feel connected and inspired by their work? How is their life outside of work going? What are their triumphs and troubles?
- Encouraging team members to connect with one another, such as through an online affinity group. Centric, for example, has Microsoft Teams channels where veterans, runners and other groups can connect and virtually hang out.
- Design meaningful occasional face-to-face interactions to strengthen relationships formed virtually, reinforce culture and strengthen employee connection to your company mission.
Modeling strong work-life boundaries: Remote work gives employees some control over their schedule and better work-life balance. However, many people overcorrect when they’re remote and end up working too much, the boundary between work and life dissolved until it’s all work and no life.
Leaders of tomorrow will need to model how to be a great virtual employee and keep those boundaries intact. They should show employees it’s OK to take breaks and disengage during non-business hours. For example, I do an annual digital detox where I go on vacation and turn off all notifications. I’ve also done a stint as a digital nomad. This signals to my employees that it’s acceptable if they likewise disengage from work.
Leading remote, distributed teams requires a new model of leadership, one based on trust, real relationships and unwavering dedication to connection, inclusivity and work-life balance. Leaders who don’t actively pursue these won’t be prepared to inspire their teams to future success.
In my breakout session at the 2022 COE Summit, we’ll explore predictions for the future of work:
- What will organizations of the future look like?
- What will be the impact on office space?
- How will remote work transform cities? The world?
- How will freelancers contribute to organizations?
- What’s the next big tech shift?
Hope to see you there! You can learn more about the 2022 COE Summit and register below: