How To Be A Remote Working Leader

The outbreak of COVID-19, and the increased use of social distancing as a means to contain the virus, has led to many businesses needing to rapidly adopt remote working policies. In this post, Richard Pilling, shares his insights on how to be a considerate and effective remote leader in these challenging times.

It’s fair to say we are currently living in challenging times - I didn’t think I’d be writing another blog post quite so soon - however the world moves very quickly, and when we have knowledge that can help, it’s important to get it freely out there as soon as possible.

The world we find ourselves in today is very different from that of a month - or even a week ago. In times of crisis we need to trust in our decision-making processes and, above all, ensure that the welfare of our people remains the highest priority.

We use the Cynefin framework at Cloudreach, which uses five domains - complicated, complex, chaotic, obvious and disorder. As the disruptive impact of COVID-19 has become more apparent - many businesses have been thrust into the domain of ‘chaotic’. In this domain, cause and effect is unclear, and immediate, imperfect action is required, using an act-sense-respond approach.

The requirement to practice effective social distancing during this pandemic has led to a need for organizations and teams to rapidly embrace flexible and remote working. For many leaders, especially those without established, large-scale, remote working policies already in place, this sits very much within the 'chaotic domain. Sensing and responding through this change will likely reveal the need for greater technical capabilities and tooling and will require shifts in ways of thinking.

Cloudreach is here to help

Cloudreach has always been a cloud-native company - which means we are used to working from anywhere, and frequently do. It’s a deliberate choice in our standard working practices and the tools we use; partly because, as a consultancy, we have people working all over the place for clients, and also because we believe flexible working brings the best out of our people. 

Personally, over the past 10 years, I’ve led many teams whilst working remotely. This experience has allowed me to build some simple practices that I hope will help you and your team be effective and efficient during this period of self-isolation (and even find the silver lining in a portentous situation).

Trust your team

It's very easy to feel out of control in today's world, and working remotely makes this doubly-so as a leader - especially if remote working is new to your organization. Stay calm and trust that your team will pull together if they know you truly have their best interest at heart. This remains the best piece of advice on leadership I have ever been given. This means that, organisationally, you need to become comfortable with leading your team with little oversight. If you try to micromanage people who are working remotely, you will only push them away further - times like this easily reveal the shortcomings of this belittling management style.

Being aware of you and your team’s mental health is essential - everyone has social and emotional needs, and in a time of self-imposed isolation, these are more important than ever. However, just because you aren't able to catch up in the office over a nice cup of tea, doesn’t mean you’re alone… technology is your team’s best friend here - and there are so many great ways of connecting with each other.

Focus on culture 

One of the phrases which has always stuck with me is Peter Drucker’s “Culture eats strategy for breakfast” - in our new-reality, think: How can I build and maintain a healthy society/culture remotely?

At Cloudreach we use Slack as one of our main internal communication tools - it’s quick and helps us stay nimble on customer projects. But it’s also a great forum for people to catch up with each other, which helps to keep them engaged and happy (we even have a ‘dad-jokes’ slack group) - they act as pressure release valves; bringing the company together, even when working remotely, and goes to show that laughter is the best medicine in times of trouble.

Text is one thing, but being able to see and hear friendly people when you are socially isolating is more important than ever. We use online video conferencing software (such as Zoom) for all of our meetings and it really helps with team spirit and morale. 

Stay Positive

As a leader your team looks up to you as the example of how to act when the winds of change are blowing hard - you need to maintain your positivity for them, and yourself. I find limiting my time reading news and social media very beneficial (at any time!) Especially if you live on your own, it’s all too easy to dwell on the negatives that proliferate there, and then they will proliferate throughout your organisation if repeated enough.

Look after yourself

Respect yourself, and so will your team. Make sure to keep a good daily routine, exercise, and eat well - they all help with mental health. Get properly dressed - this is especially important for those video calls.

Have something beautiful to look at when you need a break from work - be it a nice view from the window, or a picture from a happy time. If you having trouble getting into a good flow-state, the right music playing can help immensely.

Take a break

The best thing you can do for work is to not think of it outside of work hours! Yes, there will be exceptions to this, especially if supporting your people, but for the majority of the time, resist the temptation to be glued to your work laptop or phone. Put them away when your workday is done and don’t feel guilty for doing this. Now more than ever, we need quality time to de-stress, to be a happy and loving person/partner/parent - and to be energized for work the next day. So catch up on that amazing box set you’ve been wanting to watch, and lose yourself in it - better still, make a list of them with your team, and spread the happiness.

These are challenging times and, at Cloudreach, we are working hard to help our clients adapt to these new work patterns quickly and effectively - as this is probably going to be the new ‘normal’. If you need help scaling your remote working capabilities or would like advice on overcoming any infrastructure, application, or data challenges - get in touch with the Cloudreach team; we’re here to help.

With time and diligence, we will move away from the Cynefin domain of ‘chaos’ to something which, on reflection, will be much easier to deal with - be it ‘complicated’, ‘complex’, or on one happy sunny day... ‘simple’.

In the wise words from one of my favourite podcasts: It’ll all be alright in the end - and if it’s not alright, it’s not the end.