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Adjusting your remote leadership style for the sake of team cohesion

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What do the most cohesive teams have in common? They understand who they are—both as a work unit and a collection of personalities. 

Remote teams especially need to understand how different behavioral drives play into the cohesion of the whole. And it’s on remote leadership to recognize that during times of stress and uncertainty—such as indefinite remote work—maintaining trust is paramount.

How do you go about doing that as a manager? Start with the behavioral profiles of your team members. Think about which of their drives might manifest differently in a remote environment, and how you can anticipate those tendencies.

Remote workers as people are going to respond to these situations differently. And those responses will dictate the functions of your team. So, as a team leader, you need to tailor your approach accordingly. That means: 

  • Understanding your own remote leadership style
  • Communicating carefully with remote workers
  • Promoting remote leadership throughout the team

Let’s walk through each priority, with an eye toward fostering a more cohesive, trusting group.

 

Understanding your own remote leadership style 

Just like everyone else on your team, you’re probably adjusting to changes, figuring out your virtual leadership strengths on the fly. Resources like those offered by the Remote Leadership Institute can help you get organized, but you’ll inevitably be refining your style through some trial and error. 

This puts a premium on self-awareness. To understand how this might play out with your remote employees, ask yourself:

  • What type of leader am I under normal circumstances?
  • What are my strongest behavioral drives?
  • How might I lean on those drives—or be stretched—when I work from home?

The last one is especially important. In times of change, your natural tendency may be to lean heavily into your most prominent drives. And if you’re not aware you’re doing it in real time, it can be to the detriment of the team.

For example: Perhaps you have a relatively high dominance drive. In person, your assertiveness can be a boon, helping to propel brainstorms and spread enthusiasm. But remote work brings stress and uncertainty. As a result, rather than coming off assertive, you may be received as demanding or dictating if you take the same approach in email or chat messages. At worst, your stress is transferred over to others, who then feel pressured and repeat the cycle. 

Know these behaviors, and learn to keep them in check. Step back if and when you feel yourself leaning too heavily into a particular drive, and say out loud: “I’m feeling under the gun and allowing my high dominance to take hold here. Let’s hear from others.” 

In doing so, you’ll have a more productive meeting in the short-term. And in the long-term, you’ll reassure team members that you recognize your own stressors and tendencies. 

Communicating carefully with remote workers 

Your team may be familiar with remote work rhythms by now, but that doesn’t necessarily mean all your direct reports are comfortable. Particularly if your business fostered a strong in-office culture previously, you can’t underestimate the impact of long-term remote work on your team’s morale. 

Some people find a healthy remote work-life balance naturally, while others may use what was once commute time to answer emails or plug away at projects. 

As the long-distance leader, you need to remind team members to unplug. In doing so, you help stave off burnout, maintain employee engagement, and promote discretionary effort. This message will get through to some more easily than others, because different behavioral profiles respond differently to remote work. You’ll need to understand these nuances to communicate effectively. 

For instance:

In each case, these profiles are seeing their stronger behavioral drives stymied in some shape or form. Virtual meetings might cause more fatigue for those with higher levels of extraversion. Perhaps they’re not getting the same body language they appreciate in the office. Or maybe they’re just more self-conscious while on camera. 

Make a point of scheduling extra face time with these people, catering to the communication needs being left unfulfilled. Conversely, you might not need to check in with your more Persistent profiles as frequently—and they may appreciate you affording them flexible office hours and a steady, predictable pace. 

If your remote workers feel more understood and appreciated, they’ll ultimately be a more efficient, cohesive bunch.

 remote employee

Promoting remote leadership throughout the team 

Communicating according to people’s preferences is a great step toward accommodating remote workers. But, you can go further in catering to their behavioral drives by building up their own remote leadership traits. 

Just like it tempts people to lean on their strongest drives, remote work can force uncomfortable behavioral stretches. Team members with lower levels of extraversion are suddenly on five Zoom calls a day, being asked to share their weekend plans or lead icebreakers. This can cause a lot of invisible stress that compounds the feelings of uncertainty or helplessness brought about by COVID-19 and indefinite remote work. 

Recognize these stretches as a manager. Examine your team members’ drives and their responses to remote work, and think about who might be struggling. Rather than forcing them into regular, significant stretches, encourage them to take smaller steps out of their comfort zone. Then, offer praise and reinforcement. (Just consider the forum for doing so, as certain people might prefer either public or private praise.)

Maybe you have a team member with a higher formality drive that’s struggling with the fluid nature and ill-defined boundaries of remote work. Ask them to:

  • Draw up a set of work-from-home guidelines. 
  • Account for different time zones and team members. 
  • Present these guidelines formally to the group. 

Now you’ve taken that employee’s behavioral stretch and turned it into an opportunity for personal growth, leveraging one of their stronger drives. 

Ultimately, your team needs to be founded on trust if it’s going to function smoothly. Managers who get hung up on the lack of visibility tend to micromanage, eroding the trust in their people.

Rather than worrying about what you can’t control, get to know your team members. Think about how their behavioral drives might be accentuated or muted. Play to people’s strengths, while occasionally balancing that with smaller challenges.

You might be surprised how a flexible management style puts you at the helm of a team that’s just as productive and cohesive as it was in the office—perhaps even more. 

Strategist

Kim is the director of product marketing at PI. She began her career in the music industry working on music software products.

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