2021 is still a year of home office and changed working conditions. As a leader, you do not have your team next to you or even in the company. Thus, healthy distance leadership is even more important. How can leaders successfully implement it? Read more in this article about how to lead your employees with success and how to take efficient measures.
Employees, as well as superiors, are confronted by challenges because of the COVID-19 pandemic. In some companies, the in-house working conditions do not conform with the new normal yet. It is expected that people are available all the time, there are often errors in technical tools and there is a lack of social contacts. A good solution against these circumstances is healthy distance leadership.
Why Distance Leadership?
The COVID-19 pandemic forces managers to find new ways to lead their teams.
Many employees have been working from home for months. This is one of the reasons why leaders should plan their distance leadership in detail. New working conditions cause new problems as well. A lack of separating private and business, too little space, and private obligations at home. How does working together as a team works anyways?
If distance leadership happens without a concept behind it this affects the whole working performance in a negative way. For example team conflicts are caused by a lack of communication about who does what exactly in which project, and also the feeling of alienation towards the company. Leaders have to get used to remote work themselves, but also have to train their team to do so.
What is Important About Distance Leadership?
There are many things that are important for distance leadership: Structure, openness, rules, transparent communication, and clear plannings in the company.
Leaders did realize that both, job satisfaction and productivity of their employees, are important. Furthermore, their well-being is, too. In a cooperated study Instahelp (Psychologist Anna Fuchs, MSc.) and the Institute of Psychology at the Karl-Franzens-University Graz found that virtual leading has an impact on the team’s health.
The results show that the following leadership style is good for reducing stress in team members working from home:
- active listening
- open exchange
- enough space and freedom
- fair distribution of ressources and tasks
These aspects are also indicators of mental health at work. The effect is reinforced by increasing the frequency of exchange. Nevertheless, the study shows that there is less contact with each other in-home office than in everyday office life. One-fifth of the employees expressed the wish for more contact with management. With regard to the home office working model, 53 % of employees would like to continue working remotely several times a week in the future.
Tips for Virtual Leadership for Personnel Managers
Healthy virtual leadership includes regular feedback sessions, work-life balance, and discussing future working conditions.
The following questions for HR managers in virtual leadership can be derived from the study results: What are the advantages and disadvantages of the individual communication channels? Do they use them according to the task and urgency? Which tasks need an audio or video call, for which are chat or email sufficient?
Regular Feedback Meetings
How are the current workload, work setting, and well-being perceived? Regular feedback sessions and informal exchanges help. This also includes regular contact points, such as once a week. This leads to a stronger sense of community and is an important part of healthy leadership.
Work-life Balance and Distance Leadership
Only refreshed staff can show good performance in the company. Therefore, as a manager, make sure that your employees get enough rest. A clear separation between leisure time and work is important. Neither you nor your employees can be available around the clock. For this reason, you should agree on times of availability.
Clarify Future Working Conditions
Healthy distance leadership also means that your employees have planning security. What forms of work should be pursued in the company in the future? How should the company’s internal work situation be structured? Clarify this, be open and transparent.
Study Results on Healthy Virtual Leadership
Study results on healthy virtual leadership show that a healthy leadership style has an impact on the well-being of the workforce.
The short message is: Virtual leadership is relevant to health. More specifically, a positive leadership style is related to the positive mental health of employees. Regular contact also seems to be particularly important.
- 30.9 % were in contact with their manager every working day
- 36.4 % 2 – 3 times a week
- 20.6 % once a week and 9.1 % once in two weeks
- 3.0 % never
In terms of contact with the supervisor or manager it has shown the following:
- 77.3 % said they were satisfied with the frequency of exchange
- 18.5 % would like more contact
- 4.2 % less
The study also shows that more contact increases the feeling of perceived closeness between supervisors and staff. The stronger this is in the home office, the more resources at the workplace are perceived. In addition, this reduces the perceived psychological stress of the employees. The more attentively the manager listens, the less stressed and the more relaxed employees feel.
In addition, it was found that higher destructive behaviour on the part of HR managers is associated with a stronger feeling of stress on the part of the team. It follows that they feel less refreshed. When bosses listen carefully, they increase the well-being of their workforce.
How Does Distance Leadership Work?
Distance leadership starts with the management level, integrates the team, structures meetings, creates commitment and trust, and encourages teams.
For the management level, there are a few things to keep in mind when leading virtually. Communication gaps must be bridged with employees in home office. Furthermore, the positive team spirit must be maintained, even if each person works from a different location. Companies are faced with these and even more tasks due to the new working conditions. So how do leading teams still work?
Leadership as the Basis For Team Success
Make sure that you, as the person responsible for personnel, are mentally and physically well. This will enable you to lead your team well. Recharge your batteries in everyday life, plan not only internal company processes but also your own breaks.
When it comes to distance leadership, it also changes that you do not have your employees in front of you. Here, trust in the discipline and commitment of your team is important. Tell your expectations clearly, be transparent, and open. Also, show that you have an open ear for problems.
Successful Team through Active Shaping
For healthy distance leadership to be possible, you as a supervisor must actively and clearly shape the work. This includes clear rules: Your employees must be aware of what has to be done by when and how.
Clear structures in the virtual work environment include:
- What specifically needs to be done?
- By when?
- What must not happen?
- How should it be implemented?
- By whom?
- When are there status control meetings?
- How should the controlling take place?
- Who documents and where?
- In what form will success be measured?
- How should the result be presented?
Team Meetings at Distance Leadership
Daily team meetings as a start of the working day, or even fixed virtual meetings, help to exchange ideas about the work. You can discuss which person is currently how far along in the respective project, what the next steps are and what the further course of action is. This way, all employees know what is going on, feel integrated into the company, and know what they have to do. They can also report difficulties or ask questions.
To strengthen the sense of belonging and participation, everyone in the work team should be involved. Especially when it comes to rules for successful cooperation. This makes employees feel valued, which in turn strengthens trust. Managers get honest feedback on whether the previous working methods are suitable for everyday use.
Preparing to Lead at a Distance
As a supervisor, go into every virtual meeting with an agenda. Only if you have a reasonable plan your employees will be able to follow you. The better you know what you are doing and what you expect, the better you will succeed in distance leadership.
In a virtual meeting, it should also be clear in advance what exactly the meeting is about. Send an agenda to the participants in advance. Make sure that everyone arrives on time and participates equally. Set rules (together) for meetings. Incorporate warm-ups to lighten the mood.
You can also make sure that the moderation is always done by another team member. This way everyone is integrated and heard. Also, take turns deciding who will take notes. Address participants directly and by name. To maximise job satisfaction, collect feedback after the virtual meetings.
Building Trust in Virtual Leadership
Virtual team meetings can also be deliberately longer. New conditions create new challenges and uncertainties. Increased exchange and openness towards your staff promote trust. Successful distance leadership also includes creating a good working atmosphere and a positive mood.
Start the online meeting on a positive note by talking about what is going well. Praise successes and offer to talk about anything that is unclear. Topics that only concern individual team members should also only be discussed face to face. In this way you strengthen the basis of trust: people can talk to you, but they will not be shown up.
Push Commitment and Similarities
Even if personal contacts and collegial exchange are missing, it is important that employees still feel a sense of belonging to the company. Consider offering the opportunity for private conversations before or after each team meeting. Another idea is that you (let)plan private online events. If your staff plans such an event, it will strengthen the sense of belonging and community. If you notice that some people are generally not getting involved, approach them specifically. Find out why this is the case.
Clear Rules and Space
To ensure that your employees are in the know, you as a boss should answer the following questions through your leadership style:
- From when to when do you expect your workforce to be available?
- What behaviour is desired?
- What do you not want?
- Who is available for queries?
- Which communication channel?
Summary on Leading at a Distance
According to studies, remote working is becoming the working model of the future. Even if we have more or less overcome the pandemic at some point, part-time home office will still be the norm. All the more reason, therefore, for you as a manager to look into healthy virtual leadership. There is already a lot of evidence that this working model does have some advantages. Which in turn shows that it will endure.
Breisig, T. Führung auf Distanz und gesunde Führung bei mobiler Arbeit. Z. Arb. Wiss. 74, 188–194 (2020).
Landes, M., Steiner, E., Wittmann, R., & Utz, T. (Hrsg.). (2020). Führung von Mitarbeitenden im Home Office. Berlin: Springer Fachmedien Wiesbaden GmbH.