• Wendi Smith

New Reality: Leading a Remote Organization

The global COVID-19 pandemic has turned most of our personal and professional lives upside down virtually overnight. Suddenly, many businesses’ brick-and-mortar office buildings are all but empty and their employees are doing their jobs from the comfort of their own homes. This is a dramatic change for the majority of executive leaders, who now find themselves learning in a pressured environment how to lead an organization comprised entirely of remote workers. The business world has shifted, and it is not clear when — or even to what degree — it will make its way back to the pre-COVID 19 status quo.

It’s time to embrace leadership agility and start communicating differently. By and large, the C-suite have tended to rely on their physical presence in an organization’s office to allow them to lead their employees by example. They strive to be high achievers who get to the office early, stay there late, work hard, attend countless meetings and gather the rest of the organization’s leadership team in person to discuss strategy, challenges, and solutions.

Leading a remote organization is a different ballgame. Having to manage from afar can be jarring and uncomfortable at first. You will likely need to shift your behaviors so you can remain as visible as possible while keeping everyone in the organization happy, engaged with their work and thriving professionally. Understanding how to maintain employee’s previous levels of engagement and productivity will be key to the business’ success. Here are some tips:

Be Present in Your Employees’ Professional Lives

Even if you are no longer able to see your employees around the office and greet them or chat with them, leaders still need to make an effort to be present in employees’ professional lives. Although you may not realize it, you are a reassuring, stabilizing force for the rest of the organization. When you are visible, employees know someone is at the helm to steer the ship where it needs to go. You remind everyone that the company needs to fulfill its mission, and you reduce or eliminate employees’ feelings of anxiety or loss of engagement with the company’s broader goals.

Learning to be present in the way your employees work now prevents company culture from deteriorating. A big worry that can stifle innovation and productivity, and create low employee morale, high employee turnover, and reduced productivity. But, it can all be avoided.

The most important point is to stay open and build new connections throughout the company. Share more of yourself with employees, check in with the other senior leaders on a more regular basis, make yourself available and be flexible in resolving issues when they arise. If you make it clear the organization is still a team, employees will build close ties and loyalty.

Make Sure Your Messages Count

Now, more than ever, you need to inspire and empower others throughout your organization. Senior leaders and managers will take cues from your new leadership style — it will trickle down, so be mindful of the messages you send. When they emulate your behavior, you want them to be acting positively. Be your most authentic self, share your remote working challenges and how you’re overcoming them. Your teams will feel closer in spirit if you’re opening up. Transparency and honesty will serve you well. Most importantly, though, you need to lead the organization with confidence and certainty. Uncertain times make people uneasy, and your employees need to know you will lead them where they want to go.

Start using your company’s instant messaging platforms more. Try to replicate the chance run-ins you would have with people in their offices, in the hallway or in the cafeteria through short instant messages. Sharing short videos will allow employees to see your face and body language. They are an easy way to remind them of your personality, make yourself seem approachable and maintain transparency — just keep them short and focused.

Resetting the Norm

Adapting your organization to its newfound reality will not be easy, but its long-term health depends on its leader being flexible enough to shepherd it through this extremely difficult time. Everyone will have to modify their professional behaviors, but the leader needs to set the tone for the rest of the team. With your organization adjusting to the realities of the world in 2020 and beyond, do everything you can to lead the transition to a new era and make it as smooth as possible.

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