In recent weeks, many organizations have had a crash course in how to work remotely. Remote work, until recently a perk for a select few, is now a necessity.
Many organizations are likely to find a number of benefits. Talented software developers no long need to move to Silicon Valley or Bangalore. Research shows that 80% of respondents would demonstrate greater loyalty to employers that offer flexible work.
Successful remote work requires more than reliable IT infrastructure. Project teams collaborating over screens and chat boxes, often across far-flung time zones and geographies, need new skills to do their best work.
These remote work skills have been known as “soft skills”, but that term undersells their importance. Stanford professor Behnam Tabrizi embraces the term “power skills” for enduring human capabilities and attributes like empathy, emotional intelligence, and especially communication. Best practices for in-person meetings – such as establishing clear action items – typically need to be over-emphasized or even exaggerated in virtual settings
A few examples of skills taking greater relevance:
The days are numbered for “command and control” leadership. Researchers have found that project professionals rank collaborative leadership as the single most essential team skill.
Leaders need to inspire and motivate to maximize the creativity and productivity of their teams. They can’t rely on issuing directives. Increasingly, our work is interdisciplinary across teams, often with colleagues outside of our formal organizational lines of authority. In a virtual environment, checking in on potentially isolated team members isn’t as simple as taking a stroll through the office.
The remedy is to meaningfully connect with team members. Don’t just order – explain why a project matters, how it relates to a bigger purpose, and solicit ideas on how it could be executed more efficiently.
Empathy for the Voice of a Customer
For dispersed team members, the voice of the customer serves as the center of gravity. That’s why high-performing teams build customer feedback into all project workflows; they know that customer centricity is the essential ingredient keeping the team focused on delivering value.
Empathy is an essential remote work skill when managing remote teams, particularly during challenging times like the current crisis. Leaders should be sure to communicate frequently, follow up on signs of lagging performance or morale, and keep in mind the conflicting demands on colleagues caring for children or loved ones while working from home. Team members may be feeling isolated without their usual dosage of face time. Meeting regularly with colleagues fosters personal connection. Use video tools to the greatest extent possible to recreate the face-to-face experience.
An Innovative Mindset
Well-facilitated online interactions can help ensure that your team keeps their creativity flowing even when they can’t brainstorm around a whiteboard together. Ideating, prototyping, and testing ideas concepts virtually are the key ingredients for turning your ideas into reality.
Great breakthroughs require a variety of perspectives, which is why the myth of the lone inventor tinkering away in the garage on a game-changing revolution is just that – a myth. Good ideas can be bogged down when “design by committee” results in too many perspectives blurring the vision.
It may be beneficial to split larger teams into smaller, scrum-like groups in virtual environments; this allows for easier communication as anyone can attest after attending a packed WebEx meeting. Smaller teams result in more focused calls and enable everyone to have a voice in the discussion. Nimble teams have more time for brainstorming and creative thinking, not just conversations about tasks.
As our organizations continue to shift to increasingly virtual and digital environments, these power skills will increasingly be in demand to effectively organize teams and deliver value. What remote work skills have you found to be most essential at your organization?