Even though the pros, cons and business outcomes for remote working were being tested in some organizations pre-Covid-19, it was surely not the priority for every business as it is now. The pandemic caught us off guard, and suddenly we found ourselves at home, without remote-work-specific workflows, processes and training to perform effectively. And it wasn’t all roses for business leaders, either. They were expected to step up and continue meeting strategic goals on the go while facing unparalleled stress, uncertainty and tough decision-making.
As we are moving through turbulent times, all indicators point to one thing: Remote working is here to stay, and traditional leadership approaches aren’t suited to tackling the challenges of this virtual working environment.
So, what should effective leadership be like for remote working in a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA) environment?
Leadership 4.0: A Modern Approach To Remote Management
As one of the main topics at the World Economic Forum 2019, “Leadership 4.0” has become a byword in the human resources industry for the past few years. It was basically coined in the context of a much-needed and modern leadership model to be applied to the business needs of Industry 4.0 (the fourth industrial revolution) and to lead the future of work.
Here are the key characteristics of Leadership 4.0 and why I believe it’s the necessary approach to leading virtual teams.
1. The Leader Serving As A Facilitator
In my opinion, the most distinguishing skill of this leadership profile is the ability to have the mindset of co-creation rather than command and control. You don’t have the luxury to micromanage in today’s dynamic work environment. And if it was difficult to do so in the office, it is now impossible in the remote workplace. So, the leader needs to actively delegate tasks and empower every team member to contribute fully.
Unlike the old-school leader who bosses around, a facilitating leader leaves their ego behind and acknowledges that they don’t have to know all the answers. In this regard, I usually recommend leaders “embrace their vulnerability.” Being humble and triggering their childlike curiosity are key here.
This way, leaders focus on mutual achievement by advancing and leveraging different perspectives, talents and cultures within the organization. This skill is also paramount to lead multicultural teams (which are most likely to increase with remote working), where identifying and transforming conflict is important.
2. Providing A Transparent Environment
The transition to Leadership 4.0 requires a transparent and open environment that encourages everyone to take initiative without fear of any kind. Leaders should pave the way for clear communication that strengthens proactive behavior and accountability.
More importantly, transparent communication eliminates uncertainties about the organization/roles and gives employees a stronger sense of control in these challenging times. This prevents them from feeling disconnected by sharing a common goal and by being included as a part of something bigger: a strong company culture.
3. Being Flexible And Agile
“Being able to embrace vulnerability” and “act on changes quickly in stressful conditions” were the essential qualities of a great leader throughout the pandemic.
Until recently, following business trends and being prepared for almost-predictable future changes were counted as being a good leader. This evolved into responding to unexpected challenges by quickly evaluating risks, prioritizing tasks and solving general organizational issues. This includes strategic business decisions as well as implementing flexible work scheduling for employees to maintain their work-life balance.
4. Being Tech-Savvy
We rely on technology more than ever. And needless to say, modern leaders need to be technology-driven. However, I’m not only talking about being able to use virtual meeting tools or live chat apps. What successful leaders do differently is that they drive the digital transformation in their organizations. They prioritize implementing new technologies into strategic decision-making processes and invest in disruptive technologies for increasing productivity and utilizing talent better within the organization.
5. Setting And Maintaining Ethical Values
Since remote working is likely to stick around as common practice, it is likely for many organizations to be more multicultural than ever before. At this point, it will be crucial for leaders to establish and promote an ethical code, keeping cross-cultural differences in mind. These values should be included in the company culture, and they should serve as a guide to employees on how to engage with each other and customers and how to take a stand on social issues.
The sudden transition to remote work challenged organizations to rethink their overall practices and processes to manage a distributed workforce. However, I see this as an opportunity for leaders first to improve their leadership skills, and then to develop better communication strategies, strengthen the company culture, upskill the workforce, boost efficiency and accelerate digital transformation.