3 Skills Every Leader Must Cultivate to Successfully Manage Distributed Teams

3 Skills Every Leader Must Cultivate to Successfully Manage Distributed Teams

The COVID-19 pandemic fundamentally changed the way people work. This is changing every aspect of work—not just where and how work gets done—but also workplace design, employee-employer relationships, employee expectations, management styles and more. 

With the shift to remote work, many companies came to realize that embedded practices within their organizations no longer served a purpose; leaders woke up one day to find that their management style was no longer effective if people weren’t in the same room as them. Some employees realized that their priorities had changed. 

As a result of the changes brought forth by the pandemic and the shift to remote work, organizations are changing their policies and employees are not afraid to ask for more from their companies. It’s not business as usual, and managers need to reflect on that and act accordingly. 

Distributed teams are here to stay.

Over the past few months, companies have increasingly announced plans to embrace hybrid work models. This doesn’t come as much as a surprise, as various surveys have found that workers are ready to quit if forced back into the office full-time. In an already tight labor market, it’s only natural for leaders to accommodate employee demands in the hopes of retaining top talent. 

For managers, this means that they will be leading distributed teams most of the time, and their management style will need to adapt to better fit new work models. For many leaders, this means working more on their soft skills to ensure that employees are engaged, motivated and inspired—whether they’re working in the office, at home or from a third space. 

3 Soft Skills Every Manager Needs to Succeed in the Future of Work

Building Trust

Trust is key to the success of distributed teams; without it, nothing would get done. When managers can build trust within their teams, they will drive productivity, collaboration and engagement. 

If employees know that their leaders trust them to do a job well, they are more likely to be enthusiastic about their work. This can, in turn, increase the likelihood of innovation and disruption within an organization. When employees know they are trusted, they are not afraid to go above and beyond, to speak up or to try out things that are out of the norm. 

Beyond motivating and engaging employees, trust plays a key role in getting employees to be honest and transparent about the challenges they are facing, which makes them more likely to ask for help and support when needed to meet their goals. 

Practicing the Power of Gratitude

Various surveys have found that remote workers are more likely to feel disconnected from their teams and their company’s mission compared to their in-office counterparts. It’s easier for people to connect and engage with one another in face-to-face interactions. Although digital tools and platforms have improved the ability to work remotely, they’re not the same at replicating in-person interactions. 

To prevent employees from feeling disconnected—which can drop engagement and productivity levels—managers need to show gratitude for their teams daily. 

A simple thank you can help an employee feel included, feel like their work contributes to a company’s overarching goals and vision. It also sets an expectation for excellence, according to Nadia Tatlow, CEO of Shift

“Saying thank you in advance shows the person that you can’t even imagine that they can’t achieve what has been laid out,” Tatlow says.

This not only helps employees feel valued, but it helps them feel more connected to a company, which has become a key driver of employee attraction and retention. 

Leading with Empathy

For hybrid work models to work, leaders must be empathetic. Working remotely—whether from home or a third space—is quite different than working from the office. Empathetic leaders understand this, and they support employees based on their unique needs and circumstances. 

A recent study found that empathy is a key driver of employee outcomes in distributed teams, including innovation, engagement, and inclusion. 

In a distributed work environment, leading with empathy means respecting both an employee’s work, but also their personal life. Empathetic leaders support employees based on what matters to each individual employee, whether that is support them as they balance children and work or support them as they aim to improve their personal wellbeing. 

The future of work is employee-focused.

The “great resignation” is here. A competitive salary is no longer enough to retain top talent. Even satisfied employees are open to the idea of searching for a new job

In the current market, employees hold the leverage, and they are searching for meaning, purpose and connection at work—not just a paycheck. 

Companies that will outperform competitors in the future of work are bringing back humanity to management. They are prioritizing the employee experience and listening to what they need from the organization (delayed return to office plans, more flexibility, and more autonomy at work). 

Trust, gratitude and empathy can help distributed teams thrive; but beyond that, and more importantly, it can help organizations win the war for talent while driving employee happiness and satisfaction. 

Photo by @Sellwell/Shutterstock

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Cecilia de San Jose is Managing Editor at Allwork.Space. She writes about the future of work, workplace wellness, and flexible workspaces on a regular basis. She is also a host for Allwork.Space’s Future of Work Podcast.

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