Work-From-Home Leadership

As I talk to industry colleagues, consult and advise companies on business opportunities and interview with a range of companies seeking to fill leadership positions, it is clear there is not one way companies are dealing with the virtual work environment. During this pandemic, work-from-home (WFH) has transitioned from a “nice-to-have” aspect of a company culture to an essential mechanism to keep businesses operating.

While every company is approaching WFH in a different way, there are some best practices for leaders to ensure the WFH experience is as productive, connected and collaborative as possible.

  1. Recognize & Embrace Different Styles
    • Why do some people seem to love to talk frequently, dominate meeting conversations and be the first ones to offer ideas or concerns, while others sit more silently and only offer guarded responses? Of course I’m describing an oversimplified Extrovert vs. Introvert example, but it’s important to recognize how WFH changes this dynamic.
    • WFH significantly changes the interactions people have – from office discussions, to social interactions, to idea generations – and losing this social interaction is tough for an Extrovert who tends to source energy through the interaction with others. This need for social interaction can also cause Extroverts to become more distracted at home. On the flip side, an Introvert may LOVE working for 4 hours without office distractions, perhaps even increasing productivity, but find frequent and cumbersome video calls distracting and exhausting. An introvert will likely be less proactive at reaching out to multiple colleagues, which can cause additional feelings of employee distance during remote working.
    • In this case, how people source their energy is neither good nor bad, just different. As leaders, it’s our job to understand our teams and engage them to support and encourage them to succeed.
  2. Emphasize Some Structure
    • Distractions happen every day, and WFH offers a whole new set of daily distractions that can reduce productivity. Not only do we need to personally create structure and boundaries (especially Extroverts), but as leaders, it is often helpful to create a sort of structural engagement that establishes some normal cadence of team interaction.
    • Example: Establishing a Monday afternoon and Thursday afternoon team leadership update videoconference, with a clear agenda and set of expectations, does two things. (1) Engages the whole team to build some camaraderie and get the team feeling “we’re in this together”; (2) Has time-bound goals and report-outs in place to drive some more structure and time management.
  3. Over-Emphasize Connection
    • I’ve mentioned the importance of connection above, but it’s more than just establishing structure and recognizing different styles. Demonstrating empathy is even more critical today. If you have a video call, regardless if it’s with one or ten people, take some time and let people exchange stories and express feelings.
    • While the people working in your organization are professional, they are also human, and concerns about safety, health, schooling, money and simply a heightened sense of uncertainty are dominating people’s lives. Honor that, empathize with the team members and seek ways to help them navigate.