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Vice President & UK/ROI Country Leader, Sending Technology Solutions, Pitney Bowes

Nine out of ten employees are currently requesting to work from home, according to a study from recruitment firm Randstad.  The latest driver for this shift further towards remote working is not just improved productivity and a better work/life balance, but a need to save money on rising public transport costs and soaring fuel prices.

With more than 8 in 10 UK businesses planning to retain hybrid working, permanently, organisations are reliant on leadership to make it a success, but the successful management of remote teams requires adjustments to managers’ skills and behaviours. One study found around 40% of supervisors and managers had low self-confidence in their ability to manage workers remotely. Almost a quarter disagreed with the statement “I am confident I can manage a team of remote workers”.

Leaders that have quickly and comfortably made the transition to remote working have skills, values and behaviours in common:

Trust. Trust has become more important than ever with teams working remotely, but many employers still do not trust their remote workers fully.  We are either ‘automatic trusters’ or ‘evidence-based trusters’, according to research cited by Forbes. Good leaders know which category they fall into.  They set expectations with their team and work closely to build trust.

Communicate. Communication builds trust, shows transparency and boosts motivation.  With so many communications channels available, there is pressure to be ‘always on’. Managers should discuss as a team which channels work best for them all as individuals, but also set boundaries: urgent messages only to be sent beyond standard working hours, for example.

Drive engagement. Companies with highly engaged employees see greater  retention, greater productivity, deliver a better customer experience and are on average 21% more profitable than those reporting lower levels of engagement. Good leaders of remote teams actively drive engagement through interaction, delegation, sharing information, feedback and praise.

Champion their organisation’s culture and values. The right culture gives people a sense of belonging and the confidence to bring their ‘whole selves’ to their role. It attracts talent, generates engagement and makes buyers feel good about buying from you. Building culture in remote teams requires strong connections with employees, effective collaboration and regular catch-up sessions. Informal virtual meetings and celebrations can forge a sense of belonging, but avoid ‘enforced fun’; respect boundaries and do not put  pressure on individuals to share personal stories.

Encourage time out.  The average employee spent just 3.6 days sick at home in 2020 according to ONS figures – the lowest on record, despite being in the middle of a pandemic. Sick leave for home workers is perceived as a grey area – 89% of CIPD survey respondents had observed staff working when unwell – but removing a commute doesn’t mean employees can, or should, work through their illness. During the pandemic, 40% of workers did not take their full entitlement of holiday leave, found an ACAS and YouGov poll.  Not taking leave they are entitled too can lead to health problems in the longer-term, so good leaders of remote teams encourage time out – and recognise when their team needs it.

Recognise loneliness. 30% of remote workers in the UK experience loneliness and isolation, found recent research from the Mental Health Foundation. Strong leadership will take steps to prevent this – promoting flexible working, educating teams on wellbeing and finding ways to engage employees – and look for signs this may be impacting some of their team members. Ryan Jenkins and Steven Van Cohen in their book ‘Connectable’ highlight strategies such as engaging team members by asking them for their help or their opinion; and regularly praising workers.

Find new ways to measure. Too many leaders still measure output, not outcomes. An outcome-driven strategy is often better for remote workers, empowering workers, enabling them to prioritise their time and reducing the risk of burnout. As a leader, agree what you and your team want to achieve and the impact it will have on your business: as well as financial and sales targets, are you looking to achieve an improved Net Promoter Score? Better scores in your client surveys? Improved client retention? Set goals; discuss progress; provide support and change tack if you need to.

Equip and empower. Most businesses are more than two years in to working from home. For many workers, that’s two years of ‘making do’ with old monitors, outdated laptops, software that needs updating, bad Wi-Fi, uncomfortable chairs and insufficient work set-ups. The practical stuff often gets forgotten about but can be a barrier to workers doing their jobs effectively. Make sure your team is equipped with the right tools to do their jobs well. It can make a huge difference.

Train and develop teams… One in every three remote employees is worried about being overlooked for opportunities and promotions, according to a study, as ‘proximity bias’ favours those located in a traditional workplace. Build out development plans, make sure your succession plans are up to date and reward training. Encourage your team to take time out for learning – reallocate work so they can do this if you need to. And offer training beyond your employees’ day-to-day role. What do they want to achieve, in the long term? What training will help them get there?

..And continue their own learning journey. Accessing training and support for leaders of remote teams remains critical if they are to deliver strong leadership to businesses adopting hybrid working. Training on improving Diversity, Equity and Inclusion is a priority and will become more so as remote businesses look to draw talent from a wide spectrum of communities. Here at Pitney Bowes I’ve trained as a Mental Health First Aider, which has been a privilege. It has taught me when, and how, to encourage thoughtful, valuable conversations about mental health that might previously have been uncomfortable, as well as how to provide support.  

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