This article originally appeared on on January 27, 2021

Between the economic and psychological hit of the COVID-19 pandemic to the new reality of managing remote teams, leaders are overwhelmed. They are looking for ways to ensure their workforce not only survives the new norm of complete or partial remote work but is even more productive, collaborative and mentally healthy than before.

Succeeding with a remote workforce is possible. GitLab, an open source software company, has over 1,300 employees who all work remotely. The difference between most companies and GitLab is that it was created with an all-remote team in mind — meaning that it established rigorous processes to achieve it, including a 3,000-page handbook and formal informal communication processes.

But last year, most leaders didn’t have the luxury of planning for the shift to remote work. Instead, they had to figure out how to effectively lead their team and organization through remote work as they went along.

Effects of Working Remotely

Although we are still learning how remote work affects people and organizations, early indications are that it leads to:

Less Effective Communication

The lack of in-person communication has caused a large increase in the volume of emails and messages sent electronically, as well as a barrage of video meetings daily. This increase in virtual communication has also led to an increase in miscommunication.

Longer Workdays

According to a study by Atlassian, a workplace software development company, employees who used its platform averaged an additional 30 minutes of work per day after the onset of the pandemic. We can attribute this shift to more meetings, a sense of job insecurity and a feeling that they need to be available at all times.

Blurred Boundaries

Leaders once feared that work-from-home employees would spend working hours watching Netflix, playing video games or engaged in other non-work activities. Instead, the opposite has happened: Employees are working endlessly, checking emails throughout the days and evenings, taking video calls late into the evening, and having trouble defining the end of a workday.

Working more hours and mixing personal and work time can be unhealthy. As a result, many employees are under more stress and have a greater potential for burnout. Fatigue and constant check-ins via email, video and text may lead to decreases in both deep, focused work and productive outcomes.

This situation has even the best leaders feeling uncertain and, in many cases, ill-equipped to manage their teams. Adding to their plate, leaders feel pressured to develop a viable solution to create and maintain a balanced and productive workforce while recovering from the business impact from the pandemic. Before the pandemic, leaders had a better understanding of what to do and what questions to ask to help their workforce and organizations excel. But COVID-19 has disrupted their organizations and is continually challenging their leadership skills.

Making Sure Remote Work Actually Works

Experts agree the typical office workplace will not return to what it was before, so leaders have to learn and apply their knowledge to thrive. As a leader, it’s on you to make remote working work for your team. How will you leverage what you experienced in 2020 to make 2021 a remarkable year?

5 Questions to Ask Yourself

  1. What is the correct balance between remote and on-site team members?
  2. How can you create a greater sense of the connection, collaboration and camaraderie that your team members are craving now?
  3. How can you use your new understanding of your team members’ lives to be more compassionate in your leadership?
  4. How can you listen differently to hear what your team members are not saying and determine when they need additional support or interaction?
  5. How can you measure the productivity of a remote team to reflect the shift to remote work?

Finding The Answers

Many leaders lean on coaches and consultants to accelerate their learning and implement new practices. Working with a coach can teach you how to take the lessons from 2020 and apply them now. By understanding remote work teams, you can reduce employee turnover, burnout and stress — all of which can affect productivity and overall results.

When remote work is working, leaders are less stressed and no longer feel they are in a no-win situation. They have peace of mind knowing that their team will thrive in this new reality.

The Bottom Line – Untethered Does Not Mean Unmanageable

I have been coaching and consulting clients remotely via Zoom and other remote methods since I started my business. Through video conferencing tools, I’ve helped lead organizations to positive changes in their workforce, even if it is untethered.

I give practical advice to business leaders who may be struggling to manage an untethered workforce in my upcoming book, “Yeah…But”

Let’s turn conversations into outcomes.

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