Here’s an opportunity to see his presentation and read key findings:
Remote work is here to stay. But leadership styles have to change in this new era of virtual office life, says Dr Thomas Roulet, University Senior Lecturer in Organisation Theory at Cambridge Judge Business School.
Managing remotely during the coronavirus crisis is difficult because there is a “COVID fog of war” given uncertain business conditions that trigger employee emotions that are not visible to managers and co-workers, Thomas says in the second of a series of Cambridge Judge webinars, What’s Next? How to Survive and Thrive in a Post-COVID-19 World.
So it’s important for people managing remotely to demonstrate “transformational” leadership that relies on communication, understanding and consideration of others’ personal circumstances – what Thomas refers to as “perspective-taking” or standing in another’s shoes.
“Transformational leaders are not saying ‘this is how you’re going to go, this is what you’re going to do next,’ but instead they are asking you how you want to grow. It’s a two-way relationship. A transformational leader helps you grow, listens to your objectives, then capitalises on what he or she knows to help you grow.”
Thomas said that regular meetings are important during remote working conditions to listen to concerns and check on how people are doing, “but it needs to be done in a very sensitive manner because in some contexts it may be seen as intrusive or inappropriate.”
There’s a delicate balance to be struck, but it’s best to give people working remotely the space to offer their feelings and concerns only if they wish. “Try to do it in a way it’s not ‘asked'”, advised Thomas, who is also Deputy Director of the MBA Programme at Cambridge Judge.
He says that it’s also important for communication from managers be explicit because remote working lacks the physical social cues that people rely on in an office setting. Likewise, employees need to be more explicit in how they communicate with their managers.
The presentation by Thomas was entitled “What generalised remote work means for leadership in a post-COVID-19 world”.
Thomas noted that prior to the coronavirus pandemic, the use of video conferencing had increased only very slowly over the past decade due to “negative perceptions” about the practice, but these perceptions are now dissipating.
“This practice of remote work was for a very long time stigmatised, and it was because some people perceived an unfair advantage for people working at home or ‘I might imagine they don’t work as hard as I do’. But what we see with the COVID-19 (coronavirus) crisis is that organisations had to move 100 per cent of their workers to work remotely – it was sudden and was a matter of business necessity – and if everyone works remotely, there is no unfair advantage.”
Yet there is an advantage of remote working that promotes fairness and inclusion. Research has shown that remote “brainstorming” sessions through videoconferencing can be more effective than in-person meetings because it deters interruptions and encourages more people to participate, Thomas says.
“In physical meetings, you can have people in the margins or lower-ranked employees struggle to get points through. In virtual meetings, it makes interruption more obvious, so efforts to interrupt are more visible and more likely to be negatively perceived. Virtual brainstorming allows people to outline their ideas more fully.”