Fostering connections during this initially unexpected (and now ongoing) period of remote work may be one of the bigger unforeseen management challenges of our times. It’s also an area where most IT leaders don’t have extensive experience.
Interpersonal skills – particularly those that foster a culture of open and honest communication – are key to the success of remote IT organizations in this time of extreme change.
Remote work: Soft skills to cultivate now
Here are a number of particularly valuable soft skills IT leaders can cultivate to best support their remote teams. On a related note, not everyone likes the term “soft skills:” Dan Roberts has passionately argued that IT should rebrand this competency set as core skills. Either way, the pandemic makes this set of skills and emotional intelligence more crucial than ever to group success.
“Leaders who are high in authenticity build trust and put others at ease by sharing their own emotions and experiences and revealing stories and lessons that resonate with others’ own situations,” says Suzanne Bates, CEO of at executive coaching and assessment firm Bates Communications. “A leader is able to connect with people as a human being, gain their trust as a person, and then as a leader.” Unfortunately, not everyone recognizes the importance of this or does it well.
The good news? One unexpected benefit of the virtual workplace is that some traditional barriers to authenticity have disappeared. Your employees are catching glimpses of the human behind the leader in his or her natural environment. In addition, Bates notes, “We have had to tackle difficult issues in a real way, and in many cases, as leaders, we are sharing more about our feelings and experiences than we usually share because we are also going through such a challenging and unprecedented time.”
[ Want more first-hand advice? Read Virtual onboarding: How to welcome new hires while fully remote. ]
2. Flexibility of mindset
This is no time for rigid adherence to any particular mindset or plan, even recently decided ones. “I’ve learned the value of ‘intellectual humility,’ or the ability to have ideas tomorrow that can contradict ideas today,” says Josh Christopherson, CEO of leadership and skill-building platform Achieve Today. “Essentially, it’s flexibility of mind. The more you practice this mindset, the more flexible you’ll be as a manager and leader in any situation that arises.”
Watercooler convos and deskside check-ins are no more. “To show your colleagues that you’re still an active participant, make yourself available for collaboration,” says Sara Tallion, engagement manager for Theorem. “Offer to brainstorm over video chat if a colleague is facing a task roadblock, and don’t be afraid to turn to your team if you need help, too.”
Bates suggests creating forums for back-and-forth exchanges, such as skip-level meetings, virtual walkarounds, small-group virtual lunches and coffees, or one-on-ones. “Your only agenda should be to see how your team members are doing, get their feedback, listen to what they are working on, and perhaps share a story about what you are working on or what you are wrestling with so others hear from you too,” Bates says. “If the conversation only goes one way, you are losing the opportunity to connect on a human level.”
[ How do your team meetings stack up? Read also: Zoom tips: 6 ways to make meetings better. ]
4. Empathy (plus action)
Everyone is struggling with working from home on some level, and it’s critical IT leaders demonstrate that they understand the challenges. “It’s important to be aware of the many different conditions in which your team members may be operating at different times,” says Christopherson. “Some may be working on projects while caring for sick family. Others may be trying to take calls while keeping kids busy, or trying to work while struggling with feelings of isolation. Your value as a leader or manager oftentimes is your ability to help people through some of these challenges and be aware of them.”
Empathy alone is not enough, however. IT leaders should work to remove barriers that are preventing employees from being productive, says Knoa Software CEO Brian Berns, whether that’s flextime to deal with home or school issues, psychological counseling to assist with depression and anxiety, or technology that can help them better concentrate in the domestic environment (such as noise-canceling headphones).
While operating remotely in a dispersed fashion and remotely has some benefits, it can also require some creativity from team members to be most effective. Inventiveness is key.
There are no unresourceful people, insists Kimberly Roush, founder of All-Star Executive Coaching and co-author of Who Are You… When You Are Big?, but there are unresourceful states of mind. “They include fear, doubt, and stress,” Roush says. “People are often unresourceful when they feel overwhelmed, or when they become judgmental.”
Resourceful states, on the other hand, tend to be on the more positive side of the spectrum. Those that are confident, empathetic, playful, energetic, enthusiastic, curious, joyful, engaged, or grateful tend to be more creative. The more IT leaders can model these states or create the foundation for them in others, the better.
Let’s explore five more soft skills to cultivate now:
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