3 ways to focus relationship building in your leadership style

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Employees and companies embrace flexible scheduling arrangements. Pew research suggests that of those eligible for virtual work, about 7 in 10 do so. And McKinsey reports that more than half would like to continue working from home at least three days a week in the future. Rather than waiting for a “return to normal,” business leaders must prioritize teams that lead remotely to the best of their abilities.

Becoming a better leader in the world of remote work isn’t as simple as increasing the frequency of video conferencing. Business leaders must understand how to build and nurture connections, whether with employees or customers, even when operating in a digital workforce.

Leading change (especially during a pandemic) is a challenge that deserves to be tackled more effectively and creatively.

How can those managing a remote team ensure that their team members benefit from live trainer training to upgrade or upskill? What are the ways to keep virtual associates motivated and engaged beyond offering aggressive and progressive benefits? Where can you source diverse remote workers so they can better serve customers — and how do you keep current employees from leaving amid the Great Resignation?

Related: Remote work is here to stay: Are you ready for the new way of life?

Retooling your leadership talents to handle remote and hybrid challenges

Addressing these questions is difficult, but not impossible. Anyone can learn how to be a leader at work — even when everyone feels scattered or working on different schedules in person. The key is to understand what your team needs. McKinsey & Co. states that employers often underestimate the relational aspects of a job, such as being valued by their leaders and organizations and feeling a sense of belonging. Employees, on the other hand, said these were some of the most important aspects to finding job satisfaction.

If you’ve been responsible for driving change, read the following remote leadership tips to keep people connected regardless of distance. Work to improve your empathy, stay open to new opportunities, attract new talent, retain your best performers, and create a clear image for your future partners. That way, you can achieve success no matter where the future of work lies is directed.

Related: 6 ways connections make you feel like you belong anywhere with any workplace

1. Seek out mentors outside of your business or industry

When you’re at the top of your organizational chart, you won’t always be able to find mentors from within your company — but that’s not always necessary. Mentors can play the role of everything from cautionary advisor to sound system, so be open to looking for potential mentors outside of your field.

Thinking of joining a board? Do it. Joining a board unrelated to your industry, such as a non-profit board, will give you greater access to potential mentors. You’ll discover what strategies have worked for them in their businesses — and what tactics have failed. One of the most valuable aspects of my service on the Ohio State Colleges and Schools Career Board is the ability to share the challenges and opportunities that surround serving an adult learner. Like me, you may find that your interactions as a board member could become the launching pad for intelligent solutions to keep you leading with confidence even as the world of work continues to evolve.

Related: Studies prove the benefits of mentors, how do you find them?

2. Teach others

Knowing your craft is one thing. Sharing your knowledge is another. When you teach, you position yourself as an expert. You also force yourself to find ways to transfer your expertise to students. By mentoring employees or promoting mentoring programs in your company, you create an empathetic bond with your subordinates and create more opportunities for active engagement.

Gallup figures suggest employee disengagement hovers around 85%. And with loneliness affecting roughly two-thirds of young adults, you can’t afford to ignore the importance of connecting your remote workers to you, each other, and your company. The more connected your employees feel, the less likely they are to leave.

Your teaching doesn’t have to be formal coaching either. Set up short sessions in which you serve as the teacher. Feel free to find other ways to share what you know, such as writing how-to articles, creating videos, and creating infographics. Who knows? You may end up becoming the thought leader not only for your company but also for your field, increasing your credibility with employees, colleagues and customers.

Related: How entrepreneurs are connecting in the age of isolation

3. Start focus groups

You may think you know how to lead the people you influence every day, but don’t let hubris guide you. Do a gut check by setting up regular focus groups. Employee focus groups and even customer-based focus groups can provide one of the best learning experiences you’ll ever have. Although it can be difficult to listen without responding during intense focus group sessions, do your best to use only your ears.

Focus groups with your remote and hybrid workers can allow you to uncover any gaps in your communication or workflows. You’ll get a better pulse on everyone’s attitude, not to mention an inside look at any barriers that are keeping your team members from reaching their true potential on and off the clock. After each focus group, take time to reflect. Then use what you’ve heard as a springboard for future decisions.

Right now, there is no discretionary rule in the workplace. Every company faces a unique internal experiment while driving change. As a part-time or full-time virtual staff leader, you need to focus on improving your core competencies so you can be a vital asset to yourself, your crew, and your organization.

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