Transformational Leadership, Volume 4:
In 2019, just 12% of UK working adults reported an element of remote working within their working week. Fast forward three years, and that figure is closer to 40% (1). In the US, just 12.7% work remotely, and 28.2% work in a hybrid capacity. However, remote jobs in the US are predicted to rise by a further 22% by 2025 (2).
As the workforce continues to transform, it's essential, now more than ever, to adopt principles of transformational leadership for remote and hybrid environments. This article will explore the changing workplace and the importance of evolving leadership styles and tactics to manage geographically dispersed teams effectively. It will also outline a series of curated recommendations for how leaders might overcome some of the challenges of managing remote and hybrid teams.
Exploring the Landscape of Remote and Hybrid Work
The widespread transition to remote and hybrid work settings has been propelled by various factors, notably the progress in technology and digital communication. The profound impact of the recent global pandemic, COVID-19, must also not be understated, with businesses and individuals forced to adopt remote working practices at very short notice. The pandemic highlighted, on a global scale, the advantages of such flexible arrangements. As a result, many organisations have since integrated remote and hybrid approaches into their operational frameworks on a more permanent basis (3).
It's well acknowledged that working remotely has several advantages. These advantages include an improved work-life balance, more flexible work schedules, and commuting hours substituted for more time with loved ones (6). In a recent survey about remote work, Forbes highlighted that 98% of workers now prefer to work remotely, at least part-time (2). This significant preference underlines the growing desire and acceptance of remote and hybrid work environments to benefit the workforce and forward-thinking organisations. Additionally, it's been demonstrated that more flexible schedules enhance employee engagement, productivity, and job satisfaction, which significantly impact the organisation (4).
However, alongside the benefits of remote and hybrid work, there are also a range of drawbacks to consider. These challenges can include the lack of in-person interactions, reduced collaboration, and communication, which can lead to the formation of strict silos within organisations. These environments may also decrease employee engagement and increase fatigue and security concerns (5).
Transformational Leadership and its Relevance
Transformational leadership has been emphasised from traditional leadership models, focusing on encouraging innovation and creativity and inspiring and empowering team members to reach their full potential, fostering positive organisational change (7).
Historically, transformational leadership was typically face-to-face within a physical workplace. However, the evolving landscape of remote and hybrid team structures necessitates a tailored approach to transformational leadership. Leadership transcends beyond team management; it entails inspiring, motivating, and guiding teams towards achieving excellence. This holds particular significance for leaders overseeing remote and hybrid teams, as it increases their role's importance, fostering a sense of purpose and a shared vision for building trust and maintaining cohesion (7).
Challenges of Transformational Leadership in Remote and Hybrid Teams
Adapting transformational leadership to a remote and hybrid workforce can be challenging. For instance, there are a lot of communication barriers with remote work, such as misunderstandings, missed emails, difficulties managing different time zones and personalities within the team, poor internet connection, or interruptions at home offices. This lack of efficient and effective communication can hinder team cohesion and collaboration, leading to members of a team potentially feeling disconnected and isolated. Additionally, due to reduced face-to-face contact and communication, leaders may struggle to build trust and maintain employee motivation, potentially leading to decreased engagement and productivity within their team (8). These difficulties highlight how crucial it is to find ways to foster teamwork and encourage open communication in remote and hybrid teams.
Tailoring Transformational Leadership for Remote and Hybrid Teams
To elevate success in the world of remote and hybrid work, it is worth exploring different approaches to transformative leadership. Here are some curated recommendations for leaders to consider (9):
Connection and Motivation: Establishing a sense of connection is essential when leading geographically dispersed teams. Regular 1:1 check-ins and team meetings can facilitate work-related catchups and discussions around progress, goals, and any challenges, which helps strengthen employee relationships. Tools like Kona can encourage employees to interact, offer regular mental health check-ins, foster a sense of camaraderie, and reduce feelings of isolation (10).
Clear Direction: Transformational leaders should consider different tactics to ensure that each team member's guidance and milestones are clear. Virtual platforms can help to share progress visually, like Doist, a management tool that makes checking in with individuals and tracking progress more effective. Employees can record their daily achievements and challenges (11). Setting attainable goals and monitoring progress can help to drive motivation and a sense of purpose.
Building Trust: Trust is the foundation of effective teamwork and team cohesion. Leaders can foster trust by remaining transparent, clear, supportive, approachable, and empathetic with all team members.
Adapting Communication Strategies: Communicating with a remote team can be challenging, particularly between cognitively diverse individuals and those in different time zones or cultures. To address this, tools like Clockwise can help schedule meetings and keep track of local time zones for employees, ensuring the best practices are developed (12). Additionally, leaders may consider scheduling frequent check-ins and establishing processes for summarising essential updates and critical developments. As well as offering a range of communication channels, such as email, video chat, chat apps, etc., to suit each individual and ensure meetings are as effective as possible with set agendas and objectives. Additionally, clear actions can be outlined towards the end of a meeting for moving forward post-meeting to ensure that everyone involved is in unison.
Focus on Staff Wellbeing: With remote and hybrid working, it is easy for staff to feel isolated and disconnected from their colleagues. Leaders should consider promoting well-being check-ins into 1:1s and encourage team members to have informal catchups or coffee connect sessions to build team cohesion and working relationships.
Encouraging Continuous Learning and Development: A transformational leader supports their teams in striving for excellence. Training and development opportunities, mainly when delivered remotely, should be engaging and interactive and should support team development and cohesion. Leaders should consider offering training resources, online courses, and development opportunities. Workramp and Lingo Live are an example of software that can effectively provide training and coaching for their employees (13,14).
To conclude, adapting transformational leadership to remote and hybrid teams is a continuous process that requires a holistic understanding of the shifting workplace landscape. Increasingly, leaders in remote and hybrid work contexts must be more flexible, creative, and people-oriented to navigate the challenges that these environments create. By focusing on clear communication, employee engagement, trust-building, and continuous development, leaders can inspire and motivate their teams from a distance, ensuring success in the work transition.