Leading Made Simple

4 Behaviors to Lead a Remote Workforce in a VUCA Environment?

The impact of the pandemic on all facets of life has created the perfect storm, a classic VUCA environment! One consequence is the transition to a predominantly remote workforce.

The term VUCA originated in 1987 to help describe the highly dynamic environment of modern warfare for military strategy planning. It has meanwhile evolved into a trendy managerial acronym: VUCA, short for volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity, and a blanket term for “It’s a crazy world out there!” However, VUCA conflates four distinct concepts of challenges that require four distinct types of responses. That consideration makes it difficult to determine how to approach a challenging, multifaceted situation and requires unconventional planning techniques. But that is a subject for another time…

Keeping a remote workforce connected

Video conferencing in a remote work environment

Any one of us can be an effective leader of a remote workforce during a crisis if we deliberately choose to help others succeed!

The consequences of the COVID19 pandemic are also multifaceted at best, most might call them chaotic. Many of these consequences have a far-reaching and long-lasting impact on individuals, organizations, companies, and society at large. The crisis has taken on global proportions and one of the consequences for many is working from home. For some, working from home was a privilege they enjoyed as a perk in the past, now it has become a necessity for anyone in a function that makes working remotely a feasible alternative.

Of course, this is not as simple and straight forward as it may appear on the surface and leaders on all levels of the hierarchy are dealing with new challenges in this context. For the leaders of teams, departments and organizations I suggest assessing the situation first from the employee’s perspective. How could this look like?

People are stressed by the daily events caused by the pandemic, business closures, sudden layoffs and furloughs causing loss of income, lack of essential goods in stores, etc. They may have spouses, siblings, and others in their personal circles having to deal with significant hardship. In addition, comes the actual threat of anyone becoming infected and requiring possible medical care that may not be readily available as we can see in the daily news coverage. Topping things off with the fact that their children are now at home, too, as schools and daycare facilities are closed.

Now, this is the potential environment they will be operating in for the time they are working remotely. Let that sink in for a moment before we look at the other side of the coin.

As leaders, we must continue our foremost duty to create results through the people we lead.

Obviously, considering this changed environment combined with a different work setup we are not used to, is untested territory for many leaders. Consequently, our approach may require new strategies and tactics to stay effective.

When we are stressed, we tend to become self-focused which is a natural response. Everything becomes narrowed down to “me” and “my results” and, therefore, we begin seeing others as objects rather than human beings. Effective leaders understand that their results are created through their people and the important focus must be the impact their leadership behavior makes on their people, especially in such challenging times.

Here are 4 behaviors I suggest practicing during the current crisis to help you in being highly effective with your remote team:

  1. For you to be the best you can be as a leader and human being requires effective de-stressing activities like getting enough rest and recovery, take short periods of time to relax, meditate, do some yoga exercises, think, or work out. It is all about active (constructive) rest. Keep in mind, when your body is tired exercise your mind and when your mind is tired, exercise your body to manage balance! If you are at your best your team will follow. (Screen time of any sort, like video games, social media, etc. is not conducive as it is highly stimulating and stress-inducing, instead of relaxing.)
  1. Increase reaching out to your people (your direct reports) more frequently than you usually do on an individual basis, too. Check in with them individually via video call or phone and show authentic curiosity about how they are doing working from home and coping with their situation. Listen and learn! These check-ins are not about you or the work they are doing, but about them and how they feel. If you learn to show genuine interest and care, you will enhance relationships and engagement, both highly important in a distributed operational environment!
  2. Pay sensitive attention to burnout! One very pertinent reason for burnout is a perceived lack of connection. The physical environment of isolation (typical for people working from home!) working remotely often creates a sense of isolation of thought. Consequently, it is very important for leaders of distributed operating teams to display a heightened measure of empathy and overall use of emotional intelligence.
  3. Stay away from scarcity thinking and its resulting rhetoric! Focus on abundance thinking, seeking possibility, and identifying viable opportunities is the ticket to lead and engage a team in the first place, especially remote work teams. Don’t step into the trap of what can’t be done and move towards evaluating options of progress and positive change.

Good luck, stay safe, and help your team to succeed! If you would like to explore additional facets of effective leadership let’s talk!

Manfred Gollent

Manfred Gollent is a certified business coach and the founder of QLI International LLC. He works with a variety of clients from Fortune 500 executives to small business entrepreneurs on leadership and strategy development since 2006. Prior to founding QLI International, Manfred has been a turn-around executive in a Fortune 500 company with global operations. During his 30+ years in the corporate world, he led the rebuilding of underperforming subsidiaries in the United States, Europe, and Asia by developing their leadership team and organization, restructuring their market portfolio, operations and efficiency to improve results toward meeting investor’s expectations. Aside from his international corporate career, Manfred has served on company boards in the UK, Belgium, Norway, France, Spain, Italy, Germany, Singapore, Philippines, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Australia, and the United States.