December 14, 2021
Since the beginning of 2020, there have been several seismic shifts in how and where people work. The pandemic generated a need for many offices to close, and huge numbers of employees started to work from home. With little time for planning and organization, the majority of employees soon became remote workers. Surprisingly, in many organizations, productivity increased, and engagement went up. I found that satisfaction with leaders also improved significantly. Zenger Folkman’s data from assessments comparing results on 109,419 leaders before the pandemic to 3,835 leaders in the pandemic revealed 360-degree evaluations of leaders improved (e.g., pre-pandemic 50.34, pandemic 55.01), and engagement of direct reports also increased (e.g., pre-pandemic 50.39, pandemic 53.06).
Does Managing Remote Employees Require Different Skills?
Looking at the data, my colleague Jack Zenger and I wanted to understand what skills were more important for leaders to successfully manage employees working remotely? To answer this question, we examined leaders before the pandemic started comparing those in the bottom quartile based on their overall leadership effectiveness to those in the top quartile. We then rank-ordered 60 behaviors based on the behavior that differentiated the most to the least. While all 60 behaviors showed a statistically significant difference, we were interested in the behaviors that had the most impact. We did the same study for the 3,422 leaders in the pandemic. We then looked for the behaviors that moved up the ranking and increased their importance in the pandemic. We discovered a significant shift in 12 individual behaviors that clustered into 9 capabilities and identified the skills that were more important in managing remote employees.
In a recent survey with one of our clients, we asked employees their preference for working remotely or returning to the office. Only 7% of the employees wanted to return to the office. We also found that engagement in that organization had improved significantly as they moved to remote work.
Remote work is here to stay, and the good news is that most organizations have found ways to make remote work successful. But, for engagement and productivity to remain high, leaders need to up their game in several critical areas. We have found that leaders who have the opportunity to assess their effectiveness utilizing 360-degree assessments while working with remote employees were able to identify their current level of effectiveness and identify opportunities for improvement. The leaders who were rated the lowest did not realize the need to change the way they were working with their team members.
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(This article first appeared on Forbes)
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