Technology at once frees us and isolates us. With work a more nebulous concept rather than a destination, how should effective leadership work in the age of isolation?
The unstoppable development of technology has completely changed the way we live and work. Our workplaces are always connected, and always on. Video conferences link remote workers, meetings have given way to online discussions, and everyone is at the mercy of their inbox 24/7.
When used properly, responsibly and carefully, technology makes people more productive. But the negative consequences can be strong. A recent survey, Coping with Workplace Distractions hones in on the flipside of constant connectivity. It shows that around 75% of workers feel distracted and disengaged at work. Just over 16% are always distracted. Why? Too much emphasis on technology.
How can effective leadership thrive in the modern world of 2019? By focusing on the human connection. After all, leadership is about creating environments that influence people to achieve group goals.
Effective leadership lies in face-to-face communication
We’re working longer hours, taking fewer holidays and feeling pressure to always be available. This leads to burnout. Distraction in the workplace stops employees from bringing their best self to work, ultimately denting the company’s growth.
Leaders should flip the script. Yes, technology remains vitally important to a successful business in 2019. But establishing a real, human relationship with their team is still the most valuable leadership skill. Here’s how:
- Create a leadership strategy.
- Be an accountable leader
- Use technology as a link, not a barrier.
- Take the time to talk face-to-face.
- Spend money and time bringing together remote workers.
- Set an example of how best to use technology.
- Understand the impact of AI and new tech.
- Future-proof your leadership skills.
Create a leadership strategy
Every organisation needs a business strategy. It should be well-defined, clearly laid out and accessible. But so many organisations fail to create the leadership strategy that’s necessary to make it work.
Disconnection between organisational strategy and the company leaders fails to properly equip management, workplace talent or day to day business leaders to meet the needs of the business.
An effective leadership strategy explicitly lays out who is leading, where they’re needed, the skills they use and how they will manage their team. To be an effective business leader, you need to create a strategy that aligns with the overarching organisational goals, and clearly defines your place in it.
Be an accountable leader
To be accountable, leaders must take responsibility. This starts with being honest, which can be difficult for business leaders who are new to the challenges in front of them. Being completely honest as a leader means being honest about your mistakes and being honest with the team you are leading. To be accountable, you must review your own role within a situation and use it to devise a solution for any challenges or problems.
An accountable leader isn’t afraid to say sorry when something has gone off course. The way to fully utilise an apology is to back it up with real action. Commit to fixing the problem, make a plan and talk to your team about how you can work together to reach the end goal.
The final piece of an accountable leader comes with asking for input, whether that’s from a boss, their peers, direct reports or friends. Looking for ways to do things differently, to do things more efficiently, to handle situations more effectively is part of strong, effective leadership.
Use technology as a link, not a barrier
Use technology as a bridge to reach your team. It’s all too easy to use texts and emails as a barrier to real-life interaction. The convenience of simply emailing or texting is an addictive call for most people. Effective leaders should ditch this kind of communication where possible in favour of a real-life meeting or phone call.
Almost 90% of people in one survey say one-on-one meetings are their ultimate communication method.
Take the time to talk face-to-face
A face-to-face conversation can be more effective than a long chain of emails, which lack tone and nuance. Handling any emotional issues, such as conflict resolution or hiring new people, should always be in person.
Conversations between leaders and team members build employee confidence and trust. Your team-members are more likely to tell you about any issues face-to-face. Holding regular meetings in person with your team is an effective way to encourage motivation and halt burnout.
Interestingly, in-person meetings generate around 13.36 ideas, while remote meetings just 10.43. However, video-conferencing is an effective way of maintaining important links with remote workers and should be held regularly if in-person isn’t possible.
Build a workable remote working culture
Working remotely is a major part of many organisation’s culture. According to the TUC, there are now more than 1.5 million people in the UK working from home. And while almost 60% of workers say working from home increases motivation and productivity, 56% think their leaders need to improve management of remote workers.
Remote working isn’t going anywhere. As organisations adapt to the technology necessary, and listen to what employees want, we’ll see more remote workers in 2019 than ever before. Effective business leaders need to work differently to maintain a workable company culture. While remote working is more flexible for workers, it’s also much more isolating. It may seem impossible to maintain a strong culture across time zones, different countries or simply with people off-site. But it’s always possible.
Hold regular videoconferences with remote workers, consider ‘workations’ where everyone can get together a couple of times a year. Regular social events for every employee are also important ways of maintaining company connections. It costs money to get people together, but it’s cheaper in the long run to keep valuable employees motivated and connected with your team.
Set an example
While training is always important in the workplace for new technologies, the way leaders use tech themselves has more of an effect on employees. Responsible adoption of all technology in the workplace is a top-down process.
Employees will take their lead from their managers. How they use tech will filter down through the workforce. For effective leadership, put face-to-face contact at the top of the list. This can be achieved through video conferencing, FaceTime or any of the many face-to-face chat solutions available today.
Texting has its place, of course, but should be reserved for low priority communication. For example, texting a team member details of a meeting is appropriate. Texting a team member about an aspect of their performance deserves face-to-face communication. Use technology to get everyone to a meeting, and then put your phone down. When people are in the room, screens are always second in priority.
Understand the impact of AI and new tech
Constant upskilling is also key for effective leaders in the workplace. The unprecedented rate of change in how we work will not slow down. There’s little doubt that employees will soon co-exist with AI and automation, and understanding new technology is vital for leaders to use it productively.
Hard skills, such as data science and AI must co-exist with soft skills, such as work prioritisation, team work and communication. Organisations should focus on having the right talent available at the right time to take advantage of innovative technology. Skills like these are vital for the future of all our workplaces, no matter the sector. And they are the skills that will define effective leadership.
Future-proof your leadership skills
AI and automation will increase their presence in the workplace in 2019 and beyond. There is no doubt that the future lies in leading employees that will be working alongside ever more sophisticated technology.
Soft skills such as effective face-to-face communication, managing remote workers, listening to employees and maintaining positivity are necessary leadership skills now. They always have been. But they will be even more significant as we move into a post-digital work world.
Effective leadership is more important in 2019 than ever before. Good managers and leaders bring unique value to the workplace. Understanding how to create and maintain the right kind of environment for employees to thrive and work with technology is at the heart of any effective leader’s strategy. Embrace the future and thrive.
Experienced lawyer and international corporate consultant, Mary-Rose McLean is Head of Corporate, Legal and Yachting Services at Moores Rowland, Monaco. Mary-Rose has been based in Monaco since 2007, and she specialises in leadership, consultancy and managing international transactions for high net worth clients.