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Remote new world: the top 5 mistakes leaders make

With the outbreak of coronavirus COVID-19 in full swing overseas and Australia preparing to for when it hits us in earnest, business and leaders are grappling with how to manage their work and staff.

As covered in our last blog about remote work, working remotely has been steadily rising and may become the new normal. But this is new territory for many and working remotely can go wrong.

The latest study on remote working by Buffer showed that the top 3 biggest challenges for employee who work remotely are:

  1. Collaboration and communication

  2. Loneliness

  3. Not being able to unplug

1. Lack of transparent and consistent communication

Issues with communication is one of the most common management problems with remote workers. Effective and efficient communication is the cornerstone of functioning teams, and this is true especially for remote teams.

What you can do:

  • Employees feel isolated when communication fails – set aside deliberate time for checking in with teams, projects and individuals.

  • Give space in digital meetings for all parties to speak and feel heard.

  • Check for understanding after every meeting to make sure everyone is on the same page.

  • Don’t rely on a single form of communication, e.g. just email, just Slack.

2. Lack of trust

Lack of transparency as well as feeling forgotten in a geographically isolated work setting can cause trust issues between managers and staff. And this mind frame is especially easy to shift into in uncertain and constantly changing times, as COVID-19 has done.

Transparency from both employer and employees is very important to make sure everyone is one the same page.

What you can do:

  • Actively listen to staff fears and concerns and make the effort to touch in with all parts of your organisation

  • Have the courage to be vulnerable. Be honest and call out how people are feeling and acknowledge your own vulnerability. In the words of Brene Brown, dare to lead.

  • Understand that trust takes time to rebuild if broken and that it will take dozens of instances of trust building through met expectations to rebuild the damage of a few instances of broken trust.

3. Lack of control, particularly around tracking productivity

Managers can feel apprehensive of managing remote staff because the lack of physical proximity means they no longer have the ability to be in the same room to keep their employees on task. However, employees and productivity can thrive with this newfound autonomy, if expectations and milestones are clearly communicated.

What you can do:

  • Understand each individual’s work style and how they are most productive. Some may prefer regular check-ins while others prefer more freedom. Effective managers can adapt their own style to get the most out of their team.

  • Establishing clear expectations, metrics and goals upfront, including the intent, the output, the milestones, and points at which to touch in and to escalate if needed.

  • Use an online tool to track work and project completion, for example, Trello for task management, or a project management tool.

4. Forgetting to manage culture

In times of crisis, culture can seem trivial or unimportant. But during these times, culture becomes even more important. As discussed at the recent AICD Governance Summit, culture unites people and aligns behaviour with strategy.

During times of uncertainty, culture can provide the consistency that people need.

What you can do:

  • Communicate culture and company values and embody them in your response to crisis

  • If your workforce is partly remote, do not use negative language about remote workers and ensure activities, training, and communication is set up with all staff in mind.

  • Implement a repeatable way to reinforce culture and celebrate cultural champions.

5. Communication without incentivisation

Finally, the last big mistake leaders make is to communicate about a new way of working and behaving without putting in place incentives to enact the new behaviour. Humans are creatures of habit and change can be difficulty. It’s much easier to behave the way you have in the past than to adopt a new way of working.

What you can do:

  • Implement behavioural, social, and other rewards to recognise the new behaviour done well

  • Ensure incentives are across the whole organisation as well as giving managers autonomy to tailor this for their team

Organisations all over the globe are suddenly being faced with some or all of their workforce working remotely. In our next blog, we will share top 5 tips for managing a remote workforce using behavioural science.

If you want to give your organisation the best chance of keeping up productivity, culture, and employee engagement during this time, get in touch with one of our behavioural experts at


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