How I’ve learned to lead remotely

Six areas that have improved my working from home

Over the past few months I’ve had to make some changes to my leadership style in order to adapt to the pandemic. I wanted to capture what worked for me and has allowed me to continue to engage and connect with my teams.

I had a rough transition moving to work from home full time.

Having my apartment change from being just my home to also be my gym, favorite restaurant, move theatre and office almost overnight was not easy for me. There was no separation between my personal and professional life and I felt very disconnected from my team.

My job has always been flexible, in terms of hours and where I work from. I would always go into the office at least 4 days per week. I’ve always prefered having in person interactions and found that it has helped me to build connections with my colleagues.

Throughout my 20+ years of work, I’ve learned a variety of techniques to manage and lead. I was once taught the importance of a separation between personal and work life. One of my mentors taught me to “hang up my personality” like a coat when arriving at the office. This turned out to be one of the worst pieces of advice I’ve ever been given.

To lead you have to care, you have to be genuine and you have to share your vulnerabilities and let your team know who you are.

Now that there really is very little seperation between personal and work life, I knew I had to make some changes. Here are 6 main areas that have had had the most impact to improving how I lead remotely and giving me a better balance of my home and work life.

Share how you are feeling

If you’ve been struggling with life lately, then tell your your team at your next meeting. Don’t try and put on a brave face, claiming you’re OK when you’re not. People will respect your honesty and most likely your team will bond with you more over this.

I had a very difficult week at work recenetly. A large project that I was running was due to complete and at the same time my parents who live thousands of miles away from me were experiencing health issues (thankfully not COVID-19 related.) I told my entire org on a Zoom meeting that I’d had a particulalry difficult week and the reason why. Afterwards I recieved a lot of unsolicied feedback stating that people felt included and were shocked to see how open I was. I’ve since kept this going in terms of letting people know when I’m not doing well and merely feeling just OK. This has lead to others now becomming comfortable enough to do the same. It has bought us a lot closer as a team than ever before.

Change your routine

The structure that you had in place when working at the office probably isn’t appropriate now. In a changing environment, you have to learn to adapt and your work routine is a big part of this. With my teams, we changed the frequency of 1:1 meetings, removed many reoccuring meetings and instead held more frequent large group meetings. The old routine seemed so much more exhausting so for now we meet up in a lot more of an ad-hoc fashion, but this may change again.

Connect more

With everyone working from home, you have to connect more with your team both on an individual and group basis. Tools such as Zoom, Slack, Asana and Facetime have been key in helping to achieve this. You can’t just assume that people are OK or that they are clear on their direction right now. Checkin more often. Create more open dialogues and allow people to speak freely and share their ideas.

We have had a lot of success from building some non-work activites for people to participate in. One member of the team created some running challenges using the free Nike Run Club app. We hosted virtual happy hour and morning coffee meetups over Zoom and shared cooking successes (and disasters) which has helped bring us closer together. It really doesn’t need to be just about work, just asking people if they’re OK (and meaning it) really does go a long way.

Prioritize your own mental health

18 months ago, I started on a very important journey to focus more on my wellbeing. I tried meditation, running, investing more in my sleep, reading and various exercises classes. Ultimately I ended up with a combination of exercise and destressing techniques that worked for me. I’ve noticed that now more than ever that prioritising the exercise and sleep has really helped me in terms of resilience, mood and productivity.

I workout 3–5 days a week depending on my schedule, walk every day and make sure that I have periods of downtime. If I have an early workstart, then I’ll schedule a workout later in the day and will always make sure that I don’t skip it. With my apartment now being the gym, their really is no excuse not to keep in shape.

I’ve also become a big advocate of the concept of surrender. There are some moments where the events in the world have become overwhelming and I’ve found myself feeling sad and lost. I don’t question those moments or try to fight those thoughts, I just allow the feelings to happen and wait until they pass.

Measure what is going on

I’ve always been a metrics guy, I just can’t help it and can’t get the cliched “what gets measured, gets done out of my head.” I don’t just base all my business descions on this, there are human factors and other drivers too.

Without seeing everyone in person, I’ve found a need to measure more important than ever before.

I spend every monday for at least an hour analysing trends and reports for projects in order to see where we are. This hasn’t so much changed for me, but taken more of a priority than it used to be.

Make your Calendar work for you

My first week in quarantine was spent in back to back Zoom meetings. By the end of each day I was mentally exhausted and knew that this was not sustainable. Since then my calendar has been changed to factor in more time for focussed work by adding gaps between meetings. I’ve found this to be incredibly effective. It has allowed me to stay strategic and energized. A lot of people do seem to miss the concept that it’s your calendar and I can’t recommend adding in blocks for lunch and work enough.

“It’s OK to not be feeling OK”

These are certainly trying times for all of us, but for me, I’ve managed to get my life into a much better place. My days are more productive than when we first went into lock down. I feel fitter than I’ve ever been and have even managed to spend some time in the evenings working towards and passing a new qualification.

Some days I do find life tough; I wonder when I’ll get to see my parents again. I get sad thinking about all the unjust events happening in the world right now and when this virus will pass. I recognize those times and adapt my behavior accordingly. I’ll tell my girlfriend and my colleagues that I’m having a tough day. I’ll join meeings with my video camera off at times and allow the feelings to just pass (and invaribaly they always do.) I just think it’s more important now more than ever to recognize and evangelize that it’s OK not to be feeling OK.

I’m really interested to know what has worked for other people in respect to their work and personal life too and I genuinely hope that this has been a valuable read.

British Tech guy living in LA. Tech and security evangelist, occasional nerd and fitness freak. I also sometimes write about tech for parents.