How to lead from home

Donatella De Paoli

Here are five tips for leading digitally.

The need for connection and community will increase for leaders and team members who communicate through screens. Not least because everyone does their best to adjust their working habits, forms of collaboration and businesses to face a difficult future.

Donatella De Paoli considers the changing working environment a social experiment we all can learn from. Here are five top tips.

1. Focus on relationships

De Paoli emphasizes that leadership is more important now than ever. However, the situation requires a form of leadership that puts relationships front and center and is based on trust towards team members.

The focus should be on how we can get along together. Good dialogue is important, as is understanding how people are doing mentally. Leaders should try to adapt to different needs to the extent that they can.

2. Adapt the level of control to the work

Leaders experience a greater need for control when work moves online. Many ask themselves how employees spend their time, and use different methods of control. Some keep track of how long employees take to answer emails, while others monitor whether employees are logged on.

Typically, there are two main approaches for leaders working digitally. These are diametrically opposed, one controlling and authoritarian and the other accepting of free anarchy.

De Paoli says one approach is not necessarily more correct than the other. In projects with short deadlines, a high level of control can be appropriate. In work without a deadline, results can improve if control is reduced and autonomy is increased. The latter typically applies to knowledge workers.

3. Encourage focus and presence

Being present is particularly important when working digitally. Screens create distances and often reduce not only social small talk, but also two-way communication in meetings. The quality of communication declines when we are unable to read body language. We feel distanced and it is more challenging to build trust towards someone we have not physically met.

Multi-tasking seldom works well in physical meetings, but it works even less well in digital ones. Make sure to turn off your phone and other sources of distraction, so that you are not interrupted. Turn on cameras so you can see each other. Use your senses as much as you can.

De Paoli has had positive experiences creating common guidelines for presence in digital work. For example, you can start meetings with focus exercises to stimulate connectedness and presence. Simple mindfulness techniques are another suggestion.

4.    Vary the means of communication

Be aware of the distinction between information and communication. One-way communication through email or internal websites may suffice in keeping the organization up to date, however leadership aimed at building relationships and trust requires dialogue.

Digital meetings typically revolve closely around the topic at hand, and have little space for informal social interaction. This makes them effective, but we also have to acknowledge the need for social connections. Therefore, it is a good idea to use platforms enabling interaction.

Leaders and team members should try to experiment with new ways to communicate. Record videos and do not be afraid to be personal. Millennials who have grown up in a digital world are often creative and can be a source of inspiration.

5.    Co-create leadership

In a situation where we all are physically isolated from one another and stare into our own screens we have to engage in self-management to a greater extent than normal. Nobody can be passive, each team member must be proactive and share learning.

De Paoli says leadership is co-created, it happens in the meeting between leader and team members. In order to achieve co-creation of leadership, each person’s expectations should be clarified. Make it clear that every single person is responsible for taking the initiative and making sure tasks are completed.

If companies and organizations are to succeed in facing the pressure and need for adjustment, centralized and exalted leadership ideals must be replaced. The Corona-crisis has consequences for how leadership should be understood and practiced, not just now but in the future.

Published 3. April 2020

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