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5 Leadership Mistakes in Remote and Hybrid Work

November 15, 2021 Leadership
Kaya Ismail
By Kaya Ismail

The explosion of remote work required millions of employees and senior leaders alike to make adjustments to the challenges of working from home. Meetings via video conference and having coworkers widely scattered rather than at the desk down the hall created new challenges for bosses and frontline workers alike.

Only 33% of company leaders managed a remote team prior to the pandemic, according to a 2020 report from Terminal, a San Francisco-based specialist in hiring remote engineering teams. For leaders especially, managing a team that isn't in the same location can be challenging, meaning that management styles that worked in the office don't work as well when teams aren't in one place anymore. 

Now, with more companies poised to embrace hybrid work and the work-from-anywhere model, this challenge is going to become more complicated. Here are some common mistakes to avoid when embracing remote and hybrid work. 

5 Remote Work Management Mistakes

The transition from office life to working from anywhere means that the work environment won't always be the same. As a result, there are some frequent mistakes that organizations can make:

Not Trusting Employees

For companies that were entirely in an office setting, many managers feared their employees weren't doing their job when they went home. The thought was they would spend their time watching TV as if it was a day off. Good managers trust employees to get the job done regardless of where they are.

"If you have hired good people and built good management structures to give them direction for what needs to be accomplished, then you need to trust that they will live up to those standards," said Amy Spurling, CEO and founder of Cambridge, Mass.-based Compt, an employee rewards specialist.

Related Article: Remote Leadership: Which Style Suits You?

Not Having Set Hours

While remote and distributed work theoretically allows employees to get work done at any time, that shouldn't be an invitation for managers to reach out to them and expect them to respond at all hours. That holds true even if employees are in a different time zone.

Having set hours for messages and deadlines similar to standard office hours allows employees to respond in a way that works for them and gives managers a clear expectation of when they should hear back.  

Failing to Make Time for Conversation

A casual conversation at the water cooler or when passing in the hallway was typical for employees in the office. In a remote company, employees have to schedule a Zoom meeting to see each other face to face. Personal relationships can suffer as a result.

"In the move to fully remote, there can be a tendency to have all meetings be about the work product," Spurling said. "That is a mistake. The team needs time to connect with each other in a casual way."

Virtual coffee meetings or informal video chats can provide an avenue for team leaders to speak with employees about their personal as well as professional lives.  

"For leaders, this shows that they care and will allow them to adjust or change policies if there is a need to make changes," said Ben Pulver, senior director of business operations at Holmdel, N.J.-based software company Banyan.

Related Article: How to Stay Sane While Working Remotely

Not Having Clear Policies

A lack of policy can be harmful in a remote-first company. To avoid confusion and disengagement, leaders need to ensure that policies are well documented and readily available to employees.

"Companies that want to build remote teams must be excruciatingly deliberate in building hiring practices, creating an effective onboarding process, and fostering a cohesive culture," Pulver said. 

Without clear policies and documentation about how the company works and what's expected in certain situations, employees won't know what to do, which can lead to confusion that negatively impacts the entire organization. 

Trying to Micromanage Employees

While some in-office leadership styles and managerial tendencies can translate to the remote environment, one type that doesn't transition well is micromanaging. 

"Micromanaging was one of the most common reactions by managers when businesses went remote because it can be helpful to some degree in a traditional office setting," said David Smith, CEO of London-based graphic design firm Tenscope

When it's done remotely, micromanaging can create a toxic environment that makes employees feel as if managers don't believe work is being done unless they are closely supervised. While some companies may have required employees to work with their cameras on or even tracked how long they were spending on specific apps, what ends up happening is employees become disgruntled.

"A better approach is to set clear objectives, goals and deadlines for employees, and create the space for them to accomplish them," Spurling said.

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