• Arika Lawrence

5 Skills for Building Remote Leaders of the Future

Updated: Dec 20, 2020



Since the global pandemic took 2020 by storm, it seems everyone is trying to build out their life plan beyond this year. While a lot remains to be unseen until a vaccine is available, many people have found a way to adapt to the work/school from home culture. It hasn’t been an easy transition, but l feel people are managing it the best they can. The other day, I was scrolling through my newsfeed on LinkedIn, and I came across a poll that asked people to share their thoughts on their preferred work arrangement for 2021 and beyond. From what I recall, most people (roughly 45%) would like to have a hybrid work arrangement --- split their time between the office and home. While the other high percentage of folks (around 30% or so) desired to be back in the office by next year.


A few tech giants like Microsoft, Twitter, and Google have made announcements in the last few months that they were planning to keep their employees home: Twitter’s CEO Jack Dorsey said that employees will “work from home indefinitely.” Other companies like Shopify, REI, and Affirm have also transitioned into a remote-first company. It’s a trend that I believe we will see more small and large companies move in this direction, but the question is, how are companies planning to sustain this new work model? I am excited that more companies are adopting a remote culture, but since it’s still a new way of working for most, it will take time to master. Outside of investing in powerful security tools and collaborative technology, I believe more companies should invest in training. Training a remote workforce will be vital for this work, and I don’t see enough discussion around this topic. It’s more than just giving your employees the equipment to do their jobs via a laptop and monitor (or a stipend to decorate their home workspace); it has more to do with how you are training them to be remote leaders of the future?


So, what types of skills will it take to be a great remote leader of the future? Here are my top 5 skills that any proactive remote leader can start training for today:


Communication Skills: Being an effective communicator, both written or verbally, takes time and patience. The best way to learn is through constant practice, but in a fully remote environment, this skill requires a new level of attention. My rule of thumb is: it’s better to over-communicate than not to at all. Never make assumptions that someone understands what you said. Only assume that repetition is necessary to reinforce your message. How to hack it: Join digital communities to practice how you communicate with others. Taking virtual coffees or joining in online discussions is a great way to sharpen up your communication skills.


Writing Skills: Most remote communication is written; therefore, writing is a skill that will never get old. It’s one of the oldest forms of communication, and new writing styles are emerging as technology evolves. Learning how to get your point across in shorter characters takes time and patience. People are consuming written information in shorter forms (microcopy), so get creative in how you get your point across. How to hack it: Knowing your digital platform options to write a business communication is essential. Everyone still loves email, but we all are swimming in them. Plus, a few studies in recent years have concluded that emails have been an ineffective form of communication in the workplace setting. Before you craft a message, ask yourself which mode of communication (email, text, chat function, etc.) suits your message and what is your turnaround time for a needed response...or you might discover, you don’t need the message at all.


Presentation Skills: Presentation skills in-person versus a virtual platform can make a world of difference in how your audience consumes your work. Just knowing how to run a virtual presentation takes skill but sharing your work is equally challenging. Finding the right balance of energy, the right cadence in delivering your presentation, the right visual elements in your presentation, and the right non-distracting background (if applicable) can make or break your presentation experience. How to hack it: Practice recording yourself on your phone or using virtual platforms like Microsoft Teams, WebEx, Google Hangout, or Zoom to record yourself giving a presentation. Look for opportunities within your organization or in your industry to become a guest speaker while using this platform.


Listening Skills: Back in my Skillcrush user experience (UX) class days, one of the key tips of becoming a great UX professional is leading with empathy. In times of great uncertainty (like now and beyond), I believe this same thought process should be applied when it comes to leading remote teams during major digital transformations. How to hack it: There are many self-help books out there cracking the code on all things emotional intelligence (which are great!); however, for the sake of this post, I would recommend listening more. To become an empathetic leader, it takes someone who knows how to actively listen, which is: listening to understand and NOT to respond. Take your thinking cap off in how you would like to respond to someone; instead, practice focusing on what they are saying (give eye contact, don’t look at your phone --- just listen), digest what was said (pause if you have to) and respond with reinforcing what exactly you heard (Start with something like: “I heard you say…”).


Decision-Making Skills: To be a successful remote leader, it is going to require a mix of intuition, risk, and research (best practices) to make informed decisions. In a remote work setting, the environment is highly collaborative, yet it’s equally individual at the same time. You can’t just walk down the hall to someone’s office to get input on a problem --- you have to learn how to make these decisions (and sometimes harder ones) on your own. Sounds scary, right? It’s not actually.

How to hack it: Lean into the knowledge of your professional community. If you still aren’t confident on how to proceed with a solution, default to industry best practices. Anytime you are challenged with explaining how you arrived at a decision, you can refer to the research and resources that helped you make that decision. Leadership and colleagues can only respect that you did your due diligence to vet the best possible solution that is widely practiced in your industry.

Bonus Tip: Be Flexible to Change: One thing in life is, it’s never guaranteed, and you have to adapt to change (hello, 2020). How to hack it: Be open to ever-changing environments and demands. Do your best to stay present and live in the moment of now. What you are facing won’t last forever; take on the power of a pivot, and go with it.

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