For the vast majority of us, 2020 will be seen as a watershed year that fundamentally changed our relationship with our employers and the workplace.  Unilever, Spotify and Google were just some of the high-profile companies to announce that they were changing the way people work across their global footprint. 5-days a week in the office is out; what's replaced it is a fully remote or hybrid way of working - and it's a change that's here to stay. 

For leaders, this means a complete change in the way we manage and engage with our people. The role of the manager as coach, connector, motivator and problem-solver is going to become much more significant.

How managers and leaders communicate with their remote teams will become even more of a key defining feature of a company’s culture and therefore its future success.

Why do the new ways of working make communication a vital skill?

recent (post-Covid) poll of 3,500 UK professionals, conducted by City & Guilds, found that more than two-thirds (68%) viewed people management as a key skill that managers or business leaders needed. However, 45% said their own managers needed to improve on this. Similarly, 48% said communication was an important skill, with 39% needing to work on this skill.  

How can leaders improve their communication skills in a remote or hybrid world?

There are three main ways in which leaders can up their communication game.

1. Communicate to engage. Some companies’ internal comms teams have spent a lot of time and effort seeking to engage home-workers with branded mugs, water bottles, mouse–mats and the like. But whilst these physical reminders of who you work for can have a small impact, the biggest feeling of engagement with a business, comes from engaging personally and authentically with our managers and leaders.  

If you’re a manager or leader, put yourself in the shoes of your team members and ask yourself these key questions.

  • Do you feel connected and supported? 
  • Do you feel your company empathises with you and your needs? 
  • Are your achievements acknowledged? 
  • Do you feel respected? 

2. Communicate to inform. Understanding the unwritten rules of a company culture takes time, even when you’re in the office. Virtually, this is going to be nigh-on impossible, without significant effort. Leaders must be able to communicate the norms, expectations and culture of their company through words and observable actions at a distance. This is difficult; it’s new. We used to rely on the ‘water cooler’ conversations, the chats on the comfortable seats, the pictures and words on the walls… Now we have to do this through our own words and our own voice. And we have to get it right. 

3. Communicate to give feedback and praise. It has long been the case that managers have not been very good at giving feedback and praise. They shy away from it, miss the opportunity, procrastinate over it, or leave it to the annual appraisal (6 months after the event!). When we’re working remotely, feedback and praise become even more important management tools. 

Managers that do these things well will have teams who understand what is expected of them, when they are achieving it and when they are not. These teams will outperform ones where this is not happening. Companies that can develop their managers to be expert ‘feedback-givers’ will outperform their rivals. No longer is this the preserve of HR trying to create a “culture of feedback” – in 2022 and beyond this is a competitive advantage.

One final point on feedback… there are lots of apps and tools that say things like they can “streamline your feedback processes” or “create that two-way feedback process through simple 5-star ratings.” 

I’m sorry, but your people are not products on Amazon. They do not need online 5-star reviews. They need their manager and their colleagues to talk to them face-to-face – we are still human!

How do you rate your communication skills in a hybrid world?

Why not connect with Phil to share your thoughts.