Changing work

Bosses struggle with virtual leadership, workers want change

Remote working has become a normal reality for many companies and business professionals would like to make the shift to homeworking a permanent change, but new research has revealed that bosses are concerned about the affect this will have on communication.

Research from the Global Web Index, published in The New Art of Business, a new report by RADA Business, the commercial arm of the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, has found that 45 per cent of workers say that they are either extremely or very interested in making the shift to homeworking permanent.

This is particularly true for younger workers, as 61 per cent of 16 – 24 year olds and 51 per cent of 25 – 34 year olds want to see remote working become a permanent change. A staggering 80 per cent of people say that they want the option to work from home, even if it’s only an occasional arrangement, showing how accustomed workers have become to more flexible working. In addition, it appears environmental motivations for increased homeworking are at play, as 45 per cent of UK adults say the pandemic has increased their desire to reduce their personal impact to the environment – with many likely wanting to reduce the time they commute into the office.

Employers now face an expectation to allow flexible working, but the data reveals that some leaders are struggling to communicate with remote workers and are finding it challenging. Nearly 1 in 4 (24 per cent) people at management level expressed concern that their tone of voice is not coming across through video, worrying that they appear impolite or terse. More than 1 in 5 (22 per cent) say they get distracted by their own image appearing on screen, while 19 per cent feel self-conscious when using video – all of which detract from their ability to communicate.

Looking at the fears that leaders have around communication when working remotely, 30 per cent say they worry about making sure everyone reads or listens to communications in a timely fashion, while 32 per cent say they fear creating a sense of company culture for all while working remotely.

Kate Walker Miles, tutor and Client Director at RADA Business, comments on the findings: “As companies gear up to reopen their offices, with many having already introduced a staggered reopening strategy, it’s clear that employees have become accustomed to their homeworking routine and want this to continue – but with this expectation comes concern and pressure for senior leaders as they continue to try to lead their teams from their homes, in a strategic way.

“Leading a team from a virtual setting can be challenging, as senior leaders fear they lose the opportunity for real connection with their teams, as well as meaningful oversight of their teams’ work,” Kate adds. “There are some simple techniques, which leaders can begin to use to ensure that they are creating opportunities for meaningful connection, even when communicating virtually. Take a moment to focus on your breath before speaking; breathe out and then in, slowly and deeply. Taking a breath in this way will help to settle your state and steady your voice. You will quickly feel more present and ready to speak to your team. Often, people simply want to know why you are making a particular decision. If you explain your thinking and reasoning from a place of calm and commitment, they are more likely to follow you.”

Walker Miles also says it is important to share thoughts and feelings with people. “Let them know something about where you are, and how you feel about what is happening in your organisation,” she says. “Reflect back what you have heard them say to show that you have listened to them and are now sharing your perspective, rather than relaying the party line. They will listen and appreciate your story. Then they will want to follow your lead.’’

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