The leadership challenges of remote working

24 Jul, 2020

Leadership in lockdown: “challenge, change, compete, repeat”

In many ways, transitioning to full-time working-from-home has been easy for Immerse. We have a small, flexible, tech-savvy workforce. Being innovative and imaginative is in the genes of the company; these qualities are essential when you’re a small business in a nascent field winning the business of large global clients. And of course, we’re fully equipped with all the technology we need to work remotely, including laptops and the full gamut of workforce messaging apps, video conferencing software, and collaborative document tools. 

It’s been largely successful, too; I know that many of our employees feel that their productivity has increased. But of course it’s also brought its challenges. And personally for me as a leader, it has challenged many of my assumptions and forced me to rethink the way that I do things. 

Until now, face-to-face communication has always been key for me. Video conferencing can’t replicate the casual smalltalk in the coffee queue or the catch-up with a colleague in a lift. And Zoom is not the best format for difficult conversations, or the way that I would naturally keep in contact with my senior leadership team. 

But despite my initial misgivings, I’ve been impressed by the amount we’ve managed to communicate during this period of enforced home-working. Our monthly “all hands” company meeting has been happening weekly, and – concerned about losing sight of what was going on in the business – I instigated daily management catch-ups with my senior team early on. We have actually had to be more connected and communicate more than usual, and feedback has shown that our people actually feel better-informed than ever. We have always run the business in a collaborative way, and during this period, we have become even more collaborative. As we consider next steps and whether we will return to office-working, we’re involving the whole team in discussions. 

And then there’s networking. Getting out and talking to people – clients, potential clients, competitors and peers – is one of the most important and enjoyable parts of my job. Initially, the inability to do this unmoored me. But here, too, I’m seeing the positives of how we’ve been forced to adapt. When you can’t rely on traditional networking methods and in-person explanations, you have to double down on your positioning and proposition. Resisting the temptation to rely on the inherent strength of our platform, we have had to be really targeted about how we communicate it. Directness and clarity is crucial.  

During the last few months, I’ve kept coming back to two of my fundamental leadership philosophies. Firstly, be continually courageous. Good leaders are willing to try things that they don’t instinctively want to do in order to push forward, and accept that the way they have done things before may have been superseded. Secondly, trust the team around you. Listen to how your team members are thinking and take that seriously. I feel very lucky that I have a talented, adaptable team that is more than capable of rising to these new challenges. 

This is an important time in Immerse’s story, and remote-working has brought many of our inherent strengths and company values to the fore. It’s tested me as a leader, but it’s also forced me to change and adapt in a way that is good for me, and good for the business as a whole.