Coaching Mastery: How to Lead a Distributed Workforce with Connection and Communication

Discover effective strategies for leading a distributed workforce, fostering connection, recognizing achievements and giving support through coaching.

Coaching Mastery with Noelle Cordeaux, CEO of Lumia, is a special edition of the Everything Life Coaching Podcast. Explore transformative coaching concepts, tried-and-true methodologies, and powerful insights from the frontline of the professional coaching field. Subscribe to get new episodes weekly!

The landscape of work has changed rapidly in recent years, bringing difficult and unique challenges for today's leaders and managers. You're not alone if you feel pulled in too many directions in the post-pandemic space. From balancing the demands of daily work alongside recruitment and onboarding with developing and promoting an engaging work environment – there's a lot to handle and rarely enough resources to use.

Since so many leaders are struggling with these same issues, research and best practices from the world's leading institutions are providing us with the tools we need to successfully navigate the new landscape of work.

Prioritize Connection and Communication in a Hybrid Workforce

In this evolving world where we’re most likely working with hybrid or fully distributed teams, clear communication and genuine, human connection aren't just “nice to have” — they're the main act.

In fact, the number one thing that you can do as a leader is to carve out a significant amount of time to focus on the needs of employees - what they need and how to reward them in a way that’s meaningful to them. Staying in close communication with your employees will reduce assumptions and help strengthen collaboration as well.

Research published in the Harvard Business Review highlights the importance of sharing our stories to drive inclusion and belonging, and states that companies that do prioritize inclusion will emerge stronger.

Build Inclusion and Recognition Through Listening Circles

One highly recommended practice is hosting "listening circles," or structured gatherings where employees can share their personal experiences and ideas. While folks are in a listening circle: ​​invite them to share a bit about how their personal lives are going. This practice not only helps drive inclusion, but also gives leaders valuable insights into what makes their teams tick.

What this looks like is offering a structured space where employees can tell their stories, own them and collectively consider how the stories that have been shared might be impacting day-to-day experiences at work. The simple act of creating space for people to share the stories of their everyday lives builds inclusion in hybrid and distributed teams where members are often separated from each other in ways that don’t allow for small talk.  

An exercise like this is two fold - employees gain the emotional benefit of sharing, being seen, and seeing others as whole and complex individuals. And you, as a leader, will gain insight into why folks have decided to stay, and what makes your organization unique.

Understand Employee Expectations in the New Landscape

The World Economic Forum asserts that employees now seek connection, progress, and personal growth from their time spent at work as well as interactions with their leaders. 

Your top performers are a great indicator of what’s working and what’s not. If you have retained top performers over the past 18 months, it’s in your best interest as a leader to understand why.

Promoting your organization's mission and values, and creating an inspiring work culture, are part of the strategic approach required to gain a competitive edge over firms that insist on “business as usual”.

If you’ve lost great talent, it is in your interest to understand what's similar about those who’ve stayed. These views and similarities will be your northern star when considering what aspects of your current culture need to change or could be capitalized on. 

Give People Autonomy and Trust

In this new context of people management, an idea highlighted by MIT Sloan is the necessity for leaders to trust their teams to make decisions aligned with the organization's mission and values in a time when direct oversight at all times is impossible.  

The crucial and uncomfortable behavior that leaders need to get comfortable with is backing those decisions up when the intention to align with mission and vision is present. Even if the execution is a bit flawed. 

The recipe for developing folks to become independent thinkers, self-managers and future leaders is to help them find meaning in the work, alongside creating space for independent decision making that’s aligned with company values. Trust in action looks like setting up agreements and expectations for performance with an opportunity to move towards more unsupervised work arrangements.

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Create a Culture of Celebration and Visible Progress

Employees (and people!) seek progress, vision and mission in their lives. They want to feel pride in being part of something bigger than themselves. The way to instill pride and belonging in a hybrid and distributed workforce is to showcase and celebrate individual and organizational achievements. 

Employees need to feel that their work is meaningful. Delivering on employee's need for progress means helping them see that their company's products or services contribute positively to society. Employees would like to see their work publicly celebrated, their careers being supported, and they need to know that their friends, family and the world at large admire the company they work for. 

Rallying everyone around a common goal and getting them aligned with the vision and mission is important too. When teams feel personally connected to organizational outcomes, MIT Sloan reports that employees have an easier time feeling that they work for an organization that supports them in bringing their “whole selves to work.” 

Respect and Support Matter Most

Implicit in all of this is the way that employees feel about their experience at work. MIT Sloan cites the top two elements of culture that matter most to employees as:

  1. Being respected: This means that leaders visibly treat employees with consideration, courtesy, and dignity, and their perspectives are taken seriously. 
  1. Being supported by leadership: This means that employees expect leaders to help them, respond to requests, accommodate employees’ individual needs, offer encouragement, and have their backs. 

Employees feel supported when leaders create space for employees to make decisions that are in alignment with organizational values and mission, share and celebrate vision and when leaders set up coaching methodology that involves agreements and expectations for performance.

As employees are looking towards the future of work, respect and support are in fact the best predictors of employee satisfaction, ahead of compensation and work-life balance. 

The good news is that offering respect and support are innately human skills that you already have access to! Your success as a leader of a distributed team will look like: intentionally and strategically pursuing connection, crafting a shared vision, celebration and showcasing progress towards organizational and personal goals.

This piece was informed by research from the Harvard Business Review, the MIT Sloan Management Review, and from the World Economic Forum.

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