Work-at-home culture and leadership

Kevin Eikenberry teaches how to balance new technology with timeless leadership principles. He wrote the book “The Long-Distance Leader: Rules for Remarkable Remote Leadership” with Wayne Turmel and shares his wisdom online.

According to Eikenberry, leadership comes first, location is second. Leadership still means helping our teams to get valuable outcomes. For this to happen, we need the 3-O’s model: outcomes-others-ourself. We serve others in the service of outcomes.


You need all three: If you focus on outcomes alone, the result may be burnout, turnover, disengagement – and deteriorating performance in the long run. If all you see are others, the outcomes may suffer as you serve others but not in service of the outcomes. If we’re just focusing on ourselves, others may suffer – and outcomes as well.

Pandemic challenges

Since the pandemic hit, what are some new challenges for leaders? Eikenberry sees leaders struggle with five major themes.

1. The age of empathy: we all experience covid-19 but we all experience it differently. Some can’t wait to come back to the office, others worry about working at home with the kids around, some are scared. The pandemic is an opportunity to be more empathetic. Understand where your team members are: they need to be heard, seen, understood. You can’t solve it, but you can listen.

2. The reality of role modeling: you’re always a role model, good or bad. Take care of yourself so the others will copy this. That’s more important than before the pandemic. How do you show up? What example do you set?

3. The importance of intention: if we fall back on habits this doesn’t work well as everything is different. We have to be intentional to make contact remotely, to listen better, to take the time. We must be more intentional since we don’t meet them in the hallway. One of the pitfalls of online meetings is the focus on contents and tasks – but we also need to take time for personal, informal contact.

4. Transferring the known to the new world: how to onboard people, how to coach them, how to promote them, how to do project management online. We knew how to do this, but how do we do it remotely?

5. Reduced interaction: in our video conferences and online contacts we have a reduced sample size. This goes for everyone! No more spontaneous encounters in the canteen, no more sensing the mood in the corridors. We miss a lot of information and informal meetings since we work from home.
If we see our team members less the interaction counts more. Having a bad day when you see them only once a week impacts them more than seeing them five days a week (and you have one bad day in that whole week).

Silo disrupter

More than before, says Eikenberry, leaders need to be silo disrupters. Individuals are more isolated. Their task list is prominent and at home they have individual silos. we used to have silos like marketing and operations, or different regions. The new silo is: where people work. As we might see more hybrid teams with some in the office, some at home, the power may shift. The people in the office may get envious, those at home fear they miss out on something. Beware of these silos and views.

Leaders must also be relationship builders: it’s physical distancing, not social distancing. We need better relationships than ever before. Support people to get to know each other. Stimulate connections that don’t go via you, as a leader, or in formal video meetings only. Entice people to socialize and collaborate.

As a leader, you need to be a facilitator – to make easy. Make the work easier for others. Be creative with this. Of course, these roles existed before but are more important right now.

Online attitude

Mistakes new teleworkers make are relying on email, not using webcams, not wanting to go first and waiting until “it’s important”. Beware of this as a leaders and make your team aware of this. Invite people to share as much as possible, show up on video and not make it all about business. Bonding with personal anecdotes is crucial.

As a leader, you can do better! Plan to reach out to every team member: have quick video chats just like you would have informal encounters around the coffee machine. Yes, this time you plan the encounters, but the agenda is spontaneous.
Give as much as positive feedback as possible and reduce stress with email subject lines. Nothing as stressful as a subject like: Got a minute? (Oops, what did I do wrong?)

Last but not least – for everyone but especially leaders: Your attitude is contagious.
How do you feel? Are you open, interested, honest, curious? Check before you contact your team members on video. Don’t forget to share some good news. Acknowledge how people feel or what they face and advance with: “Yes, and…” Yes-and is a magic combination that juxtaposes your advice or perspective with their experience instead of contradicting or denying it. Avoid: Yes, but… The but is an energy killer that puts people on guard.

If you want to apply more practices with your team: check out my Positive Culture book. We’ve reduced the price to help you cope with the pandemic. Based on renowned models and research, you’ll see how to positively influence your co-workers, so that people and performance can thrive.

(Source: Leadership for a Changing World online summit, September 2020).

We offer positivity research and practices to develop resilience and collaboration skills. This might help to face the Corona pandemic and other future challenges.
That’s why you can enroll in the online Positive Culture Academy at a discount. Join today!

Check out the next online Culture Change Leadership workshop in 2022! Registration is open – places are limited to guarantee interaction and quality.

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