Insights from Debra Dinnocenzo on the keys to remote leadership success and critical skills for achieving results from a distance. Highlights of the challenges of reshaping organizational culture, engaging teams, and implementing work/life solutions to achieve talent attraction/retention objectives.

About the Host:

Debra A. Dinnocenzo is president and founder of VirtualWorks!, a consulting and training firm that specializes in virtual work issues.  Debra is a dynamic keynote speaker, innovative educator, impactful coach, seasoned executive, and successful author.  She is the co-author of the recently released book, REMOTE LEADERSHIP – Successfully Leading Work-from-Anywhere and Hybrid Teams, as well as several other books on remote and virtual teams.  

Since publishing her first book on telecommuting in 1999, Debra has been a pioneer in the shift to virtual work and remote leadership.  Few practitioners in the field have the depth of knowledge and hands-on experience that distinguishes Debra in the hybrid workplace and remote leadership space.  As a nationally recognized expert in remote workplace and distance leadership, Debra has spoken widely on related topics, and developed and taught “Leadership in the Virtual Workplace,” an online graduate-level course offered by Duquesne University.  Previously, Debra was a teleworking executive and has worked from her home office for more than two decades.

Schedule a call with Debra HERE.


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Debra Dinnocenzo:

Welcome to the Remote Leadership Podcast. I'm Debra Dinnocenzo. And I'll be your host and guide as we explore new challenges and proven keys to success for leaders and teams who must get results from a distance. For more than two decades, I've helped organizations and leaders successfully go virtual. Now that we're all on a trajectory toward the next normal of work from anywhere and hybrid teams, I'm excited to share with you the insights and expertise that 1000s of leaders and teams have acquired through my books, coaching, training, and presentations. Join me to learn tips, techniques and skills that leaders and teams in your organization can implement now to achieve effectiveness in our evolving remote workplaces.

Debra Dinnocenzo:

Hello, everyone, this is Debra Dinnocenzo. Welcome to the Remote Leadership Podcast. I'm excited today to talk with you about the challenges of leading virtually to get real results, there have been a lot of changes for leaders in the way that they must interact with communicate with support, engage, coach, and lead their teams. And so I'd like to spend some time talking about the importance of the leaders shifting the application of their good skills, to the new context in which organizations or operating teams are functioning, and leaders must lead. And of course, as we all know, leadership is a very important aspect of organizations and of organizational success. And so, and I've spent decades working with leaders who have been embracing increasingly embracing and moving toward more remote work, telework, we used to call it. And so I've seen a lot of change, I've seen organizations, leaders struggle through change. And we're coming out of a time now where we really had a very intense exposure to the implementation of remote work, not even so much hybrid teams, it was just a lot of remote work during the COVID 19 pandemic. So it's important for organizations and leaders to take some time now to reflect on what we learned during the pandemic, what went well during the pandemic, what we need to take forward into the future, from the good things that happened and the benefits of of which there are many that we derived from the learnings and the experience of our remote work experience during the pandemic.

Debra Dinnocenzo:

So, as I mentioned, a lot of what leaders do is the same. There are skills that leaders bring, that they must use for leading and coaching and for getting results basically. And the difference now is the context in which leaders must lead. And the interesting thing is for and the challenging thing for a lot of leaders is that context has changed considerably. And it's going to continue to shift. As we move forward, we're really moving into the next normal, and that will continue to evolve and change. So I learned a lot about this during my work in the last couple of decades with clients and organizations that were implementing telework tele management programs on a smaller scale, certainly than we saw during the pandemic. And I also learned a lot through my own experience as a telecommuting executive. Back in the day, we telecommuted with a team members spread across multiple time zones. And during the last two decades, we've really had legions of leaders that have learned about remote work, and what it means to be effective as leaders when we're leading remotely but the pandemic of Course gave us this very intense learning opportunity. And it was very much an accelerated course in leading from a distance as millions of workers headed home and stayed there for more than two years. So it was probably not the best way for us to have immersed ourselves in remote work. But it was what it was. And there is a lot to be gleaned from that experience. And it is important now that we look at what was effective during the COVID times. And what results did organizations get of which there were many? I found it very interesting. And continue to find it interesting as they talk with leaders who are beginning to look at where do we go from here.

Debra Dinnocenzo:

But of course, we have to look at where we've been, and how surprised many leaders were by how well things went during the pandemic, some of it painful, particularly as we get started with it. And I think initially, rather shocking, when we thought it was going to be a three week adventure, and it just continued. So organizations were in many cases, very unprepared leaders where we're not really skilled and the nuances of remote leadership, many had not done that to any extreme of what they had to do during the pandemic. But they did learn a lot, they got a lot of hands on experience with that. And they're going to continue to need to exercise those virtual leadership skills into the future. So what does that mean for for leaders and for organizations, and for their teams. So if you recall, the pandemic, or the lockdown at least, was supposed to be only three weeks and had it really been just a three week thing, I believe things would have just pretty much bounced right back to the way they were. And we would have gone back to life as we knew it work as we knew it. Organizations as we knew it, the workplaces, we knew it. But because it continued for so long, and we got so much more experience with it. And people saw many of the benefits of it, we are not bouncing back to the way things were, of course, we're going to have some people back in the workplace, we're going to not abandon workplaces as we've known them. But it is not going to be the same probably ever again. And many organizations have offloaded real estate or intend to, because of the success that they had during the pandemic, as well as the increased demand for flexibility in work that many, many organizations are realizing now exists within their teams. And because now talent, talent is the driver. Talent is the key to success. And attracting and retaining talent is the order of the day. So we need to help leaders look at what needs to evolve, continue to evolve and what needs to change. And as I mentioned, there have been so many leaders that were very surprised at how well things went. I talked with one senior leader who expressed it this way. He said, You know, before the pandemic, there were certain jobs that we talked about and just knew there was no way they could be done remotely. Just it wasn't even something we considered because of the nature of the work. And then the pandemic happened, and we had no choice but to make those jobs remote. And it's just really amazing how well that went so they would have never tried it. They just assumed it wasn't going to work. They knew it wasn't going to work. And lo and behold when the situation mandated that they send people home, they weren't about to give up on it working. And people were very committed to making it work all the way around and my experience as I saw it, so they found ways to make it work. And even at the beginning of the pandemic, we didn't have the resources, the capabilities, some of the tools within resources like zoom and teams that we have now. So many things changed, things improved, our our resources got better. And our capabilities got better, more importantly, our openness, our understanding of what it takes to make this work, and our acceptance of it grew, because we really got immersed in it. I do believe, however, the major driver is, this is what people want and expect. And if organizations are going to attract and retain talent, this is the the critical shift that must be made now.

Debra Dinnocenzo:

So organizations and leaders that I've talked with have even found that people found ways to be innovative and creative in ways that they never would have anticipated. So during during COVID, one of my own personal, creative and innovative examples is that early in the pandemic, I reached out to Jason Warwick, who eventually became the co author of the book that we published during the pandemic called Remote leadership. And Jason and I had never actually met before, we had known each other for about 10 years. And we talked occasionally, and had done some projects together, but had never actually met. And of course, when you're starting a new project, like a, something like a book, The tendency always is to say, well, you know, we should get together. And we should talk about this and, you know, work out a plan and figure out what we're going to do. And I suppose, if things had been different, we might have said, you know, well, one of us should get on a plane, and we'll, you know, sit down, and let's get together, let's finally meet. But that wasn't an option. But we wanted to get the book out. And so we did everything that we would have done if we had been able to get face to face in terms of, you know, planning and collaborating, and then all the back and forth. And if anyone has ever written a book, you know that it is not easy to write a book, it takes it's a great undertaking. And co authoring a book is has its own unique challenges. So there is a lot more collaboration, back and forth, and sharing and reviewing and feedback and alignment. And then even when you get the book finished, it's requires editing to ensure that the voice is sounds like one voice as opposed to two people. And so this requires a lot of edit and re edit. And it was a it was a big undertaking. And we got it done and got the book released, and finally had the opportunity to meet not too long ago, which was a very fun experience. So organizations and teams found this as well, during the pandemic, they were forced to do things, the situation required that they continue to work to continue to support their own customers to find creative ways to respond to customer needs to get product out the door to ensure that things continue to happen, customers were serviced. And that was done without people needing to be or being able to be face to face. And so there are a lot of successes. And there were some pleasant surprises that came out of the pandemic. And there's an opportunity now for leaders to leverage that, to really consider what what can move forward. What can we take forward from what went well? What do we need to let go of from the past that just isn't relevant anymore? And what do we need to give some deeper consideration to one of the things I hear from leaders a lot right now is a concern about the culture of the organization. And how how did this last couple of years impact our culture? Sure one leader I talked with actually said, I think we've lost our culture. So I think it's a really interesting opportunity to think about, well, what is it that you've lost? What is it that you had? How did you know you had it? How did you articulate it? How did how did other people articulated, would everyone have described the culture and the cultural values the same way. And if not, maybe you didn't lose that much, maybe it's an opportunity to build a culture for the future, and to think about, and to ensure that you have measures and strategies in place to ensure that the culture can be communicated and shared and protected in this new context, in this environment, where we're just not seeing people every day, this is actually a really important part of onboarding. So that as new people join the organization, it's not a matter of they'll kind of get a sense of the culture after they've been around for a while. But that we can convey and communicate the culture, and in ways that we probably didn't discipline ourselves to do as much of in the past, because we relied on the kind of older and familiar ways of conveying that and having people you know, getting work with us in different ways. And, you know, I can reflect on and recall, in past corporate experiences where somebody would join the organization and the onboarding experience was, they would go and meet with and talk with face to face all these different people over the first month. And think about how almost impossible that is, in some organizations that are very geographically dispersed. Even if people are working in offices, if it's a multinational organization, we don't have that opportunity. What we do have the opportunity for now, though, is for people to have a much more enriching, digital face to face experience than they had both.

Debra Dinnocenzo:

So when we reflect on things like culture, we look at challenges around collaboration and innovation. It's important for leaders to stop and and and reflect on what have we done? What do we need to do in the future? What have we learned from the pandemic? And what does it mean? What does all of this mean now for how we're going to attract talent, how we're going to engage that talent, and how we're going to focus on retaining that talent into the future so we can continue to sustain and to grow. And so much of this, I think, from a leadership perspective, is about also recognizing the importance of valuing our our talent, valuing our team members, and conveying the value that we place on them in new and different ways for a couple of reasons. For one thing, and this is something I hear also, consistently, among leaders that I talk with particularly senior leaders, what they miss the most is managing by wandering around. So it's the Peters and Waterman of In Search of Excellence concept of managing by wandering around, which is been around that concept has been around for a long time. But we recognized coming through the pandemic, how important that is. And it's important for leaders to get a sense of how people were doing how people are feeling. And it's really also important for team members to have those occasional experiences of leader just dropping by, you know, checking in, how's it going, being visible? Well, so we might not have those opportunities as readily as we have had in the past. And so what does that mean? That mean? That doesn't mean that we have it can stop doing that. It just means we have to innovate around how we do that. We have to find creative ways to replicate and simulate the ways that the things that we did like manage by Managing by wandering around. But to do that through some of the digital tools. And let me just say before I forget to say one of the fundamental digital tools is the telephone. And if you think about it, managing by wandering around was the opportunity to, for the leader to be visible. And for team members to feel important enough that the leader checked in stopped by was visible, cared about what they were doing, all of those things are still important, we just need to do them in different ways. And what that involved and allowed to occur was that people not only saw the leader and of course, we have ways that now we can be visible to each other through digital tools. But people had the opportunity to talk with the leader when the leader managed by wandering around. And so I'm a big believer in we need to go back to fundamentals. And the voice of the leader, the live connection between the leader and members of the leaders team is vitally important, and helps to bridge the gap as we become more dispersed. So picking up the phone, sometimes just picking up the phone, avoiding doing a check in via chat or text or email.

Debra Dinnocenzo:

But to make it a more human connection with a live voice, and if that's a phone call, in many cases, if you think about it, that's more personal and easier to do than scheduling a team's meeting or a zoom call. And perhaps, we feel like we're a little overwhelmed with the number of times that we need in a day that we need to have a Zoom meeting. And so picking up the phone is a is a virtual way of wandering around, that should not be under utilized. And again, this is all about conveying value, respect for employees, letting our team members know that they are are recognized and appreciated and valued. And this contributes significantly to a factor that we need to be mindful of as leaders because the lack of appreciation or people feeling appreciated and valued and recognized for their contributions is a major driver in the great resignation, the dynamic where people are leaving organizations, because they don't feel valued and appreciated. And so this, these are all important things that leaders need to recognize, and begin to act on in different ways. While the fundamental leadership skills are the same, we're doing these in different ways. And so all of this, what underlies all of this are some really kind of fundamental leadership principles that we'll talk about in greater depth in, in future podcasts. But I just like to touch on them here now. And the first being trust. Trust is vitally important in all relationships. But in work relationships, it's very difficult to engage people who are not feeling trustful. And so trust is essential to most of everything else that leaders need to accomplish with their teams. So it's important to, to build trust. And one of the elements of trust is familiarity. That it's hard to trust people if you don't know that we trust we begin to trust people, when we have a sense of them when we know them. And as we reflect on it, the pandemic has given us a unique opportunity for many teams to get to know each other in in ways that could not have occurred had it not been for the pandemic. So people really got to know each other at a more human level, a more vulnerable level as we all kind of survived a common if you will, collective near death experience, or at least a scary one for a lot of people. And, and a very real difficult to explain oriens for many people who lost loved ones during the pandemic, and so we got to know people because we reached out to them in different ways, during the pandemic, and to because we were concerned about each other. And we asked, How are you doing? Also, we did a lot of video meetings where we saw people's spouses and partners and family members and children and pets, and we had exposure to them, and the human side of them in ways that wouldn't typically happen in the traditional workplace. So that's, that's a positive thing. The challenge for leaders now is how can we continue some of that? How can we continue to integrate that as we move forward. So other elements of trust, I'll just mention briefly, our reliability, knowing that we can count on people that we, you know, we have each other's backs that we deliver, people will deliver what they promise and integrity, counting on people's honesty, their forthrightness, their, you know, follow through showing up for meetings when they're supposed to, when they commit to things, and maintaining confidences, all of the aspects of integrity.

Debra Dinnocenzo:

So trust is a very important element, communication, and all the different ways that we have now to communicate both on one on one level or team level, at a cross functional team level as we see more matrix organizations, and doing all of this now from a distance. And so it's vitally important, as leaders, lead more dispersed teams, more remote team members, that they listen, as an important part of communication. I have referenced this for the past two decades in talking about and helping organizations shift to more remote work, or telework, as we called it. And I have referred to it as listening between the lines. And that is the lines of what people are saying, you can listen between the lines of what sent a message in an email to for example, but it's listening in different ways. It's listening for the the subtle, the nuances of what people are really feeling. And that again, that ties back into people feeling heard, which contributes to them feeling valued, and contributes then to them feeling engaged and get an engagement is what then what leads to, to results. And that's the third really important component that leaders need to be mindful of, and a critical part of what leaders are there for, which is to get results. And so performance and performance management takes on all new dynamics as well. Again, it's fundamental performance management, but we are doing it in a different context. And I have long said that the onset and the expansion of the virtual workplace will be the best thing that has happened in a long time for remote a for for performance management. Because we are forcing ourselves to be clear about our expectations of people, their goals, their targets, their deliverables, their deadlines, or the results that they get, the metrics that we use, and the tools that we use to monitor and to provide feedback, which is an important part of Performance Management, which ties into the different ways that we need to communicate so during the pandemic performance reviews happened remotely by teams or by zone because we didn't stop doing performance reviews. But typically, we always tried to do those face to face where it was possible. It wasn't always possible in many organizations. But certainly we saw more of that kind of thing being done in ways that we were not as comfortable with. And so that is the challenge is to explore those new ways and to become competent at them and confident and comfortable with With leveraging those good leadership skills in the context, the new context in which leaders must function. So we will talk about all of this in in greater depth. But these are the new challenges for leaders that will now lead virtually, from a distance, leading remote and hybrid teams. And, and hybrid adds a whole other level of complexity. As we have, we'll have more meetings where some people will be on site and others will be remote. Whereas during COVID, we mostly had everybody remote. That was kind of the great leveler, everybody was coming from the same place, from their remote desk, with an image on a screen. And so even team meetings now will have a different dynamic and their own challenges. And so we will have the opportunity to talk about in future podcasts on how how best to have those kinds of meetings, how to use the technology, how to ensure engagement on the part of people who are not sitting together in a conference room. And as those who are on site shift day by day, as we do more hybrid work involving Hotelling, or hot desking, where only some people are in the office at the same time. And then considering when when should a leader bring an entire team together and how to do that, because in some cases, there isn't the space to do it anymore. And then how best to leverage that face to face time that face to face time will become more and more precious. And so when we are investing, and it is an investment of travel cost and time to bring people together face to face, we want to get the best out of that the best value and the best opportunity for people to connect in important ways that they want need to connect in those face to face times. But we do know and all of the data is telling us now when we survey employees and leaders, that there is a huge bias for greater flexibility, and more opportunity to work with greater flexibility to work remotely. And that typically I don't see that very many people say they want 100% remote, but they want a lot more remote than we had pre pandemic. And so that is going to alter the landscape of of the workplace and change what leaders need to do to successfully lead virtually to get real results, which is what the bottom line is. So I appreciate you taking time to listen, I look forward to doing more of a deep dive on many of these topics in the future. And I hope this is giving you some food for thought as you as a leader or as a team member. Reflect on what are the learnings that are important to take forward as you moved into the as you move into the next normal of our remote and hybrid workplace.