Remote Leadership Strategies for Sustained Engagement

As organizations adapt to the new norm of hybrid work models, leaders are left to navigate off site teams. Here are their strategies for maintaining engagement, productivity, and cohesion in the remote workforce.

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  • [Image source: Anvita Gupta/MITSMR Middle East]

    In today’s age, remote work setups are ubiquitous and critical to an organization’s evolution. A global survey conducted in 2023 by KPMG on Current Trends in Remote Working revealed that over the past three years, almost 90% of the surveyed companies have embraced workplace flexibility. 

    Having embraced such a model, Udeshika Ratnavira, Vice President of People Operations and Administration at WSO2, says fostering an environment where productivity is driven by results rather than strict adherence to office hours is essential. “Our commitment to a flexible work approach enables our employees to balance professional and personal commitments, promoting a culture of autonomy and trust among our global team.”

    For many organizations, the change was triggered by COVID-19. 

    Kissflow went through an organization-wide feedback exercise to understand the pros and cons of working from home during the first three months of the lockdown period. 

    “We looked at preferences in the work style as well as the practicality of business operations,” says Suresh Sambandam, CEO of Kissflow, adding that management proposed a hybrid model based on this.  

    Hybrid models have also become part of being a competitive employer. “People want flexibility built into their working patterns,” says David Boast, General Manager, Endava UAE. “The momentum has shifted back from entirely remote work. Still, we would all be missing a trick if we did not embrace some of the flexibility and adaptability this technology surge has provided.” 

    The approach of mixing in-office time, remote work, and customer on-site engagements encouraged collaboration with colleagues and reinforced company culture, pushing Endava to invest in innovative tools that extend this ability further. “Ultimately, our approach to flexible work is guided by the simple ethos of striking the ideal balance to best meet the needs and preferences of our customers and employees,” Boast says.  

    Facilitating Transparency and Incentives 

    The rise of hybrid work models has triggered organizations to review internal strategies. Ratnavira says that data shows a trend among companies in establishing standards and policies to proactively manage the remote workforce. 

    “This indicates that remote working has become the norm, enabling organizations to prioritize results over rigid time constraints,” she says, adding the importance of empowering leaders to manage their teams effectively in a remote setting. 

    One way their company has done this, Ratnavira says, is by conducting transparent employee performance reviews focusing on tangible results and contributions rather than just hours worked. 

    “Regular communication and feedback provide a platform for acknowledging achievements and addressing challenges and concerns,” she says. “Our evaluation criteria are focused on meaningful contributions, so compensation is directly linked to performance, irrespective of where you work from.” 

    In addition to implementing talent scorecard evaluation processes and quarterly team snapshots to aid in categorizing and assessing employees, Sambandam highlights their hybrid model that reinforces better productivity. This includes providing accommodation for those who travel into the city during the in-office work period and hosting quarterly conferences and off-site trips, allowing teams to come together. 

    “We spend a good number of hours on goal setting during all-hands meetings to establish clear expectations and milestones for the teams,” he says. “This ensures that we have defined objectives aligned with organizational goals.”

    Sambandam says their model has improved employee ownership, accountability, productivity, and morale. “There are cases where employees have moved to a peaceful town or location for better quality of life,” he says. “This impacts the company directly because most things are built on trust in a setup like this, and things can seldom go wrong.” 

    Cultivating Communication and Cohesion 

    For Boast, to manage remote workers, it is important to keep them inspired, connected, and motivated. “Perhaps the greatest learning of recent years was that while employees can be productive irrespective of where they work from, softer elements of their day-to-day work – the water cooler conversations, ability to bounce ideas off colleagues, or have a quick, informal chat with a manager – are harder to replicate virtually,” he says. “However, these remain fundamental to creating a cohesive company culture, and many leaders have found a solution in technology.” 

    The surge in the quality of webcams, microphones, and noise-canceling technology has helped make interactions online seamless. 

    Sambandam points out that the Kissflow team explores tech tools that can facilitate design discussions and informal chats and the company consciously hires employees who thrive in a remote work environment. 

    “Technology is used so everyone feels connected, has a voice, and can use it to excel in their roles,” says Boast.

    The Future of Remote Leadership

    The leaders foresee a future where AI and collaboration technologies continue to reduce the friction of remote working and increase collaboration in the virtual world. 

    “With the release of solutions such as Apple Vision, this will be the start of truly immersive remote leadership and collaboration that is both inclusive and focussed on employee wellbeing,” Boast says. “All this said, I hope we continue to make an effort to meet in person periodically to refresh and renew connections.”

    For Ratnavira, leaders have a critical role in fostering trust, continuous communication, and feedback, which is key to unlocking the full potential of a remote workforce and building high-performance teams. 

    “A culture-first organization intuitively figures remote work because there is a lot of trust placed in individuals and investment made in their overall growth,” says Sambandam. 

    Remote work models have proven that success can thrive in this transformative approach. “What was once the ‘new normal’ is now etched into the fabric of our operations,” he adds. “This isn’t a temporary shift; it’s a paradigm shift with no point of return.”



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