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ATD Blog

8 Habits for Leading a Remote Workforce

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Welcome to the future of work. With the novel coronavirus pandemic, businesses have had to quickly shift to work-from-home and telecommuting arrangements.

As most of us are adjusting to virtual dinner dates and Zoom happy hours, leaders around the world have found themselves in a tough situation figuring out how to lead their teams, departments, and organizations virtually. I’ve led a virtual business for the past 12 years, and being an industrial/organizational psychologist, I’ve also researched it. So, I’ll share my lessons learned as a CEO of a virtual company.

1. Include Only Relevant Thoughts and Information

Keep your messages focused by including only relevant thoughts and information. Use this exercise to make a habit of cutting unnecessary words: After you finish writing an email, reread it and cut out as many unnecessary words as you can. Can you even delete an entire sentence?

2. Organize Your Message Around Key Points

The structure of your message is as important as the words you choose. A message organized around a few key points is more effective than one that delivers the same information without a clear structure. Use this exercise to make a habit of creating an outline before you start writing a new document (an email, memo, presentation, and so forth): After opening a new document, create a quick outline of the three main points that you want your reader/audience to take away from your message.

3. Create a Plan

Get in the habit of identifying tasks and setting deadlines. After discussing a project or task with a co-worker, identify one action item with a deadline by asking, “What exactly will you do and when will you complete it?” Write it down. For example, your co-worker commits to drafting a new product brochure by September 20.


4. Specify “What,” Not “How”

This micro-behavior is the opposite of micromanagement. Practice this exercise to get in the habit of letting others decide how they will do their work. After deciding to delegate a project to a particular person, assign it by saying, “I’d like you to figure out how to . . . ” and “How do you think you’ll do that?” For example, you could say, “I’d like you to figure out how to collect customer feedback. How do you think you’ll do that?” Make sure to only specify the end goal—the deliverable.

5. Ask Open-Ended Questions

Open-ended questions encourage people to talk more and create opportunities for genuine conversation because they require more than a simple, yes-or-no answer. Use this exercise to make a habit of starting your questions with “what” or “how.” After realizing that you want to ask a question, start it with the words “what” or “how.” For example, you could ask, “What is your position on this? What else matters to you? How is this different from your expectations?”


6. Link Individual Assignments With Your Team’s Purpose

Practice helping people to connect the dots between their work and the goals of the team and organization using this exercise. After reviewing what someone is working on, highlight how that project or task supports the team’s mission by saying, “Your work on . . . is important for our team’s mission to . . . ” For example, “Your work on the social media campaign is very important for our team’s mission to reduce smoking in young adults.”

7. Initiate Relationships

Effective leaders don’t wait for other people to seek them out; they initiate and build relationships proactively. Use this exercise to practice initiating contact and developing relationships. After sitting down at your desk to start your workday, write down the name of one person with whom you need to initiate contact or strengthen your relationship and reach out with an email or a phone call.

8. Make Others Feel Valued and Appreciated

We all want to feel valued and appreciated for who we are and what we contribute. Use this exercise to practice telling at least one person a day either in an email or over the phone that you value and appreciate something about them. After realizing that the discussion or email is coming to an end, say, “I want you to know that I value [or] appreciate . . .” For example, you could say that you value the person’s input on the issue or appreciate their hard work.

About the Author

Martin Lanik is author of the international bestseller The Leader Habit and CEO of Pinsight. His habit-forming leadership training focuses on five-minute practice sessions woven throughout the day. Lanik’s research-based formula has helped thousands of high-potentials, managers, directors, and executives in 30 countries build stronger leadership skills. More than 100 companies – including AIG and CenturyLink – have implemented his programs, which have been featured in Forbes, Fast Company, Chief Executive, and Chief Learning Officer. Martin holds a doctorate in industrial and organizational psychology from Colorado State University. Learn more at

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Fully agree with your list of recommendations. Thank you for sharing. You and your audience may also find this article helpful because it covers the topic of driving remote productivity -
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