In this conversation, between Tom Savigar, Saskia Hinger, and Key Kawamura we explore how the concept of remote leadership is opening up many new dimensions of work, from the meaning of progress and togetherness to creativity and humanness.
- We are evolving leadership models from the survival of the most efficient, to the most connected, to now the most empathetic.
- Leadership is something that’s increasingly practised by a community of people, not by a select few.
- Welcome to a new level of empowerment, independence and leadership competence.
- We don’t think we need to reinvent the what of work all the time, just the how and the where.
- Welcome to a new form of presence with remote leadership based on ‘together wherever’.
- The transformation to a remote leadership model is not about changing one behaviour, technology or space – it is a systematic transformation.
- Remote leadership is dependent on the same skills as a jazz musician, it is more intuitive, in sync, resilient and shared.
2022 marks a turning point in workplace history. More and more workforces are increasingly not physically together every day, every week. Many people have adjusted to new remote working experiences, and for many, it is a new reality they are still coming to terms with. So why is remote leadership a topical debate?
“I think it is really important that we distinguish leadership from leaders. Leadership is something that’s increasingly practised by a community of people, not by a select few. Everyone is a leader in their own sense and we are seeing a remodelling of leadership behaviours,” adds Key.
“In the old model of leadership, it was very easy for a manager to lead by command, and for those who were being commanded to not feel responsible for the jobs that needed to be done,” says Key. “I believe that in the new remote leadership model accountability rests on the shoulders of many more people. There’s a higher distribution of trust.”
“I agree, we have all experienced a lot more virtual leadership encounters and connections. As well as getting a job done at work, creating an emotional connection, team spirit and a sense of belonging are now more challenging than ever before,” says Saskia.
With more people being more responsible for their ways of working, decision-making at all levels is decentralising. But in order to feel accountable and in order to feel empowered to make a decision, people need to align around an organisation’s beliefs, values, purpose and actions.
“This opens an interesting point about choice. As individuals are empowered to make decisions about the best method, location, or even system to get a job done, they also need to choose to do things remotely or together physically,” comments Saskia. “It’s also a new level of independence and a new level of leadership competence.”
So is the beginning of a permanent state of leadership creativity and flexibility, with empowered people exploring and trying optimal work solutions every day?
“Well, I like the idea of not going back into a very rigid strict system, but guidelines help people orient themselves. I don’t think we need to reinvent the what of work all the time, just the how and the where,” says Saskia. “At Studio Banana we’re testing how liberated people can be. How do I work? Where do I perform better? How do I organise myself with others’ needs? We’re giving people guidelines, but we’re testing the boundaries of what it means to be together.”
“This is interesting to me,” adds Key. “I am reading two books at the moment about being together alone and together apart. Modern love relationships and how people can be together, but be geographically apart, and together alone as a criticism of social media. We are all by ourselves but we feel we’re together. I hope that we can find a new form of presence with remote leadership based on ‘together wherever’.”
Increased employee liberty will inspire an increase in sensitivity towards remote leadership. Indeed, there will be a realisation in many organisations that more incumbent forms of leadership need to evolve and fast. Is there a silver bullet when it comes to embracing modern remote leadership?
‘No. There are no one size fits and we can’t tell you the formula because it will depend a lot on each organisation’s ecosystem, culture and openness of a workforce to adopt new behaviours,” says Key. “We are prototyping new behaviours and doing experiments so that clients can test, learn and decide what’s best to scale.”
So is there a toolbox of solutions for organisations?
“The transformation to a remote leadership model needs to be a holistic one. You can’t just change one behaviour, technology or space. It really needs to be approached in a systematic way,” explains Key.
‘It is important to know where your organisation stands today. If you leapfrog too far, you might risk breaking the organisation. Your people might not be ready for such change and you need to look at yourself in the mirror vis-a-vis this remote leadership model and put the bar at a height where you feel comfortable. How remote-orientated are you? How decentralised are you? How do we perform compared to other organisations? How do we compare to workforce expectations?”
Analysing this gap enables organisations to chart a course of transformation and break down the steps to reach optimal remote leadership. Where do we start?
“Firstly, identify change champions in your organisation who are more open to evolving and proving this new remote leadership model works. Empower them, celebrate them as people who are pioneers, and allow them to make mistakes,” says Key.
“Secondly, your infrastructure needs to become hybrid-first. Because if you create a ‘digital first class and second class’ within your organisation, and give remote, digital-enabled teams more power, information and support, you set yourself up for failure. So, it is important to be hybrid first, not digital-first,” says Key.
“Yes, I’m really excited about finding a good balance between being physically together and being remotely alone or hybrid. Because I see a really great opportunity to make the most out of the time that we spend in those different modes,” adds Saskia.
“And thirdly, you need to make knowledge highly accessible. If knowledge about remote leadership best practices lies in silos, then things will be very difficult to scale. Open knowledge sharing enables people to make their own decisions, be accountable for their decisions.”
As organisations open up, share and learn together one can imagine a very different types of leadership skills and leadership tools.
“People are evolving from the industrial economy, where leaders are the most efficient, to the knowledge economy, where leaders are the most connected, to now the caring economy, where leaders are the most empathetic,” explains Key.
“The survival of the most empathetic requires different mindsets, tools and infrastructures. One needs to have access to lots of data and leverage the power of artificial intelligence, machine learning, and the Semantic Web. We’re at the very early stages of this next empathetic, care economy.”
“Remote leadership is based on measuring the energy and tempo of others,” says Key. “Jazz can be an amazing metaphor for this. The jazz tempo varies all the time and people need to listen to each other. If the musicians don’t listen to each other, it’s just a cacophony of noise. Remote leadership is dependent on the same skills as a jazz musician, it is more intuitive, in sync, resilient and shared.”
“The traditional leadership rules are not going to work anymore,” says Saskia. “The technologies, the mindsets, the behaviours will I think be highly flexible to explore and experiment with best practice, but that only comes from being open and transparent and vulnerable as an organisation, because that creativity will get closed down very quickly unless the culture of an organisation is ready to embrace remote leadership.”
There is a lot to look forward to in the changing of company communities and cultures, and Studio Banana is constantly experimenting with these new realities. Here are a few thought starters to inspire our next conversation:
How might your organisation:
– Evolve leadership models from the survival of the most efficient, to the most connected, to now the most empathetic?
– Empower everyone so that there is a higher level of trust, independence and accountability?
– Embrace a new, positive form of workforce presence based on ‘together wherever’?
– Learn from jazz to enhance levels of intuition, synchronicity, resilience and sharing in your workforce?
To learn more about the future, check some other Studio Banana Futurecasts: