Can you effectively lead a business from afar?

In today’s working environment, questions have been raised as to whether senior leaders and CEOs can realistically operate and lead a business from afar. While many business leaders have embraced hybrid working, others have condemned the practice. Similarly, many employees have made calls for remote working to become the norm, and then said that they feel disengaged from their leaders due a lack of face time.

So, can senior leaders continue to adopt a hybrid approach to leadership if they wish to drive success for their organisation?

The short answer would be yes. To argue that leaders cannot lead from somewhere other than an office is to some extent, reducing the art of leadership down to mere presenteeism – a stance that is difficult to substantiate in the new world of work. Businesses and employees have proven since the pandemic that performance and output can be sustained without being in an office, and while you cannot say that there is no longer a place for face-to-face interaction at work, our research tells us that the elements which define one’s ability to lead are far more complex than simply being in the same physical location as employees.

“The Leading with Impact framework defines a number of key dimensions that enable an individual to be an effective leader in today’s world of work. Not every individual will possess each ingredient, nor will every business require the same qualities from their respective leadership population. It’s about understanding what your business needs from its leaders in order to respond to strategic decisions or transformation, and ensuring that your selection and development initiatives focus on individuals who naturally fit the bill or can grow towards it.”

Jacques Quinio, Leadership Solutions Director – Right Management UK

Now, without being visible and leading by example, no leader should expect their workforce to fall in line and be fully engaged. But it’s important to remember that the ways in which leaders can be visible at work have changed. Technology has enabled for more versatile communication, and many employees will have become accustomed to seeing their CEO through a computer screen as opposed to walking through the office.

Of course, if demanding that employees physically attend an office space, senior leaders themselves should do the same. After all, a workplace culture is very much about equity – especially in today’s market, where employees will question an expectation placed on them to behave or operate in a way that doesn’t seem fair or isn’t being reflected by the leadership population.

However, it is somewhat reductive to argue that senior leaders cannot lead their business if not situated in the same physical location as their workforce. With the right culture in place and a senior leadership team reflecting the qualities and behaviours outlined in their organisation’s leadership framework, employees will know that if they want to have their voices heard, they can rely on technology to keep them connected with their leaders if an in-person meeting isn’t possible.

It goes without saying that face-to-face interactions will always have a place at the heart of business and should be encouraged by senior leaders and employees alike. Whether it’s a monthly team meeting or a company-wide collaboration day, bringing a workforce together in-person is key to reconnecting existing teams and introducing new starters to their colleagues and the company culture.

“A key responsibility of leaders in today’s hybrid world is to encourage face-to-face interaction. Regardless of their preferences for where and how they work, employees still need to feel connected; not only to one another, but to the business and its leaders. With the right culture and technology in place, you can lead and work from anywhere without impacting business performance. But it’s important to not take this for granted, and to facilitate in-person events for the entire workforce wherever possible.”

Tim Gilbert, Managing Director – Right Management UK

But being in the same physical location as your employees at all times is no longer a pre-requisite to good leadership, and businesses should instead be focused on ensuring their senior leaders not only possess the innate qualities required to lead in a VUCA world, but that they behave in a way that generates employee engagement and achieves results in a way that aligns with the heightened ESG expectations placed upon leaders today.

Find out more about the make-up of effective leadership with our Leading with Impact white paper.