An Emmy Award- Winning anchor shares Lessons on ways leaders can stay connected and communicate better in a remote world.

“NECESSITY IS the mother of invention.”

It is an expression we have heard forever. The message is very clear: We innovate because we must. We innovate because we need to, for if we don’t, we often pay a hefty price. Yet real, meaningful innovation — the kind that significantly changes and at times disrupts organizations and entire industries — is really hard stuff. It can be complicated. Often, despite the “need” to innovate, there is resistance — from individuals as well as entire organizations and their respective cultures.

Yet, one innovation that has been almost universally accepted and embraced (if not always executed effectively), again due to necessity, is the need to lead and communicate remotely. Simply put, COVID-19 has forced us to dramatically rethink how we communicate both internally with our teams and colleagues and externally with key stakeholders. Organizations are using video technology such as Zoom, Cisco Webex and Google Meet to engage others in day-to-day business that historically had to be done face-to-face.

And while successfully engaging, leading and communicating with others have always been challenging for many professionals, doing so remotely due to public safety and social distancing restrictions has brought forth a new set of obstacles and challenges — along with potential opportunities. Given this backdrop, the following are some best practices to consider when leading and communicating remotely that will be helpful for all leaders trying to manage in these unprecedented and difficult times:

SET CLEAR GOALS AND EXPECTATIONS

COVID-19 has forced organizations to look at how and where they are allocating precious resources. As decisions are being made to cut costs and get one’s fiscal house in order, it is essential to communicate those changes to the team, along with the specific goals and expectations for the organization in the near future. Team members need to know their role and what is expected of them as it relates to the larger strategic and operational vision for the organization.

UTILIZE THE RIGHT TOOLS

One of the biggest challenges when leading remotely is keeping employees engaged. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to the type of leading and communicating that will work best for your team or, for that matter, each individual. Use email, video, text, conference calls and file-sharing platforms to keep your team informed of important updates and deadlines.

SHARE INFORMATION

Especially when leading remotely, all employees need to “buy in” to the need to share information. It could be an article or news story that impacts the organization or a client, or a new system, procedure or innovative approach for a particular function. For example, if you read an article with the top five ways to avoid burnout during a pandemic, share that with your team so that they may gain something from it. Or, if you create a new form or template that helps you keep better track of your prospects, share it so that your team and the organization can benefit. Google Drive is a common tool to quickly share information in one location in real time, as is Dropbox.

PROVIDE OPPORTUNITIES FOR REMOTE SOCIAL INTERACTION

Beyond Zoom, Google Meet or Blue Jeans meetings for work-related items, it is important to connect with your team on a social basis to help prevent feelings of isolation. Try a virtual pizza party, where pizzas are delivered to all team members at the time of the video conference, or a virtual happy hour. Or allow a few minutes in a meeting to talk about non- work-related matters, like what they have been streaming on Netflix or what they did over the weekend.

OFFER SUPPORT

Beyond technical and task-related support, employees may need more encouragement and emotional support. Communicate that you are there to listen to their anxieties, fears and concerns, and empathize with what they are feeling. Go out of your way to check in and ask, “How are things going working remotely?” “What is especially challenging for you given this situation?” “What, if anything, can we do to help you be more effective in working remotely?” This simple action lets your employees know that you value them as team members.

STAY CONNECTED

Create a prioritized list of calls, texts or emails that you will use to connect and communicate with key “stakeholders.” These stakeholders are clients, customers, vendors and, simply put, people who matter in your world. Make sure you keep track of who you communicate with, when you did it and any action you agreed to, and be sure to follow up.

RECOGNIZE TEAM MEMBERS

Make note of specific team members who are stepping up and embracing the sometimes dramatic changes that are needed not just to survive but thrive in difficult times. Let them know that you appreciate their efforts and, more importantly, their attitude. Conversely, it is important for leaders to acknowledge that certain team members will have an especially difficult time adapting to this rapidly changing and uncertain environment. Make a point to coach them, but some team members are simply not equipped, or even willing, to think and act outside of the box. They will hold on to the past, saying things like, “But we’ve always done it that way.” When this occurs, it is the leader’s responsibility to engage the particularly rigid team member and offer alternative ways to adapt to the changing environment, while identifying the specific reasons for the resistance. Moving forward, if the team member still does not budge when things get to the “new normal,” there may not be a place for that person on the bus.

Some leaders hope for a return to more “normal” times. And while we all want that, this approach is no substitute for having a smart and strategic communication game plan in this remote environment. The best leaders and communicators are really good at playing the hand they are dealt, and COVID-19 and its myriad challenges are, in fact, the hand we have been dealt. Being an excellent and engaging communicator in a variety of remote and virtual settings will be a critically important skill set for any leader at any time — even when things get better around COVID-19 (and potentially a “new normal”) and distribution of the vaccine. More and more organizations will have remote meetings, and leaders will be expected to make remote presentations. We will also coach, mentor and give feedback to team members using remote technology in addition to whatever we do in person. The point here is that even though we all long for being able to lead and communicate in the same space, the reality is that remote and virtual communication will remain a significant aspect of every leader’s future. This is why all of us as leaders must continue to innovate, learn and grow our leadership and communication skills on every possible platform — because the status quo is never an option.

Steve Adubato, Ph.D.

is the author of five books, including his latest, Lessons in Leadership. Adubato is an Emmy Award-winning anchor on Thirteen/WNET (PBS) and NJTV (PBS) who has appeared on CNN and NBC’s Today show. He is also the host of “Lessons in Leadership” on News 12+, produced in cooperation with Seton Hall University and its Buccino Leadership Institute.