Minna Kivimäki: Leading change remotely – with success

A year ago, when we suddenly had to relocate all work into remote, there was a bit of despair in the air in several change projects: “How can this be done? There’s no way we can succeed in this!” Looking back, we notice that we’ve brought several changes to the finish line all from a distance, and in others we’re advancing at a good pace. 

Of course, we must not sugar-coat the situation: there are some projects that would have benefited from common time spent face-to-face. They are quite complex projects and progressing slowly partly due to working remotely, partly for other reasons.

Common understanding on goals 

So, change projects can succeed also remotely. What makes it possible? Let’s think about the project team and leading it. It is paramount that the direction is kept clear in mind and that it is reviewed regularly by the entire team. The common goal is easily blurred when working alone at one’s desk.

Working remotely requires more verbal consensus. It’s easier to misunderstand or forget when everyone is just a video – or at worst, just initials – in Teams. All of this, of course, takes more time: the project is progressing perhaps slower than originally planned.

Change does not happen by itself – especially not from a distance 

Carrying out change remotely may require more effort. It becomes increasingly important to involve people at an early stage and give them the opportunity to participate throughout the change journey. In this way, people will feel included and in control; they become change makers, not evasive change avoiders in their home offices.

It is impossible to lead change blindfolded 

You must be persistent in repeating the change message in all necessary channels and offer people plenty of opportunities to ask questions, as it is more difficult to get immediate feedback when working remotely.

For the same reason, emphasis should be placed on the importance of measuring change. In remote, you do not hear or see the discussion and thoughts bubbling under the surface and it is more difficult to detect how the change is progressing. Change measurement reaches the furthest parts of the organization and provides vital data for leading change – you don’t want to steer your investment completely blindfolded, do you?

All in all, monitoring the change progress and permanence is a key to the success of all remotely managed changes. A change project is often only a start for a change, the actual race being how permanent the change becomes. If the change project is carried out remotely, I would particularly invest in ensuring that the change lasts.

You might also want to read Mira Dahlman’s blog about leading people remotely. It has many of the same elements as leading change remotely.