An introduction to this article appeared in the monthly Creating Connections newsletter put together by the women of The CyberWire. This is a guest-written article. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors, not necessarily the CyberWire, Inc.
Remote workforce leadership lessons learned from the pandemic.
Industry leaders have learned many lessons from the rush to remote work since the onset of the pandemic. From the impact on culture, workforce recruitment, and security, to the leadership lessons learned about managing remote employees, there have been both dark clouds and silver linings gained from the pandemic.
In a recent CyberWire podcast, three female leaders in cyber security discussed how to promote Security Awareness with a company-wide culture of transparency and trust. Leadership that supports a healthy company culture plays a pivotal role in security, and the uptick in remote work disrupted how we lead employees in the midst of change. Consider some additional insights from these women in security as they reflect on the ways the pandemic has moved the needle for managing remote teams effectively.
There are always some resistant to change, so not all companies pivoted to remote work quickly or without missteps. “People who thought this was going to be a temporary move really struggled because they never fully settled in,” said Masha Sedova of Elevate Security. “And those who didn't settle in started seeing long-term impact on culture.”
Even companies that had existing infrastructure to support remote work felt cultural implications of their own. “We knew that we had the bandwidth and the right tooling in place to let everybody work remote,” shared Michelle Killian of Code42. “We were quite lucky that the pivot for us was easy. But clearly there was impact to culture—making sure that work was still fun and enjoyable.”
As a leader, “one of the most important things I think we've all had to go through is learning how to communicate better when everyone is virtual,” said Samantha Humphries of Exabeam. “We've lost the water cooler. We need to make sure we're in touch with people and that we're sympathetic to the fact that this has been a super tough time for everybody.”
Managing teams in a virtual environment came with a new set of challenges. “You can pretend that things are okay on a Zoom meeting, and then you can hit end and go back to not being okay,” explains Sedova. “As a manager and a leader, you have to create the opportunity and the spaces for the conversations that would have happened in the office parking lot.”
Approaches to managing remote teams have adapted over the span of the pandemic. “There were the real quick solutions we built in, like virtual happy hours and things like that,” said Killian. “Now we're at the long tail. How is the ongoing meaningful interaction going to happen?”
One strategy that Sedova shared is the importance of one-on-ones and taking opportunities to fly people together to create space for informal conversations. Another approach she uses to support a fully remote culture is beginning every leadership meeting with a check-in card. “It's on a scale of one to 10 – hold up the number of fingers that represent how you feel,” says Sedova. “It gives the opportunity to let people still be human and catches it in ways that being remote does not.”
While these are great examples of checking in with your teams to support company culture, the pandemic has also seen approaches that harmed trust. Humphries discussed how some companies leaned into employee monitoring to see if people were really at their desk when working remotely. “You can't treat people like that—that trust just erodes immediately,” urges Humphries. “So, communicate, trust and appreciate people's time. We’ve proven that people can work from home.”
One of the silver linings of a work-from-home culture is seeing employees “own their lives a whole lot more than I feel like they used to,” expressed Killian. “We had a lot of flexibility before, but that next level of flexibility has given people a sense of ownership, which I feel is so powerful in finding and having that work life balance.”
Additionally, Sedova noted remote work has created an equality of information. People who previously worked remote alone, “would get information last and sometimes never, but here we are all exactly in the same position,” admits Sedova. “Everyone has access to Zoom meetings. They are recorded and information sharing has become democratized, and you do not get any benefits or penalization based on where you are. It's really become a great equalizer for all of our employees.”
While the pandemic challenged us all in a multitude of ways, there were many valuable leadership lessons learned by those who accepted the challenge with empathy and flexibility.