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Remote Leadership: How To Lead & Manage a Remote Team

Key Takeaways

1. What works in an office setting does not always work in a remote setting. Be flexible in your remote leadership tactics.

2. However, fundamental leadership skills are still effective in remote environments. Stick to leadership fundamentals for your strategy, but be adaptable in your tactics.

3. Continuously learn best-practices using online courses, thought leaders, or online articles related to remote work leadership. 

4. For a remote team to be successful, both the team and leadership must be aligned and supporting one another.

Introduction

The way we work has significantly evolved over the last 50 years, from each technological advancement to the recent global pandemic.

But—has management evolved at the same speed? Have leaders adapted the way they work to meet new challenges with skills needed for sustained success?

In this article, we will explore the challenges of leading a remote team—and what skills are needed to meet those challenges. We will also provide several remote leadership training options and leadership styles that facilitate thriving remote environments.

What is remote leadership?

Remote leadership is guiding/directing a remote or partially remote workforce of employees working virtually. While this role still relies on classic leadership skills, understanding the challenges of remote leadership is critical to being able to apply them successfully.

What are the special remote leadership challenges?

Understanding the unique challenges of leading a remote team is the key to being a successful remote leader. Overcoming them is a gradual process that will ultimately allow all the benefits of remote work to be felt by the whole team.

Here are some classic challenges to leading remotely:

Rethinking Systems

  • Doing things how you’ve always done them, just remotely, doesn’t work (at least not long term).
  • An in-person team might thrive on daily meetings. That same team, if transitioned to remote work, might quickly dissolve into overwhelm if those meetings are simply swapped with back-to-back video calls.   
  • The list of systems that need rethinking for remote teams can be daunting: onboarding, training, documentation flows, equipment, trust building, decision making, accountability, and so on. You may need help from a Global PEO to successfully hire, onboard, and manage remote teams.

Team Building

  • Creating positive, team-building experiences for employees that combat loneliness and disconnection can be challenging to do remotely (but very possible).

Assessing needs and performance

  • Keeping tabs on the pulse of a team is not easy to do when you don’t see them every day.
  • Appraising performance will need to be approached and determined differently. The types of needs employees have will shift to include their individual remote working environments.

Preventing burnout and overwhelm

  • While the flexibility of remote work can significantly ease feelings of burnout, a sense of isolation can contribute to it. For remote work to be sustainable, employees will need to feel a sense of connection, collaboration, and contribution.

What are the essential remote leadership skills?

You can apply all the classic leadership skills—vision, clear communication, active listening, creativity, problem solving, strategic thinking, empathy, delegation—to remote leadership.

Where and how you apply these skills is what will set you apart as an effective remote team leader. Draw mental lines between the challenges detailed above and the skills listed below. This will help you know how to apply your skills over time to successfully mitigate remote challenges.

 

Creative communication

  • Obviously, communication skills are important when leading a team—but when leading a virtual or hybrid team, you aren’t working with in-person energy and body language. You are observing and facilitating online environments.
  • A basic guideline is to touch base with each person reporting to you at least once a week and provide feedback a few times per month. Additionally, create options for connection that aren’t centered around productivity, like virtual lunch sessions or group chats. For more tips, read our guide for keeping remote employees motivated and engaged.

Adaptability

  • This skill is necessary at every stage of remote leadership.
  • For example, you need to adapt to using more asynchronous communication (information exchanged through messages (e.g., email) over synchronous (real-time, live interaction). While an office environment is naturally fueled with a lot of synchronous communication, a remote environment needs to be fueled with creative, effective asynchronous methods. 
  • You will also need to adapt to using the technology that will best serve your team. Recognize what doesn’t work and change it.

Flexibility

  • The goal is to create virtual practices that allow for maximum flexibility while still keeping a team connected.
  • Keep a balance between cameras on and off, synchronous and asynchronous, productive and bonding. Let employees meet their deadlines in the ways that work best for them.  

Cultural sensitivity

  • Culture—from the individual to company level—is multifaceted (especially if employees are geographically dispersed) and absolutely critical to understand when leading remote teams.
  • A simple way to break down company culture is to look at the four simple, layered components of The Results Pyramid.
  • At the base of the pyramid is “Experiences”. Experiences are the core from which everything else stems. Experiences shape beliefs (the next layer), which shape actions (the next layer), which ultimately determine the results (the top of the pyramid).
  • Create positive, team-building experiences for employees that shape healthy beliefs about their team and work (thus influencing positive actions and results).

Best places for remote leadership training

The following courses are packed with best practices that address each of the challenges of remote leadership while teaching you how to implement essential skills.

1. HubSpot Academy’s Remote Leadership Training: How to Manage a Remote Team

This free, 36-minute remote leadership course will:

  • Address the common challenges people experience when working from home
  • Offer a list of remote tools needed to effectively work from home
  • Teach you how to create a virtual office for a remote team

2. Udemy’s Managing Virtual Teams

This inexpensive course includes 11 sections (totaling 1 hour 15 minutes) that will teach you:

  • Insights on the characteristics, dynamics, and challenges of teams
  • How to run productive virtual meetings
  • The importance of culture in team building and the expectations of gig workers, millennials, and Gen Z employees
  • How to use and apply different communication models
  • Implement new ideas for virtual team building
  • How to analyze employee personas
  • How to be truly proactive and team management using advanced technology

3. Coursera’s How to Manage a Remote Team

This intermediate, 11-hour course will teach you how to:

  • Lead in a remote environment
  • Build a remote organizational culture and practices
  • Assess teams’ and managers’ readiness and preparation for remote work
  • Create a foundational strategy for executing a remote transformation

4. eCornell’s Leading Remote Teams Certificate Program

This comprehensive, three-month program is packed with two-week courses (3-5 hours per week) that will help you:

  • Learn strategies to elevate the performance of virtual teams
  • Build a foundation of trust, team identity, and engagement to allow your team to move forward, reach key goals and avoid remedial action
  • Master suggested best practices for effectively managing conflict, communication, and collaboration on virtual teams
  • Explore methods for creating a more focused, results-driven team that reaches and executes smart decisions
  • Manage cross-cultural differences on teams

Popular remote leadership styles

Here are some leadership styles that have proven to be most successful with remote teams. You can either embrace one style as your own, or you can incorporate elements of any that you feel are most natural for you and helpful for your team.

1. Transformational Leadership

  • This style is motivational, inspiring, and led by example. The leader provides their team with a vision of the future and gives them the tools to make it happen. The objectives of the team are all connected to a deeper sense of a united mission. Transformational leaders are good at shaping a supportive, inviting work culture.

2. Situational leadership

  • This style relies on the skill of being adaptable. The leader is excellent at knowing their team—how each member works and what they need to succeed. The leader adjusts their own processes and participation depending on what the team needs to meet their goals. The leader can be very hands-on, directing, or facilitating, depending on the situation.

3. Servant Leadership

  • This is another style that leads by example and creates a respectful, supportive team environment when done right. The leader is tuned in with each person on the team, providing one-on-one conversations, offering helpful feedback, and meeting individual needs. The leader often has strong conflict resolution and interpersonal skills. They are naturally respected as an authority figure because of the responsibility they take for their team.

4. Participative Leadership

  • This is a facilitative style that allows employees to take responsibility, offer input, and be part of decision-making. This leader creates a collaborative environment and shared responsibility. They know the skills and strengths of their team and set them up for success.

Horizons empowers remote leaders anywhere in the world

Leading a great remote team becomes possible when everyone is set up for success, including leadership. Horizons can help support a remote leader at every step—from recruiting and hiring from a global pool of talent to keeping workers happy and engaged. Get in touch with us to find out more and get a tailored quote for hiring staff abroad.  

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ):

Remote leadership is guiding/directing a remote or partially remote workforce.

A great remote leader is able to apply classic leadership skills (communicative, adaptable, flexible, culturally sensitive) within a remote work environment, mitigating the unique challenges (e.g., team building) and highlighting the strengths (e.g., flexible work).

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