A Beginner's Guide To Remote Leadership

Even in a post-COVID world, remote work has become less of a privilege and more of a requirement to attract and retain top talent. While many companies have embraced the change — 24% of employees still work remotely as of 2022 — others organizations still flounder to make the transition from an in-person workforce.

At least some of the difficulties lie in remote leadership. Remote teams present a bevy of challenges — as well as benefits. But navigating this unfamiliar terrain and building a strong virtual team isn’t always as simple as licensing Slack and holding Zoom meetings; it requires a more comprehensive approach.

If remote leadership is holding your organization back, find out more about remote leadership, its advantages and challenges, and the tips and ideas necessary to turn it from a liability into an asset.

What Is Remote Leadership?

Remote leadership can be broadly defined as the ability to manage and empower employees, build a remote work environment and culture of trust, and provide support and development potential — all without a centralized location.

Moreover, remote leadership is the ability to construct the aforementioned ideas at scale, particularly if you’re growing your team remotely across more geographic regions and time zones.

The Skills You Need To Succeed at Remote Leadership

Leading your remote team through conflict is an important part of your leadership skills, but just one of many you need to succeed. A checklist won’t necessarily help you build the skills you need to lead remote workers, but it can help you focus on your strengths and weaknesses, as well as devise a leadership style that works for your organization.

Some skills present in many remote leaders include:

  • Goal-oriented
  • Adaptability
  • Strong communication — whether it’s through synchronous or asynchronous communication, as well as the ability to switch between formal and informal communication when necessary
  • Emotional intelligence and active listening
  • Ability to build trust among remote employees
  • Mastering day-to-day obligations remotely as they arise
  • Consistency
  • Constant positivity
  • Problem-solving

While some of these skills overlap with onsite and in-office skills, remote leadership necessitates a few tweaks. Trial and error is certainly part of the equation, but understanding how the role changes with a fully distributed team is integral to success.

Advantages of Remote Work and How It Applies To Remote Leadership

Remote team meeting

Despite the initial learning curve and challenges along the way, remote work has no dearth of benefits. In fact, some team members may find that remote work opens up a whole new world of possibilities in terms of workflow, productivity, culture, and morale. The key is to understand where your specific benefits lie in order to take advantage of them in any capacity possible. Here are some of the major advantages of remote work and how they relate to remote leadership.

Project Management Boom

If you’ve ever had trouble keeping a project on track, remote work may be the answer you’ve been looking for. Remote project management has a host of benefits, including lower operational costs, additional flexibility, enhanced focus, more staffing options, and all while promoting work-life balance.

Streamlined Communication and Collaboration

Although it may seem counterintuitive, remote work can actually boost and streamline communication and collaboration. With the ability to use task-tracking software, collaboration tools, chat rooms, and project management tools, every integral part of a team is together in real time albeit in a distributed manner.

This is in stark contrast to onsite compartmentalized teams, which didn’t work with each other in the office. It also avoids the often confusing nature of emails and memos, which can lead to ambiguity in how tasks are done.

Less Micromanaging

Onsite management and leadership may not dictate micromanagement, but it’s certainly something that can cause issues in the workplace. However, remote leadership puts a premium on context over control. It’s more about getting the job done well than some sort of arbitrary timetable that requires people to be in the office.

If you can avoid micromanaging in an online capacity, your team has more freedom and empowerment to complete a task on time, and hopefully, under budget. Moreover, this can build trust. While check-ins, instant messaging, and real-time video calls are ideal for discussing the scope of a project and getting updates, these shouldn’t become part of an unmotivated routine. Give your team space, and you may see better results.

Challenges of Remote Leadership

While the advantages of remote work are well-documented, the challenges that remote leaders face shouldn’t be ignored or underestimated — especially if the transition is nascent to your organization. Remote leadership doesn’t take anything off your plate, it just moves around the pieces. As such, you should be aware of the challenges that remote leadership poses.

Emotional Intelligence Issues

Emotional intelligence is loosely defined as your ability to identify and manage your emotions, as well as those of your team members. In an office setting, this would include reading body language, giving empathy, self-awareness, and active listening — just to name a few facets.

But on a virtual team, this becomes far more difficult. You don’t have the visual and aural cues to alert you to the well-being and mood of employees. Instead, you have to rely on other metrics and ideas to gauge other people.

In this instance, sharing feedback, encouraging online conversation, and gaining perspective are perhaps the best ways to improve emotional intelligence and remote leadership.

Poor Communication

As much as communication can work as a bonus in a remote setting, it can also work against you. Behind this communication breakdown is asynchronous communication — or the concept that workers get messages at different times depending on when they work or what time zone they’re in.

Remote leaders also face an uphill battle to interact with workers, especially when informal interactions and conversations go on behind the scenes. The only surefire way avoid poor communication is to set out a standard of communication and transparency that goes along with it.

Burnout and Workflow Halts

Perhaps the most noted advantage of remote work is that it provides great work-life balance that onsite work can’t. However, this isn’t always the norm for every remote worker. The inability to unplug can lead to lower worker morale, as well as burnout — two things that are hard enough for remote leaders to handle in the office, let alone remotely.

Therefore, remote leaders need to use emotional intelligence to assess a person’s morale level and the quality of work consistently. Encouragement of work-life balance is also important to avoid burnout and low morale before it becomes problematic.

A Quick Note on Remote Leadership and Hybrid Work

Many publications — such as Forbes — deem remote work as the future of work in a post-pandemic world, and that’s true to some degree. But hybrid work may be the more realistic version of the future. Organizations want to attract top talent through remote work, yet they don’t want office buildings sitting vacant.

As a result, you may have to combine both the ideas of onsite and remote leadership to craft a leadership style that caters to a hybrid workplace. Again, trial and error may be necessary, but trust your instinct, your team, and what has worked for you so far. Once you develop a basic plan, you can make adjustments as you move forward.

Tips To Formulate a Strong Remote Leadership Strategy

Woman having a remote meeting with her team

Due to the challenges faced by remote managers, a strong remote leadership strategy is crucial. While your leadership style may vary based upon your industry or needs, the ideas behind them are set forth the pillars for your remote team to excel. Add a few of these tips when you’re formulating your remote leadership strategy to improve your chances of success:

  • Build trust: Nothing is more important than trust in a remote leadership strategy. If you can’t trust your employees, you’re going to end up stressed out and stretched thin. Clarity, communication, and team-building are the pillars of trust. Just make sure that you stay on top of them.
  • Get the most out of your meetings and check-ins: Nothing is worse than a virtual meeting that focuses on what you did yesterday. Sure, you may need quick updates about what’s happening, but don’t squander the opportunity to talk to your staff. Instead, have some bonding time, ask about any issues or roadblocks, and discuss what everyone needs to do moving forward.
  • Use the right tools: There’s no shortage of collaboration, project management, and task management tools available to remote leaders. However, you need to decide — and decide quickly — on what ones are right for you. They need to be easy to use, have a tutorial for onboarding purposes, and have the precise aspects you need to get the job done. Fortunately, most providers have free versions to test them out for your convenience.
  • Stay on top of your calendar: Check-ins and meetings are one thing, but if you want to really connect to your staff, schedule one-on-one meetings and stay on top of your calendar. Any integral dates should be highlighted, and you can also send notices to your employees to make sure they stay on track.
  • Build strong communication principles: Although communication tools are important, you shouldn’t put all your emphasis on them. Communication is more about transparency, expectations, and skill. Learn how to write with clarity to maximize your remote leadership capabilities.
  • Put a premium on virtual team building: Camaraderie is just as important in a remote setting as it is onsite. You want everyone to get to know each other to foster a truly collaborative team. Try virtual happy hours, trivia, or other remote gatherings that mimic a traditional social event or in-person happy hour to get the best results.

Add a Remote Element to Your Remote Leadership Strategy

Maintaining company culture, employee engagement, and morale is difficult in a remote forum. As a result, a little outside help is a necessity. If you’re new to remote leadership or unsure where to turn, a remote leadership training program might be the fuel to jump-start strong management and leadership principles and ideas.

With 12 weeks of online learning modules, one-on-one meetings with a leadership coach, and plenty of supplemental materials, you have everything you need to excel on the job — even if you’re half a world away from your team.

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