Leading at a Distance - What You Need to Know About Remote Leadership

By
Santa Hartmane
August 9, 2022

Flexible working hours and locations are becoming increasingly important for employees. But the switch to working from home has also ensured that many supervisors have to lead remotely. Digital tools for video calls, team and project management have made this rapid transition possible. However, remote work requires more than digital technology and processes to be successful in the long run and provide the desired benefits. For many executives, managing their remote team and employees presents a whole new set of challenges.

We need to reevaluate and reorganise our prior leadership philosophies and communication practices, moving away from micromanagement and the presence culture and toward greater teamwork and individual accountability. Prepare yourself for remote management and effective leadership performance from a distance. Read on to learn about the challenges that this entails as well as the qualities that are critical for you as a remote leader to develop  in order to successfully lead your team virtually.

What is remote leadership?

Leadership is evolving fundamentally and becoming more agile. While traditional leadership is characterised by strict hierarchies, managers with broad decision-making powers, and little employee participation, digital leadership thrives on the opposite: structures become more flexible, hierarchies flatten, and managers delegate significantly more responsibility to different employees and allow teams to self-organise.  Employees should have more personal responsibility and co-determination as well as more transparency in decision-making processes, more motivation and inspiration from managers, and overall more flexibility.

Leading a virtual workforce from a distance while positively guiding employees' behaviour and motivation and maintaining focus on the established company objectives requires exercising effective remote leadership. Remote management is a direct result of digitization. It is no longer necessary to be physically present at the workplace. Modern digital communication tools enable teams to collaborate virtually and from any location. Remote work occurs when team members communicate and collaborate from different locations. Managers must be able to virtually lead their employees in order for this type of work to succeed. Remote leadership is a critical prerequisite for businesses to implement their digital strategies. Therefore, technical and digitally mediated support, collaboration, coordination, and, most crucially, communication from and with teams are all parts of remote leadership.

Common challenges of remote leadership

Many managers are confronted with fundamental questions as a result of the sudden management from the home office: How do I continue to do well? How do I create proximity in the absence of physical presence? How do I  "control" my employees? How do I foster a team environment? How can I ensure high motivation, performance and productivity? Your team, like you, is confronted with numerous questions and challenges.

1. There is little face-to-face interaction. Managers may be concerned that their employees will not work as hard or as efficiently as they should (even though research indicates otherwise). Employees, on the other hand, may face difficulties due to a lack of managerial support and communication. Try your best to maintain regular communication. Block out times during the day when you're available for short sessions with remote employees and share your calendar with them so they know when you're available. Schedule daily or weekly check-ins and use this time to discuss current progress and potential roadblocks.

2. Lack of social exchange. The majority of social aspects of work have been reduced or shifted to digital chats, where extra actions are required, such as calling up, a chat, radioing colleagues, waiting, calling back, and so on.  Additionally, in the context of digital communication, the demands for attention, concentration, and an appropriate, empathetic response are increasing. Prolonged social isolation can result in anxiety and depression, as well as decreased productivity at work or an increased desire to leave the company. To counteract this, make as many social connections as you can. Plan remote interactions, start a fun chat channel, or "grab coffee" together — whatever helps maintain a sense of normalcy. While you're together, make an effort to listen while also providing encouragement and emotional support.

3. Virtual trust. Controlling and micromanaging are not the keys to a successful remote working relationship. It's all about trust. Teams work well together when they know the other person, trust them, and are confident in their reliability and performance. This is where the problem arises, because trust is built through direct contact, such as standing face to face and looking each other in the eyes. As a result, true corporate culture develops in an environment where people meet face to face, converse, share lunch, and celebrate success. As a result, set aside regular times for meetings or a "get together" for everyone. Increase trust among your team members. Encourage teams to take responsibility for their contributions to discussions and decision-making. This indirectly encourages them and prompts them to consider the quality of their work and process.

4. Information exchange. Communication is the pulse of any organisation, and measuring workforce effectiveness is impossible without it. Managers who lead virtually have a variety of options to ensure that they and their staff members always have the same, most recent information and can, therefore, work and communicate with one another optimally. For instance, internal continuing education and training programs assist with staying up to date. Additionally, working with multiple versions of documents, instructions, or instant messages makes it easy to become perplexed about the precise requirements and expectations. Create a remote communication policy that you all agree on. This can include mandatory weekly standup calls, task assignments that must be done within a project management tool, or that instant messaging should be mainly used during specific hours. Make sure everyone follows the rules and policies, and your communication should become less chaotic and more conducive to producing great remote work.

5. Management of workload and performance. One of the difficulties in managing remote employees is ensuring that everyone understands exactly what is expected of them. When compared to colocation, there is much less opportunity to check in on progress. As a result, your expectations, tasks, project milestones with specific deadlines and performance metrics should be clearly defined from the start. When you can't keep an eye on your team members, you can't tell if anyone is overburdened. Someone who works long hours in the office is much more visible than a remote worker. When delegating tasks, consider what other deadlines your teammate may have. This allows you to determine an appropriate timeframe for completing the work.

Qualities and skills required for remote managers

The focus is always on people, even in long-distance management. The importance of tools, files, and processes, as well as specialised or managerial knowledge, come afterwards. The importance of the "human factor" in remote leadership cannot be overstated; effective interaction and communication are the key components. In this new scenario, managers and project leaders assume a coordinating role on the one hand – they maintain "the big picture" and have the overview. They simultaneously serve as facilitators, supporters, and mediators, particularly when dealing with open-ended questions from their team. Remote work therefore requires positive, human, and socially mediating traits. Communicational miscommunications or insecurities are more likely to occur and are less likely to be spontaneously intercepted by other office workers. A good remote leader possesses the following characteristics, which transform a team into a super remote team:

1. Excellent (self) organisation. With team catch-ups, one-on-ones, project meetings, performance reviews, and employee feedback, managers must balance their own (often heavy) workload. In-person interactions are much simpler and more efficient for all of these communications. Managers need to be even more organised and stay on top of all of their people management duties when working remotely.

2. Effective Communication. The nonverbal aspect of communication is eliminated when working remotely. Therefore, effective communication skills are required of good leaders, whether it be through phone, email, or video conference. Without it, important information is more likely to get lost or misinterpreted. When communicating by phone or video, it's important to be as concise and clear as you can. Verify that everyone is on the same page and refrain from assuming that people are understanding. By restating and summarising key points, you can make sure your team understands what was said. Managers must make sure that their points are clear when writing emails in a similar manner. Think carefully about the new communication and cooperation standards you wish to introduce to your remote team. Make sure you thoroughly explain these principles to your employees and embody them yourself.

3. Empathy. Caring about your employees is critical to establishing the trust necessary for them to perform effectively. Empathy is a valuable trait for any leader, whether in a physical or virtual office. Leaders must recognize that, due to the lack of physical proximity, remote workplaces can create unique situations that necessitate greater empathy. Leaders who show empathy and patience rather than jumping to conclusions about a person's tone or intention contribute to an environment of trust, openness, and improved performance. Managers also need to be aware of and sympathetic to those who are having difficulties. Giving those who are having trouble some flexibility is beneficial. This act of kindness demonstrates consideration for the employee's well-being.

4. Positivity. Managers must be positive role models for their remote teams. A positive attitude that conveys that even though things may be difficult, you are confident that they will improve and are making every effort to see that happen can go a long way toward boosting an employee's self-assurance and ability to concentrate on their work. This could entail, for instance, acting positively toward any new procedures or systems that have been implemented as a result of remote work. It's easy to overlook the importance of creating and contributing to a positive remote team culture, but even seemingly insignificant acts of appreciation and positive feedback can have a big impact on how employees feel about their jobs.

Conclusions

It is not easy to lead a remote team. Leaders must exert more energy, be more original, and think outside the box to help teams succeed. A team works best when mutual support, cooperation, and trust are ingrained in the culture. The more trust a team has, the more productive it is, especially when working remotely. As you can see, there are no boundaries to creativity when it comes to remote leadership. Just remember to follow up with team members frequently to learn about their challenges, to optimise systems and operations as needed, and to lead by example to inspire your team. The Tira team wishes you the best of luck as you lead from a distance and collaborate in the home office!