What Is Remote Leadership?

May 5, 2022 6 min read
What Is Remote Leadership?

Remote leadership requires new skills and mindsets, but it also presents an opportunity for leaders to make their organizations more agile, innovative, and efficient.

The new remote working reality

Regardless of where you stand on this debate, the sudden and widespread shift to remote work has been a wake-up call for many organizations.

via GIPHY

Remote leadership requires new skills and mindsets, but it also presents an opportunity for leaders to make their organizations more agile, innovative, and efficient.

A positive workplace culture is something that can be cultivated even from afar.

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"In the U.S., 81% of those that worked from home during the pandemic said they want a hybrid or remote working style once the pandemic is over. This shows there is a clear path forward post-pandemic."

- OWL Labs, State of Remote Work 2021

As you can see, remote working is here to stay. And for good reason.

According to the State of Remote Work 2021 by OWL Labs, Remote workers state they are 90% or more productive than their office-bound peers, not only because they eliminate travel time but also because they have greater control over their daily workflow and fewer distractions from colleagues (notwithstanding the occasional interruptions from pets or kids).

Working from home can save companies money, too: thanks to reduced overhead costs such as rent and utilities.

"Is somebody there yet?"

But remote working comes with its own challengesโ€”for both employers and employeesโ€”including

  • loneliness and social isolation
  • less collaboration (if no proper systems are in place)
  • lack of effective communication
  • difficulties managing teams virtually
  • potential security threats due to poor cybersecurity habits within teams
  • increased stress levels among employees forced into a new way of working
  • reduced motivation levels when employees feel disengaged or unable to connect with colleagues

This is why important that you show initiative as a modern leader.

The first thing you should consider is

Remote Leadership is not about your office and location.

For too many people, remote leadership is about the physical things: location and office.

Thatโ€™s flat out wrong.

Photo by Kornรฉl Mรกhl on Unsplash

It's about how you connect with people in a meaningful way.

It's about creating a culture of trust and communication.

It's about how you work with people and how you develop them.

Remote leadership is simply leadership at scaleโ€”with the added caveat that "at scale" doesn't mean size or technology, but distance.

Remote leaders know that being great at your job doesnโ€™t make you a leader, but that being great at your job will help you to be a leader more easily.

Here is another aspect you should take into consideration.

Remote Leadership is about how you work with people and how you develop them.

When you don't see someone in person every day, your relationship becomes much more about communication.

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"Good communication is the key to keeping your employees in the loop."

- GitLab "How to be a great remote manager"

Your goal as a remote leader is to be able to get the most out of people without micromanaging them.

All of this means that being a good manager can actually be harder when working remotely. You need to make sure that you are providing support and building trust through frequent conversations and check-insโ€”not just throwing tasks over a wall and expecting them to land on your team's plate.

This requires patience, empathy, communication skills, and leadership skills that adapt well to the environment in which your team operates.

As you are starting to see:

Remote Leadership is a mindset.

There are many skills that you can develop as a remote leader. Ultimately all of these focus on helping you build better relationships with your team and, therefore, ultimately deliver better results.

However, one of the most important things to remember is that remote leadership is not just a skill set.

It's also an approach or a mindset.

There are many great ideas and tips that you can learn from the Remote Leadership Institute (RLI), but unless you first change your mindset about how you work with people and how you develop people then all those ideas will be for nothing.

For example, one of the most counter-intuitive pieces of advice given by RLI is that in order to get more out of your team, itโ€™s very important to give them less direction and guidance in the short-term. This may sound crazy but it actually makes perfect sense when you understand what theyโ€™re really saying here: if you always want to give clear direction then donโ€™t hire people who are smarter than yourself!

Which brings us to the most important aspect.

Remote Leadership is about trust.

Not just the trust that you will be able to do your work, but also the trust that you will do it in a way thatโ€™s aligned with the companyโ€™s values, mission and goals.

Remember this quote from Star Wars?

Trust is something employees earn from their managers, not something given out freely. It comes from setting clear expectations, both on how your role contributes to those bigger goals and what you need to deliver on a day-to-day basis.

Trust also means being transparent with your manager about issues you may be having or anything that could affect deadlines or deliverables. Managers can only help if they know what's going onโ€”so don't be afraid to ask for support when it's needed!

Lets uncover this field further and talk about the fact that:

Remote Leadership is the same as leadership, but you focus on people and culture even more.

It's much harder to lead a remote team than it is to do so in person. You don't have the advantages of subtle body language, tone of voice, and facial expressions to help us connect with our team members. Instead, you must learn to be more intentional in how you communicate and engage others. This requires us to focus even more on people and culture.

8 things to keep in mind as a Remote Leader.

At this point you might have lost track of what's important and what you should focus on.

Don't worry.

Here are 8 things to keep in mind:

  1. Know your communication style, and the styles of your team members
  2. Listen more
  3. Write more
  4. Use a variety of communication channels
  5. Use proactive communication
  6. Use asynchronous communication
  7. Educate yourself about emotional intelligence (EQ)
  8. Be empathetic

It all boils down to:

You need to learn new skills to lead effective teams in the 21st century.

via GIPHY

In the 21st century, remote work is the new reality. As an employer, itโ€™s your job to put a team together and develop the skills necessary for these teams to succeed. That means learning how to lead remote employees. If you havenโ€™t been trained in this yet, you may feel overwhelmed by your lack of experience leading remotely. However, with a little knowledge, you can acquire the most effective leadership skills for virtual teams.

Your first step to mastering remote leadership is understanding that there are different types of remote workers and what they will need from you as their leader will vary depending on their type of remotenessโ€”whether theyโ€™re a full-time telecommuter or someone who travels frequently for work (known as a road warrior). No matter which type of remote worker you have on your team, there are certain communication styles that will help all employees be more successful in their roles.

Final thoughts

Remote leadership is more than just a role โ€“ it's a mindset.

It goes beyond developing lines of communication, beyond technological advances and innovation. It's about being able to adapt to the landscape of business today, and take control over your team no matter where they are.

Remote leaders have a unique challenge to overcome, but with change comes opportunity. There are new ways to manage your team and lead effectively that most managers haven't yet explored.

For example using games for virtual team building activities - get your inspiration from this article:

Virtual Team Building Retro Style - 4 Cool Games For You
This article shows you practical steps on how to make use of fun old-school games for remote team building.

Now is the time for managers to stand out amongst their peers โ€“ be prepared to make waves in your industry by embracing remote work practices.

Further Resources

What do you think are the biggest challenges of remote leaders?

Let me know in the comments section below.

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