Over the last few years, the shape of the employment landscape has changed significantly. More businesses are leaning into remote and hybrid operations. While this may have initially served the distancing necessities of the COVID-19 pandemic, many entrepreneurs have discovered the potential benefits beyond this. When done well, remote work can open your company up to lower overheads, greater productivity, and a more engaged workforce.
However, it would be a mistake to assume these advantages arise automatically. As with any element of business, your leadership style influences how effectively remote work functions in your company. Indeed, you may find the approach you have previously taken to in-person operations is not well-suited to virtual employee interactions. It is vital to pay careful consideration to the leadership style and remote worker skills you utilize for these circumstances.
Let’s dive a little deeper into how you can find the right remote leadership style.
Understand the Challenges of Remote Leadership
Choosing a leadership style can’t just be about matching your personality to an approach. Rather, it’s about recognizing that the circumstances of remote ops are very different to those of in-person ops. As such, there are specific hurdles for both teams and leaders to overcome together. An important part of choosing the right remote leadership style is to find what’s best suited to overcoming these difficulties.
Some of the key remote leadership challenges include:
One of the most difficult challenges of remote leadership is making meaningful and influential connections with your team. You don’t have the advantage of being in the same vicinity as your employees every day, so forging relationships doesn’t always come quite so naturally as it might in an office scenario.
This may mean you need to utilize a leadership style designed to enhance the virtual one-on-one moments you spend together and lean into the activities that cement solid connections. It can include elements of the coaching leadership style, which is geared toward recognizing team members’ skills, weaknesses, and drivers and putting a lot of time into helping them develop.
As a leader, there will be times you’re directly involved with or facilitating collaborations among your team. This can be more difficult in remote circumstances. After all, the dynamic ideation sessions and day-to-day cooperation that happens when teams are in the same space don’t always immediately occur remotely.
Therefore, part of your leadership style may need to be focused on drawing together disparate groups of people in a virtual environment. It’s also likely you’ll require an approach that helps you to recognize and manage remote conflicts to prevent disruption. Aspects of the participative leadership style can be effective here as it is geared toward ensuring all team members feel as though they have a voice.
An ongoing survey collaboratively run by professors at the Stamford, MIT, the university of Chicago and others continues to find that remote workers are likely to be more productive than in the office. However, remote employees’ ability to sustain this productivity over a long period of time when not motivated by others working alongside them can be a challenge. Not to mention that productivity drivers can vary from employee to employee.
Your leadership style, therefore, may need to incorporate characteristics more likely to keep your team on track. Some aspects of the transactional leadership style that places emphasis on clearly communicating goals and close guidance can be useful. However, it’s important to be aware that some elements of transactional leadership, like micromanaging, may disrupt team productivity.
Trust is a vital element of remote operations. Yet, it can also be one of the biggest challenges. As a leader, you need to be able to ensure your team trusts your ideas, direction, and ethics without them necessarily being able to see how you apply these in your day-to-day activities. At the same time, some managers find difficulty trusting workers they can’t see to always perform in the best interests of the business.
In either case, it’s important to choose a leadership style with core characteristics surrounding developing and promoting trust. Again, aspects of participative leadership can be useful here, as it’s focused on placing greater decision-making power in your workers. This demonstration of trust can boost the morale of your workers and provide you with evidence that you can in turn trust your employees to achieve results. That said, some aspects of autocratic leadership can help communicate to your staff that you are confident in your skills and highly dependable, which can boost their trust in you.
Consider the Needs of Your Remote Team
An important part of leading a remote team is gaining an understanding of what your employees need from you. Too many entrepreneurs and managers overlook the fact that their role is one of maintaining mutual interests. Yes, your staff needs to meet the goals you need them to, but at the same time you must be the effective support system they need to thrive.
However, needs tend to vary from team to team. It is, therefore, worth taking the time to regularly reach out and understand their thoughts on the subject. Anonymous surveys can be an effective tool here. Pulse surveys are particularly helpful in gaining candid insights into the real-time opinions of your workers surrounding specific subjects. However, setting up open suggestion box-style feedback channels allows your remote employees to offer their thoughts on your leadership and their ongoing needs whenever they want to.
That said, a solid remote leadership style also recognizes that you’re dealing with individuals. As such, each of your workers will have nuanced needs alongside the more generalized aspects. It’s important to make regular efforts to directly reach out to each team member with this in mind. Have monthly one-on-one video calls with your employees to discuss what needs are and are not being met in the remote environment. Seek to collaborate with them on implementing measures that help everyone get the most out of their interactions with your company. Utilize these insights to influence your leadership approach moving forward where appropriate.
What Remote Leadership Characteristics Are Vital?
Your remote leadership approach can be influenced by the standard styles promoted in business circles. Indeed, you may have a variety of leadership templates you switch to depending on the projects, circumstances, and employees involved. However, it’s important to remember that whatever style you go with, there are essential characteristics any leader of remote teams needs to adhere to.
Some of the core remote leadership characteristics include:
All remote leaders must be skilled communicators. Your team members are all operating from a distance — perhaps across the world — so you must be able to get your points across with the utmost clarity and efficiency. This also includes being able to identify which communications medium is most suitable for various situations. Importantly, this must involve listening to your remote workers rather than simply dictating to them. In many ways, influencing a culture of good communication amongst your workforce is a primary duty.
Remote operations can be isolating and frustrating at times for workers. Many of the challenges they experience both in the work and personal lives they may be facing alone. Therefore, empathy is a vital characteristic of any remote leader. You need to be able to consider each of your workers’ perspectives when assigning project roles, issuing requests and resolving conflicts. You’ll find empathy will help you get the most out of your workers and they will tend to be more engaged.
As a remote leader, you’ll have a lot of disparate metaphorical balls in the air at any given time. You’re operating a decentralized workspace in which you must maintain an awareness of what everyone’s doing and how this impacts your end goals. Without good organizational practices, this can very quickly devolve into chaos. Not to mention that being a clearly disorganized leader can see you lose the respect and confidence of your workforce. It is, therefore, vital to keep developing better organizational habits.
Leading a remote team can be an enriching and practical approach to business. However, it’s important to recognize that your choice of leadership style is likely to differ from how you’d approach in-office operations. As such, your decision-making here should be influenced by a number of factors, particularly the unique challenges of remote working and the needs of your workforce. Whether you opt for a combination of styles or a tailored version of the traditional style sets, remember to ground these in the primary characteristics of a solid remote leader. It will take time, focus, and adjustment to get this right, but you, your employees, and your business will benefit from your efforts here.