Remote leadership: how to manage your team from anywhere

Digitalization makes it possible to work together in virtual teams whatever the location. However, remote working poses special challenges to managers. In the following, we’ll explain how to successfully overcome these.

Remote leadership involves breaking old habits and developing new management strategies for a digital workplace.
Image: © pressmaster / Adobe Stock

Managing from a distance – why remote leadership demands new strategies

The typical nine-to-five job where staff have to be physically present five days a week has become less and less appealing for a while now. Today, for a company to be attractive to young people especially, it has to allow employees to structure their day-to-day work in a more flexible and personalized manner. The option to work from home has now become a necessity in light of the COVID-19 crisis.

But how do you lead a team that is scattered across different parts of a city or even across different countries? You can’t just quickly consult with one another in the hallway, talk in person over lunch, or round everyone up for a spontaneous meeting. For remote leadership to prove successful, old habits have to be broken. After all, many measures that have become established in an on-site setting can’t be simply transferred to a digital workspace. To achieve a high degree of efficiency and employee satisfaction when working remotely, new strategies for task coordination, communication, and team management must be devised and implemented systematically. Below, we outline the most important aspects to consider when it comes to digital leadership.

#1 Communication is key: hold your virtual team together emotionally

If a team does not physically come together often, or even at all, as is currently the case due to the coronavirus pandemic, there is a high risk that employees will lose sight of the big picture. To keep your team on track so that nobody strays from the common goal, regular teambuilding measures are vital in a digital workspace. Despite the spatial distance, routines need to be formed to keep the team together. Regular video chats and group updates are therefore absolutely essential for creating a sense of camaraderie and cooperation. For this purpose, define set times and dates, whether for a short daily video conference in the morning or a more in-depth weekly meeting during which team members can continuously share their ideas and experiences and bring each other up to date.

#2 Ensure that all relevant digital tools and programs are available

The basic prerequisite for efficient cooperation among distributed teams is having access to shared communication and collaboration tools. One of the key tasks of remote leadership is determining which digital tools and solutions are suitable for your team and familiarizing yourself with them as the first step.

The next step is to train all your staff in how to use project management tools and the chosen communication channels. It is best to do this systematically, during one or more team meetings. Don’t leave your team alone to figure out new tools themselves. That will just cause frustration and will ultimately be much more time-consuming due to delayed processes and frequent questions. In your role as remote leader, you should also make sure that your employees are given access to everything they need right away, and not wait to provide it until the middle of the workflow.

#3 Focus on goals and results in your remote leadership strategy

Certain “natural” control mechanisms are not possible in a digital workspace. As a manager, you can’t keep an eye on your team on a daily basis as you usually would. Monitoring individual work steps from afar is incredibly difficult and often not productive. In remote leadership, you should therefore put more emphasis on trust and a results-oriented approach. For this purpose, the goals and results to be jointly achieved for each project should be precisely defined within the team. Success will subsequently be measured on the basis of these agreed-on goals.

#4 Make specific agreements and arrangements for the digital workspace

To give your team members a binding framework while still allowing them the flexibility to structure their day when working from home, specific agreements and arrangements with regard to organization and coordination should be made in addition to the work goals mentioned above. Among other things, this could include specifying core times when employees have to be reachable. Responsibilities should also be clearly assigned within the team because, in contrast to on-site working, spontaneously consulting others in a digital workspace is much more of an effort in terms of communication.

#5 Clear-cut briefings are a must in digital leadership

One aspect that is frequently not given enough attention is the significance of well-thought-out, straightforward and comprehensible briefings. While it often just takes a quick chat around the coffee machine to clarify unclear work instructions in a regular office environment, sharing information in a digital workspace usually takes more time. This particularly applies to written communication, which can quickly give rise to misunderstandings. A short video call can clear things up more quickly and efficiently. Ideally though, your briefings will already be formulated as clearly and unambiguously as possible, so that questions will rarely be necessary. With project management tools such as Asana and Monday, you can organize and store task briefings for your employees as well as other necessary documents and work materials.

#6 As a remote leader, be sure to maintain a personal connection with your staff

Just because there are many miles separating you from your team members, that does not necessarily mean that your digital workspace has to remain anonymous and impersonal. When working remotely, establishing a direct relationship with your staff should be a priority. Make sure to have personal conversations with your staff on a regular basis. Instead of calling them on the phone, you should ideally use video communication tools such as Slack and Skype, since they let you talk face to face even in a digital workspace. Even though you may be far apart, you should still give your staff regular feedback and cultivate a motivating and appreciative corporate culture. With this approach, you can use your remote leadership to form a strong team in which everyone pulls together.