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How to Be a Strong Leader When Working Remotely

Keeping your team strong and inspired, no matter the distance.


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Michael LaNasa

3 years ago | 4 min read

Maybe it’s a pandemic forcing you to work remotely. Or there was a situation with someone microwaving fish. Whatever the reason, the possibility of leading a team from afar is ever-present.

The concept of remote work is not unusual in 2020. We’ve been talking about this as a culture for a while. In fact, the U.S. has seen a 159% increase in employees working remotely since 2005.

There has long been a taboo surrounding remote work. It has to do more with complacency than anything else. Leadership may fall victim to normalcy bias, thinking the future of the company will be the same as it has been.

But they’re wrong. Change is inevitable.

With that change comes the injection of trust and responsibility within the workforce. As remote capabilities have become more commonplace, so have company cultures supporting them.

With such change, leaders must adapt to the call of their team. It requires leadership that extends across digital and geographic boundaries.

What is the best way to approach this change?

Let’s discuss the benefits and tactics required for the future of remote leadership.

Flexibility

At the very foundation of remote work is flexibility. Employees are no longer beholden to strict clock-in and clock-out times. Commutes are no longer a factor either. But home lives are.

The Challenge: It’s hard to keep tabs on people arriving “at work” when at home or elsewhere. Response time may be different than when they are sitting one desk away.

The Benefit: It should come as no surprise that people enjoy a lack of boundaries. Especially when it comes to their personal time. But after removing strict regulations, it’s far easier to deliver results without stress.

When a commute requires ten steps in slippers and a hoodie, people tend to “show up” even if they appear more casual.

Trust

Certain core principles sit at the foundation of all relationships. Trust is always one of them. This connects with work relationships as much as personal relationships.

The Challenge: Whether they are direct reports or colleagues, distance is difficult. Video chats and emails still leave a lot to be desired. Remote connections require trust in what is happening during work hours.

The Benefit: Empower your team to take responsibility for their own time. They will likely return better results. When leading remotely, it’s even more important to express that trust and delegation.

People are productive and fulfilled when feeling trusted to handle their own schedules. This applies inside offices and across remote work environments.

Delegation & Accountability

It’s often hard to keep track of loose threads when teams are scattered. The need to delegate responsibility is everpresent.

The Challenge: Back to the topic of trust. It’s hard enough to delegate when you see people each day. It’s even more difficult when you can’t. Set things in motion and don’t hover; no repeat emails or rhetorical texts. Trust your team.

The Benefit: Delegating responsibility and letting people work is powerful. You will learn more about strengths this way and by no surprise, will see more accomplished.

A side benefit is the support of professional growth. Being held accountable gives them the fuel to rise to the occasion if given the chance.

Transparency

One of the most valuable times to be honest as a leader is when you are communicating. In times that are both challenging or exciting, showing your human side can do wonders.

The Challenge: Email. Text. Video conferencing. They all have pros and cons, but the limiting factor to most is showing emotion.

When people are sitting far removed from your voice, this can be the most difficult. They presume motives. Context is lost.

The Benefit: When sharing the challenges behind the scenes, honesty is paramount. While certain details fall outside of the scope of ‘need to know’ material, they can build trust if shared.

Making a team feel like they’re the inner circle creates a bond. Be a human first. A manager second.

Communication

The one that comes first gets listed last. The reason for this is that communication should be the foundation of everything you do as a leader. Yet, you shouldn’t think of it as a box to check.

It’s easy to lose sight of how we’re communicating when we can’t see faces. Shorthand terms and corporate jargon only gets you so far. Less so when remotely communicating with people.

It’s about frequency and quality. Over-communicating is far more appreciated when there are screens separating you. I would rather hear more updates than less, leaving me wondering.

Conclusion

The future is heading towards more remote workplaces and employees than ever before. Regardless of the permanence, it’s important to know how to connect with each other.

I have written about other aspects of leadership and they apply in a remote circumstance as well. Those responsibilities of a leader broaden when separated.

Ask yourself: Does my team wake up and dread opening their email? If so, how do I make sure I’m relieving them of that feeling? If they’re not, what can I continue doing to strengthen the team?

As a leader, you’re in service to those who look to you for direction. Not the other way around. The distance can reveal strong leaders. Make sure you’re prepared to expose your best qualities.

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