Leadership is already a tough role, whether you are leading a specific team or you are on the executive level running a company. But add a remote work environment into that, and you might find it a bit more challenging (especially at first).
After all, you may have people across various time zones that are not as accessible if you were in an office setting.
But remote work is continuing to gain support and popularity, which means leaders need to adapt and work on more specific sets of skills to better manage their remote teams.
So whether you are completely new to remote work or a seasoned vet, it’s always a good idea to ensure working on your remote leadership skills is a core focus.
Below you’ll find some challenges of remote leadership and the necessary skills to make you a better remote leader.
The Challenges of Remote Leadership
Being a team leader or executive is a tough role and when this is done remotely, you’ll find a new set of challenges to overcome. Before I explore the skills you need to be a good remote leader, it’s important to know the common challenges (especially if you are new to remote work).
In a remote work environment, it’s easy for team siloes to be created. Those employees only interact with each other via chat or video because they work in the same department.
It’s now way easier to avoid interactions or even asking others for things you need because you can’t physically see them or walk to their office.
Lack of social interaction.
Working at home can create a feeling of isolation and sometimes you can feel lonely. You aren’t interacting with colleagues in-person and video meetings only do so much.
For remote leadership, it can be a challenge to sympathize or know how a co-worker is feeling.
As great as working from home is, you’ll certainly find distractions at times that can limit your leadership.
Maybe it’s having your kids home from school, home renovations, or neighbors getting work done, or your favorite Netflix series is now calling your name – avoiding distractions is key to being an effective remote leader.
While chat, email, and video can help teams stay connected, there inevitably will still be some communication barriers. In general, in a study, it was found 74% of employees feel they already miss out on company information and news.
Now factor in remote work!
You start asking yourself questions like:
- Which channels are appropriate for what?
- Am I bothering colleagues with questions too much?
- Where is the information I need?
- How can I best distribute information about important projects?
- How can I ensure communication and collaboration is strong among my team?
9 Remote Leadership Skills
Do you want to be a good remote leader? Hopefully, that answer is a resounding yes!
No leader is perfect in remote work, but there are skills you can acquire and focus on to help you eliminate those challenges. Naturally, you may want to ensure you have some of these traits already.
But don’t worry, you can also work on these and over time have everything mastered to be a great boss. Below are the top leadership skills you need to be successfully managing a remote team.
1. Clear Communicator
Every leader needs excellent communication skills. No doubt about it. But remote work requires another level of communication expertise.
Between project management, feedback, training, or 1:1’s, the way you communicate and body language matters much more. It’s easy to misunderstand or be misunderstood when you can’t physically talk to someone.
2. Emotional Intelligence
According to Psychology Today:
“Emotional intelligence is generally said to include a few skills: namely emotional awareness, or the ability to identify and name one’s own emotions; the ability to harness those emotions and apply them to tasks like thinking and problem solving; and the ability to manage emotions, which includes both regulating one’s own emotions when necessary and helping others to do the same.”
Remote leaders need to have this skill because it allows them to pick up on the feelings of others without them specifically stating that. You need to be able to read people via video, emails, or chat messages – which can be much more difficult.
If you are a remote leader, learn how to improve your emotional intelligence and spend more time getting to know your co-workers.
3. Being Adaptable
In business, being adaptable makes it easy for a leader to handle quick changes or modify something that might not be working as expected. It’s a valuable skill to have, but imperative with remote work.
Being able to handle change with projects and people remotely can be challenging. But setting expectations of transparency, problem-solving, and experimenting – will make you better at remote leadership.
4. Strong Listener
While leading employees and teams is important, being a strong listener is what really helps you be effective. Since you’ll be using many different communication channels, it’s easy to forget or become distracted.
Your goal is to consume that information but also be there for your employees and hear out their needs. The better listener you are, the quicker you can make team improvements and better align the team goals.
5. Organization & Planning
Being organized is already imperative with remote work, but being a leader in a remote company requires you to be a pro!
Whether you are bringing on a new strategy, tool, or solution – you need to start organized and have a plan to make adoption easy but also to ensure your team isn’t disconnected.
As a remote leader, there are more expectations for you to deliver a seamless process, collaboration, and feedback on anything related to the scope of work.
No pressure, right? But the more you are organized and have planning in place, the fewer roadblocks you’ll face overall.
6. Being compassionate
Life happens and it’s why so many people love working remotely. It allows someone to get to the doctor’s office, to pick up the kids from school, or whatever it may be.
But remote work has also thrust people who’ve never experienced it into a completely different work environment, which can be stressful.
As a leader, you’ll find a mix of professional and personal situations that will require you to handle all with grace. It means you need to have compassion for others and situations they might be dealing with. Being compassionate makes for better remote work culture and helps you build trust among the team.
7. Help employees connect
Being a fully remote company, for example, can make it challenging for teams to feel connected. One great remote leadership skill you can develop is having the ability to bring employees together and help them better connect.
As a remote leader, it will be partially your responsibility to improve work culture, motivate the team, and get them feeling more collaborative in their work. This is where really getting to know employee personalities is key and trying virtual activities to build more co-worker camaraderie.
8. Good at goal setting
As a leader, you should be focused on the results of the team, not the specific hours they are working. Virtual leadership requires setting measurable goals, but still maintaining that flexibility.
The best remote companies focus on the scope of work and deliverables, over ensuring you are in your seat 40+ hours per week.
If your executive leadership doesn’t agree, then it might be time to move on to a new great remote company.
9. Master autonomy
While as a leader you still may report to someone, remote work requires being a master at autonomy. This means you don’t need anyone to micromanage you and tell you everything to do each week.
A good remote leader knows what they are hired for and gets the work done. But also, they encourage autonomy within their teams.
This does not mean you abandon all leadership responsibilities but give your team the chance to thrive on their own. Instead, you are there to support and help them grow professionally, but not hold their hands all day.
How to Improve Remote Leadership Skills
Each set of remote leadership skills is something you acquire in a few different ways. Here are a few tips to help you improve your skills.
Learn by doing.
You honestly may not be that great right away at every important remote skill, but you start to pick up what works or doesn’t as you manage your remote team. One of the best ways to develop and hone your skills is by jumping right in. You’ll for sure make some missteps, but one of the best ways to learn is by doing!
Ask for feedback.
Don’t be afraid to get feedback from your team, ask them how you can best support them, ask what you can be doing better to ensure a great work environment, etc.
Take some courses.
If you want to take a more formal approach, you can take some online courses for leadership. Many of the learnings aren’t specific to remote work, but the skills will carry over well. Here are some of the best online leadership courses you can check out.
Read some books.
Another great way to level up your remote leadership skills is to read some books. There are a few good books dedicated to remote work, but there are tons in the leadership and management space too. Take a look at your favorite book stores or online, you’ll find a wide selection. Here’s also a good list of quality leadership books you can check out as well.
Find a mentor.
Connecting with someone who already is successful or has experience in leadership or managing remote teams, can be a great resource for you.
Learning from others can help you ask questions, get honest feedback, and replicate strategies that work. If you have a good professional network, see if there is someone willing to mentor you that you trust.
Dedicate time to thinking about leadership.
Much of your work managing remote teams are living in that moment and having to make quick decisions. But it’s important to dedicate time to strategize about your leadership and organize how various situations or projects were handled.
Giving yourself some deep focus during the week towards improving leadership is a great way to improve on the past or think about the skills you want to acquire.
Tips on Being A Good Remote Leader
Besides the remote leadership skills from above, there are other areas that will ensure you are a good remote leader. Some of these may be from the executive level or board, but if you have influence, then these are some things to do.
Say no to employee monitor software.
If this is something your company wants to implement, it might be worth considering working at a different company. If you as a leader want to implement this, then really ask yourself why.
Certainly, some protection software on work computers makes sense, but why are you tracking every little thing an employee does? If you are hiring the right people for the job, constantly monitoring or spying on them is a great way to ruin trust.
Most remote workers like the freedom of working from home and getting work done autonomously. By monitoring them, you start to destroy that freedom and easily turn away the best talent. Here are some better ways to ensure employees are actually working from home.
Create remote work guidelines, not rules.
If you are a remote company or have any remote employees, your company needs to have a remote policy in place. This should be about the culture, what’s expected, and accessible guidelines to help employees win.
No one likes aggressive rules, which can feel like there is no trust between leadership and remote workers.
Provide essential resources for your team to win.
Good remote leaders make it easy for their teams to succeed, which can be through various resources.
What support systems do they need? What remote tools and gear can you provide? What benefits would help them trust and love the work they are doing?
When you consistently provide accessible resources, team members are most likely to become more accountable and deliver better results.
Happy Remote Working!