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Leading Remote Teams

 88% of remote workers struggle with inconsistent working practices and miscommunication, while 83% feel overwhelmed by emails

· Targeted training can help organisations to get the basics right and increase efficiency and wellbeing

· 84% of remote workers report improvements to their work-life balance, but a lack of team identity can cause isolation and loneliness

(Institute of Leadership & Management, 2019)


“The best leader is the one who has sense enough to pick good men to do what he wants done, and the self-restraint to keep from meddling with them while they do it”
Theodore Roosevelt

It has become an expectation of millennial and certainly Generation Z employees to be offered flexible and agile working opportunities and resources. By 2020 it is predicted that half of all full time employees will be working remotely. In order for this to be truly achieved, committed financial investment, operational adjustments and cultural developments are required within organisations. Although remote working may offer opportunities for cost reductions and capital savings for organisations, which will no longer be required to hold and maintain large estates, many organisations are currently failing to capitalise on the potential for remote working. This is often due to the cultural barriers which may exist within management grades who have spent much of their working careers constrained by the expectations of presenteeism, associated with traditional ‘9-5’ roles. People will in fact perform more effectively, demonstrate greater innovation and work for longer, if they have some control over where they work. Remote workers in a study by the Institute of Leadership and Management (2019) highlighted a further number of potential benefits for organisations with a remote or geographically-dispersed workforce, including increased business reach, improved productivity, cost and time savings, and access to a more diverse set of skills and experience.

Maximising upon the enabling benefits offered by flexible working requires for a trusting relationship to exist between organisations and its employees. Organisations and their management structures need to trust that employees are doing what they say they are doing when out of sight and employees need to believe that the organisation and its team leaders still care about them and are considering their needs, both personally and professionally. “Out of sight, out of mind” should not exist for either party. The golden thread that runs through our leadership approach, Sage Leadership ©, a Servant Leadership style which encourages leaders to lead by example and the System of T.E.A.M.S © organisational structure, is communication.

“Leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality”
Warren Bennis

Miscommunication and poor working practices all too often impede the potential for remote teams to increase efficiency and wellbeing. Remote team members have reported a number of barriers to effective working, including over-reliance on email, inadequate or unclear communication and a lack of shared identity and focus (Institute of Leadership & Management, 2019). The report found that almost nine out of ten (88%) remote workers felt their team struggled to ensure consistency of practice, with the same number highlighting the increased risk of misunderstandings when teams are not co-located. More than eight out of ten (83%) remote workers felt overwhelmed by email, as teams fail to capitalise on alternative technologies, such as video or audio conferencing, to enable regular collective communications. This poses a management challenge and crucially a leadership dilemma. Distance and barriers can be created if you don’t regularly see team members in person. Leaders struggle to encourage and to guide remote workers and certainly feel that their ability to serve others is challenged. The development and maintenance of an inclusive and high-performing work culture is difficult.

The leadership of remote workers requires the exceptional management of teams and routines. Through collaboration, all parties should agree on objectives, deadlines and contributions. The development and maintenance of the first pillar of the System of T.E.A.M.S ©, Trust, will rely upon the communication skills of leaders. Effective, motivational and compassionate communication becomes even more important for the leadership of remote teams. Through the adoption of appropriate technology, used at the right time, leaders can still influence team culture and performance, from a distance.

“Function first, then Perform”

Paul Wood. CEO Emerging Risks Global


Cooper, K. (2019) Going remote: Leading dispersed teams. The Institute of Leadership and Management

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