Be the leader your remote team needs

Christina Williams
Article by: Christina Williams
Be the leader your remote team needs

Over the past half-year, the world has been turned on its head with millions of people across the globe suddenly working from home. This means that leaders and managers are now having to lead their teams remotely. This period of difficulty and uncertainty offers opportunities for growth, and many people have been touting the importance of harnessing this time for personal development. But as a leader, how are you to develop and improve your own leadership skills when your entire way of leading has suddenly been turned upside down?


For many leaders, the beginning of this crisis may have felt like a scramble, provoking an adrenaline-fueled and task-focused response. The level of uncertainty and anxiety was exceptionally high, and while your team members looked to you to lead them through the crisis, everyone expected some level of chaos and confusion. For a brief period, chaos was the “new normal,” and leaders were off the hook for not having all the answers right away.


But, now that time of panic and alarm has long passed – and teams are looking to their leaders to steer the ship. The destination, however, is still unclear, as we all look toward an unknown future with still unknown parameters. Additionally, your team is no longer on the same boat, but each in their own unique boat traveling through this storm. A few months ago, you were the captain of a ship. Now, you’re suddenly the commander of an entire fleet.


As we settle into new ways of working, it’s clear that we need to adapt our leadership. But it is also important to remember that your leadership skills haven’t gone out the window! You just need to apply them differently. A great place to start is by asking the question: What does your (remote) team need from you right now?

leader remote team
As a leader, how are you to develop and improve your own leadership skills when your entire way of leading has suddenly been turned upside down? #covid19 #leadershipskills #remoteworking #team #leadership Click To Tweet

1. Your team needs to see you

Company culture is seen and felt as much as it is heard. Small actions in the workplace that may have seemed insignificant at the time, such as a 30-second chat in the hallway or a high-five to celebrate a completed project, now feel prominently absent and inaccessible. All leaders have ways of being that are rooted in physical presence, be it facial expressions or body language, which are difficult to translate to the virtual space.

One important step is to make sure that your team still sees you regularly. This could be via a weekly meeting with the entire team (videos on!) or perhaps even a daily video update that you upload and share with the team. In addition, it might be wise to establish a virtual “open door policy.” Allot some hours during the week where you make yourself available for unscheduled phone calls or video chats. This gives your team the opportunity to come to you for feedback, to ask questions, or just to have that five-minute chat that you might have otherwise had by the coffee machine.

Tip: Don’t underestimate the power of a phone call. Say there is a project you want to check in on, or you have feedback for a particular member of your team. Instead of spending 20 minutes drafting a lengthy email, consider picking up the phone for five minutes to give them that input verbally. The “unplanned” call shows that you care, and hearing your voice is a reassuring reminder for people that they are still part of a team, even if the daily face-to-face is missing. Bonus: it will also save you time!

leader remote team
Don’t underestimate the power of a phone call. #covid19 #leadership #remoteworking #leadershipskills #team Click To Tweet

2. Your team needs to know what's going on

If anything has become abundantly clear during this time, it is that humans are not particularly well-equipped to deal with uncertainty. Your team members are likely dealing with various levels of uncertainty in their home life, so they are looking to you to provide some certainty at work.

It may be the case that you are also feeling a great deal of uncertainty as a leader. However, just because you don’t have all the answers doesn’t mean you should keep your team in the dark. In times of uncertainty – and when your team is no longer seeing each other on a daily basis – it’s more important than ever to communicate frequently (even if all your answers are “I don’t know”). Be clear about the steps the organization is taking to navigate this period, and also be honest about the effect this may have on your team members and their work.

Tip: Provide regular updates on the same topics. In times of uncertainty, consistency and routine are key. Deliver weekly updates to your team and stick to the same set of points. Even if in some cases there is no update on a particular topic, include it in your update anyway and say that there is no further update at this time. The cadence and regularity of the update will provide stability and clarity for your team.

leader remote team
In times of uncertainty, it’s more important than ever to communicate frequently. #communication #uncertainty #leadership #covid19 Click To Tweet

3. Your team needs to know why their work is important

Purpose-driven leadership is more important now than ever. This pandemic has created an environment that has led many of us to question what is truly important in life. As a leader, you should expect that your team members are doing the same, which is why it is particularly important to reinforce the value of the work you are doing as an organization.

It may be the case that your team was and still is fully on board with the company mission statement. However, the sudden shift to remote work means that the feeling and culture that drives this purpose-driven work is less tangible than before. As a leader, it is important now to truly live and breathe your purpose and be sure to emanate that through your words and actions. People need to feel that their work matters, and you can help them by frequently mentioning the value of their work.

Tip: Schedule a session to discuss this topic with your team. Share with them why your work matters to you, and be sure to address changes that may have come about recently, particularly if your business has had to seriously change course or make significant adaptations to its business model. Invite them to also share their views and feedback so that the team can rally together behind a shared purpose moving forward.

leader remote team
As a leader, it is important to truly live and breathe your purpose. People need to feel that their work matters. #purpose #leadership #covid19 #uncertainty #values Click To Tweet

4. Your team needs to envision a better future

In this unprecedented time of global change, it is unlikely that anything is “business as usual” within your organization. Even if your product and clients remain the same, the global economic landscape has been upended in myriad ways. While this can certainly be scary for your business, it also offers all kinds of opportunities – for your organization but also for your employees.

Now is a perfect time to invite input, feedback, and new ideas from your team. Working remotely can make it easy for people to forget how their individual work contributes to the whole, and there may be some roles that require adaptation in order to be effective. The best leaders are the ones who surround themselves with smart people, and your team members may surprise you with their ideas for how to move forward in this altered space.

Tip: Schedule a brainstorming session with your team about ways of working. Implementing changes and adaptations that are driven by the team or incorporating suggestions for new products or ways of working will inspire your team members and remind them that each one of them is needed and their opinions are valued.

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Leading a remote team does not require any special skills that you don’t already have. It’s just a matter of recognizing that the landscape is different, so your skills may need to be applied in new and different ways. Reminding your team that they are still a team and inspiring them with purpose along the way will allow you to command your new fleet of ships with the same confidence you’ve always had.

To learn how to be the leader your remote team needs, join the THNK Executive Leadership Program.