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Remote leadership 101: Everything you need to know

If we had to choose the buzzword of today’s business world it would definitely be remote. The trend of working-from-anywhere was on the rise way before the dramatic events of 2020. However, the pandemic made the remote not just preferable but obligatory. Although the business world has learned that a whole lot can be done remotely, a lot of people still aren’t accustomed to this way of working.

The reality is that remote is here to stay, and there's a lot of data to support this:

  • According to Buffer's 2021 State of Remote Work report, 97.6% of respondents would like to work remotely, at least some of the time, for the rest of their careers.

  • In Gitlab's 2021 Remote Work report, 52% of remote workers noted that they would consider leaving their co-located company for a remote role and if remote work was no longer an option, 1 in 3 respondents would quit their job

  • According to McKinsey's "What employees are saying about the future of work" 63% of the 5,043 full-time employees who work in corporate or government settings prefer a more flexible working model post-pandemic.

Many leaders are facing a challenge; they're having to change paradigms and adapt their style to this new way of working, and often they don't what to double down on. Based on our experience working with remote leaders, we’ve compiled a list of concrete steps, suggestions, and insights that every remote leader can use, no matter how long they’ve been in that position.

5 things you can do to be a more effective remote leader

#1 - Set clear expectations and remember to follow through.

It all starts with clear expectations! One of the few downsides of remote work is the lack of physical communication. Non-verbal clues, context, office chitchat… So, in order to make sure that your people are heading in the right direction, your job is to set clear expectations, with a follow up plan and a very clear link to the company’s goals and their contribution. Make sure to let them know how they can benefit from the choices they make and the impact of their actions. The key is to follow through, monitor progress, provide positive recognition frequently and iterate. We like the OKR methodology to set objectives and metrics.

#2 - Leverage virtual collaboration and communication tools.

If you are responsible for a remote team, technology is your biggest ally and you should use it to the fullest. What do we mean by this? As a leader, you should be aware of which project management, time management, online collaboration and async communication tools will facilitate information flow and drive action towards the right goals. Make sure that you are choosing the very best working methods for your team, enabling them to shine through and reach their full potential. Some of the tools we love are Notion for knowledge management, Asana for project management, Loom for video messaging and Slack for communication.

#3 - Remember that bonding is necessary.

Just because we're geographically distributed it doesn’t mean that we can’t form strong connections. The stronger the bond is, the better will team perform. Why? Because they will care more about each other, about the outcome, and about the team in general. This also means they will be more honest with each other, open to feedback, and free to share their own thoughts and ideas. It starts with inside jokes and exchanged memes but it ends with late-night support sessions and ultimately - better results overall. Some of the things we've done are sharing features on our team members in the weekly newsletter and playing games on Slack, like "guess who's office" or sending pictures of our favorite foods.

#4 - Lead by example, with honesty and transparency.

In a remote setting, honesty plays a critical role and it is built on transparency. We need to be very deliberate about sharing information, since team members can't pick up on things as they would being on site.

In remote companies, it isn’t so easy to get to know the colleagues you don’t work with directly, and it can be a challenge to form significant bonds with them. That means that the team member - manager relationship is critical, because you represent the company. How you act will influence their attitude towards their work ethic, loyalty, and commitment to the company.

You should communicate with them frequently, and give them as many details as you can about the decisions being made, about changes, trends, and all of the actions whose consequences will matter to them. If you choose to have a relationship with them based on trust and respect, they will reciprocate and follow your example - with you and with each other.

#5 - Encourage a healthy work-life balance (and lead by example!).

If your home and your work are the same place, are you ever off the clock? Your personal and your business get mixed up, working hours can extend and you can’t even have lunch without checking your work e-mail. Many studies suggest that burnout has been on the rise since the pandemic started. McKinsey's report mentions that 49% of respondents say they are feeling at least somewhat burnt out.

If you want to be a good role model for your team members, you need to learn how to set up the boundaries for yourself first. And then transfer that mentality and behavior to them as well. Encourage team members to set an end of day time after which they don't check e-mails, no laptop lunch breaks and no working on holidays. But, most importantly, behave consistently with this. That means, don't expect them to respond when they're on vacation or after hours! Create space for mental health days and make an effort to talk about their hobbies, families, and interests that make them happy. Fulfilled, respected team members will really make a company thrive, and it all starts with the leader.

The 1 minute takeaway

Remote work is here to stay and many leaders are having to adapt their style to this new way of working. Five things you can do to be a more effective remote leader:

  • #1 - Set clear expectations and follow through - we recommend the OKR methodology to set objectives and metrics

  • #2 - Leverage virtual collaboration and communication tools like are Notion, Asana, Loom and Slack

  • #3 - Remember that bonding is necessary

  • #4 - Lead by example, with honesty and transparency

  • #5 - Encourage a healthy work-life balance (and lead by example!)


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