Leading Remote Teams: Leadership Habits That Work From A Distance

It’s no mystery that organizations with distributed or remote teams are vastly different to those with office-based teams. Still, the record increase in companies that have gone remote has given way to new understanding of how the two compare.

One such lesson is that remote employees thrive under a different kind of leader. That’s right – the same traits that leaders used to rock their in-person teams may not translate as well in the virtual arena.

Those leaders need to learn brand new skills in order to lead remote teams effectively. On the other hand, would-be leaders who’ve always exhibited those strengths more quietly may find themselves newly on the forefront of the leadership conversation.

For remote workers, achievement > ascription.

Recent studies1 have shown that ascriptive leadership traits like confidence, intelligence, extroversion, and charisma often reign supreme for leaders of office-based teams. Conversely, remote teams lend leadership status to those they perceive to be:
  • organized
  • competent
  • responsive
  • ‘doers’ of the work itself
  • good at keeping the team on schedule and focused on goals
In other words, office environments tend to favor employees with ascriptive traits as leaders, while remote teams lend more weight to those who exhibit achievement traits2.
leading remote teams

“The ascendance of worker bees to remote leadership roles may provide validation – and even relief – to the legions of hard workers who have, for generations, watched charming colleagues rise to the top.

Arianne Cohen for BBC

The goal posts have moved, but you can make them easier to find.

In addition to learning or re-learning those achievement traits, McKinsey has emphasized that leaders of newly remote teams must:

  • create a feeling of togetherness despite separation; a ‘virtual watercooler’
  • cultivate the notion of a shared purpose
  • instill trust with people outside of their own teams
  • build rapport with new hires who have never seen the inside of the office
  • communicate in a way that keeps everyone included

Just to name a few.

Okay, so what are the next steps for achieving this crucial environment for remote teams? Do your leaders know precisely how to build trust without borders, create unity without face time?

Behavioral blueprints put success within reach for remote leaders.

What’s a behavioral blueprint?

Behavioral blueprints translate key leadership habits into observable, intuitive, and measurable behaviors that leaders can begin emulating right away.

leading remote teams broken down into leadership behaviors

Here is a blueprint that covers a few key remote leadership habits, including ‘achievement’-related skills like Dependability.

Connecting With Remote Teams

  • Involves remote team members in all decisions that affect them.
  • Keeps remote team members informed.
  • Uses collaboration software to ensure remote people can track the team’s current tasks & progress.
  • Can easily be reached through phone, chat, email, etc.

Dependability

  • Completes deliverables on time.
  • Produces high quality work.
  • Is on time for calls and meetings.
  • Makes people aware ahead of time when a deadline cannot be met.
  • Completes work assignments in a reasonable amount of time.
Communication
  • Use easy to follow language.
  • During a conversation, pay attention and don’t do other things on the side.
  • When explaining something, be concise and get to the point quickly.
Build Trust
  • Keep commitments and promises.
  • Explain goals, objectives, and the reasons for pursuing them.
  • Recognize team members fairly based on accomplishment, rather than preference.
  • Do not take credit for the work of others.
  • Admit mistakes.
  • Listen and care about what others have to say.

Breaking key habits down into their everyday behaviors removes friction from the leadership development process. Leaders know that by emulating these discrete behaviors, they’re embodying leadership habits that empower their teams in a way that is in line with the company’s expectations.

Remember - remote or not, observable behavior change and effective measurement is key.

Your leaders will develop these new habits faster and more effectively with frequent feedback. Ideally, the feedback process you employ will be easy, frequent, accessible, and psychologically safe. Doing this will help you operationalize faster behavior change – and communicate its impact on the business – for the leaders at your organization.

You can read more about pairing behavioral blueprints to frequent feedback here.

See how Rhabit’s innovative approach to behavioral change and frequent feedback transforms leaders with our free 90-day no-risk pilot.