How to Be an Effective, Remote Leader

Tom Popomaronis | May 27, 2021

I’ve been working remotely for 10 years. Probably one of the biggest challenges an executive faces today is how to be a leader in a remote work environment. This predicament (and weakness) alone can cause a rift between companies and employees who have become accustomed to the work-at-home model and have been required to return to places of work. But it also applies to companies with offices spread over multiple geographies.

Like in any relationship, distance reduces the communication between both parties. This, in turn, reduces the sense of connection and leads to a general drop in the affinity for a mutual purpose.

Remote working and leadership

If you take a good look, you might be surprised to see that the majority of people are willing to do their jobs. People want to help — they like the feeling it brings them.

Unwillingness to do only comes about when there is a lack of purpose. This is the conundrum. Proximity to people improves relations and the ability to establish a collective purpose. Distance can make this difficult.

Agreement on goals and purposes drives all action. Without this agreement, nothing happens. The strengthening of a goal comes about by reinforcing the purpose of your activity. This is done by communicating. For an organization, this includes company-wide meetings, internal webinars, employee bulletins and news, group chat sessions and one-on-one mentoring, bonuses for target accomplishments, guidance, and support. All these things help reinforce purpose.

Why remote leadership fails

As more teams are going remote, leaders are seeking ways to maintain their levels of productivity. A leader’s management practices are a determining factor in evaluating an organization’s success while remote.

Remote leadership fails because there is/are:

  • little to no instruction given to the employee
  • a lack of assigned targets and goals
  • no programs designed to foster communication and community
  • no guidance on an employee’s tasks

An organization operating remotely is at risk of being crippled by this. When someone does not communicate, they become invisible. This is a rule that has been prevalent in advertising and PR for millennia — and it applies to people as well.

The ideal situation is to have programs that the majority fully agree upon and then forward these programs into actionable targets. This increases group participation and, in general, will maintain a sense of accomplishment and morale.

To put it simply, bad remote leadership stems from having no instructions or weak instructions and the inability to obtain compliance and complete targets. However, a simple formula can apply here to address these issues.

How to get things done remotely

  • Have a clear estimate of the situation you want to solve or get through.
  • Make all communication precise and clearly articulated, describing exactly what you need to be done.
  • Follow up on number (2) above.
  • Follow up on number (2) above, again.

From this, we can deduct the following maxim in remote leadership: Any communication is better than no communication, and the clearer and more frequently you communicate, the more you will get done.

Being wise or being liked does not result in an improved scenario. The success of remote management in businesses, small or large, comes down to one thing: getting things done and rewarding that with recognition or other means.

It seems almost stupidly obvious, but ask yourself, “Who haven’t I communicated to in recent times?” You may be surprised at the answer.

EVP, Innovation
Tom is a serial entrepreneur, product development expert, and content management strategist. Every hour of every day (perhaps too many hours) he focuses on strategies for our Executive Leadership Branding clients to build a powerful and credible online reputation.