Essential leadership skills for remote teams post-COVID: How to lead a remote team successfully


austin distel image of man working at a laptop putting on headphones

How to lead a remote team effectively?

So much has been written about remote working in the last four years, with organisations across the world adapting to new ways of working in the post-COVID era.

But there’s one thing that I don’t think we, as leaders, acknowledge enough – leading a remote team is tough.

When you’re not having regular face-to-face contact with colleagues, the effort required to keep people engaged and inspired is much greater.

I’ve done a lot of research and had many conversations with leaders about this over the last few years and it’s a recurring theme. Sustaining a great culture remotely takes a lot of time and ongoing effort.

There’s some excellent insight into this in the book Remote Work by Chris Dyer and Kim Shepherd.

Two quotes in particular stood out to me:

“To do this [remote] work well, you have to be always on, always working to keep culture fresh and sticky – that is, keep it so interesting and engaging that no one will want to leave…we both found that being the CEO of a remote company is exhausting.” 

“A remote model requires a level of discipline that is almost military.” 

We talk a lot about exhaustion and burnout, but I’m not sure we acknowledge how much of a role remote working plays in this, and I think the second quote exemplifies why it is so tough.

Finding – and sustaining – the rhythm of your organisation is so important when working remotely. A tighter regime is needed to ensure that everyone understands their roles and responsibilities and what they can expect from others around them.

In the rest of this blog I’ll look at the problems that can arise when leading remotely and outline five tips for making the process easier and more rewarding for everyone.

Building relationships

Ultimately, the issues with remote working all come back to relationships. To be efficient and engaging we need to be investing in the relationships we have with one another, and acknowledging the importance of this.

Whether you’re leading a team that is remote, joining a new company that is remote or trying to engage with a workforce who have always been remote, relationships are the common thread that need to be mastered – and it’s an element of the workplace we probably don’t spend enough time on.

When remote working stops working

There are some common issues that crop up when remote working isn’t working as it should.

These generally fall into two categories – individual issues or cultural problems.

From an individual perspective we may see: 

  • Managers perceiving their team as lazy 
  • Micro-management 
  • Constant interruptions through instant messaging or phone calls  
  • People working to their own agenda and not the one they should be engaging with 

From a cultural perspective we may see: 

  • A lack of structure to meetings or conversations 
  • A lack of clarity in roles and responsibilities- people feeling a bit lost about what they’re doing
  • Not enough explanation or understanding of the reasons things are being done and the outcomes of them  

These are all common issues in any workplace that isn’t being led as effectively as it could be – but all are compounded when working remotely.

So, what can we do about it?

lead a remote team

Five tips for better engagement with remote teams and stakeholders

  • Be clear about why – why you need to have a conversation, why you’re asking for something, why you need the other person’s time.

Time is our most precious commodity and giving it to someone else is often taken for granted.

Make sure you’re aware of your own, and others’, boundaries. It’s important to be clear about why you’re doing things, attending meetings etc.

Whether you’re leading a team or struggling to engage with those in your business, be clear about why you need something, what it will have an impact on and how much of their time you need. Sometimes we’ll think a request is going to be a lot more draining on our time that it really is, so letting people know what it is you’re really asking for and setting this out early can be really helpful – for example: “I just need five minutes of your time and this phone call isn’t going to result in any extra work.”

  • Embrace differences – Your team is your team because of the different skills everyone brings to the table.

When leading remotely these differences can sometimes make things tricky, but it’s important to remember everyone’s strengths and weaknesses and ensure your team is working in a way where everyone complements one another.

Make sure you’re clear on roles and responsibilities as well as strengths and weaknesses. A RASCI tool can be helpful in getting clarity on roles and responsibilities or you may want to look at personality tests like DISC.

  • Give yourself time to build relationships – We can often be guilty of not giving ourselves the time to build relationships, to create trust and to demonstrate integrity.

Schedule time with people, even just 15 minutes, so you can say hi and understand more about what they do and how you can help.

Approaching these meetings from the perspective of what you bring to the relationship and how you can help them can be really helpful, and prevent people from feeling like you’re going to be demanding things from them.

  • Be careful not to micro-manage – Micro-management is one of the classic signs of chaos in an organisation.

    One of the core principles of effective communication is focusing on the audience and when this disappears you know you have a problem.

If you find yourself micro-managing, ask yourself why and what’s making you want to have that constant confirmation. When we feel out of control can often want to manage everything.

If you’re being micro-managed, ask your manager what you can do to help them feel more comfortable – it could be a simple update once a week or a small tweak to how you communicate with each other. What’s important is that there’s a conversation about how you are working together. If you’re not having that conversation that’s when things can start to break down and mistrust can creep in.

  • Be action orientated – Managing a team or looking to engage remote stakeholders all requires action. This links to point three around having the time to build the relationships as there should be outcomes and actions as a result of the conversations you’re having. This doesn’t mean they need to go away and have lots of work to do. Outcomes can be as simple as having a better relationship or colleagues knowing that you’ll do what you say you’ll do.

You can hear more on this topic on this episode of the Redefining Communications with Jenni Field podcast.

Lead a remote team

If you’d like help getting to grips with remote leadership in your organisation we offer workshops to help you move from chaos to calm.

Join our community

Subscribe to join our community and we’ll be in touch with helpful advice and updates about how we can take your organisation from chaos to calm. Our community gets invited to a quarterly 90-minute Ask Me Anything online session with Jenni Field, as well as early access to events, discounts and research.

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Need a fresh perspective?

If you’re a leader or business owner that needs help diagnosing what’s causing chaos, improving your communication and moving towards calm, please get in touch and book a free 15-minute call.


Join our community

Subscribe to join our community and we’ll be in touch with helpful advice and updates about how we can take your organisation from chaos to calm. Our community gets invited to a quarterly 90-minute Ask Me Anything online session with Jenni Field, as well as early access to events, discounts and research.

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.