The best leadership qualities for leading remote teams

Written by Alissa Parr, Ph.D., Senior Consultant
Previously published by PSI Talent Management or Cubiks, prior to becoming Talogy.

This blog was originally published on June 23, 2017 to address the shift towards remote work that many workplaces have been adopting over the last few years. However, we hope that this information will be helpful as many more organisations are now enforcing remote work policies to prevent the spread of Covid-19.

With advances in technology, there has been a significant increase in the number of employees working remotely over the past few years. Think about the last team project you were on. A decade ago, the question might have been, “Do any of your colleagues work remotely or in a different location than you?” Today, the question is more likely, “How many of your colleagues work remotely or in a different location?” And, now that more people are working remotely, it’s important to consider what leadership qualities and styles facilitate collaboration and success in virtual teams. We know what the success factors are for leaders. It’s especially important to determine whether there are specific qualities or skills that stand out when working with remote employees and teams.

In a recent study, Hill and Bartol had a similar question. The researchers wanted to determine how an empowering leadership quality affected team performance. Leaders who exhibit this style are likely to lead by example, encourage decision making, and provide appropriate and sufficient support and resources to facilitate goal achievement. Leaders who empower their employees create an environment in which employees are encouraged to take accountability and set challenging goals.

The Findings – Empowerment Leads to Higher Team Performance

To understand this relationship, the researchers recruited 194 employees who made up 29 virtual teams at one multinational company to participate in the study. The researchers found that when leaders exhibited a high level of empowerment, team members were more collaborative and, as a result, they had higher individual and team performance. Their increased collaboration allowed team members to more effectively strategise and achieve their goals. Additionally, this relationship was even stronger when the team was more geographically dispersed. In other words, the leader had an even stronger influence on collaboration when teams were more dispersed.

What are the practical implications of this study?

First, when you know a leader will be managing a dispersed group of employees, make sure you assess whether they exhibit the necessary level of empowerment in the hiring process. You can do this by way of a Leadership Assessment, behaviour-based interview, or role-play exercise. The best strategy is to measure this skill in multiple ways and multiple times across the recruitment process.

Second, organisations can provide training opportunities for their current leaders on how to empower their employees. Have a group of leaders read through case studies and determine the best ways to address the situation. Additionally, lead a discussion about the best ways to address common challenges that remote employees face. A follow-up from the training is to give the leaders challenge assignments for empowering their employees.

While we know empowerment is important for all leaders, we now also know that empowerment is possibly the best leadership quality for leading a remote team. Give employees a voice and support…and the team will collaborate and perform.

Hill, N. S., & Bartol, K. M. 1 Empowering Leadership and Effective Collaboration in Geographically Dispersed Teams. Personnel Psychology, 69(1), 159-198.

Leading remote teams: new trends and challenges for managers

Remote work is expected to continue to rise even after the recent pandemic subsides.

Three out of four CEOs recently surveyed indicated they will not bring all employees back on site (Gartner, 2020). With this shift, managers will need to understand how to work remotely themselves, as well as how to lead a team with less structure, fewer opportunities to communicate, and collaboration enabled by technology.

Managers are uniquely positioned to help people realise the benefits of remote work by adapting their leadership style to mitigate the potential pitfalls.

This white paper takes a closer look at how organisations can focus on hiring and developing managers with the key competencies proven to be most necessary for success when leading highly efficient and productive remote teams.

  • Agility: how managers respond to change and help people handle challenges independently
  • Achievement: how managers adapt their work practices to drive action and ensure accountability
  • Affiliation: how managers overcome the physical distance required to coach others and build a supportive team
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leading remote teams cta whitepaper cover