Remote working and leadership styles

As I write this, the UK is being prepared to go into lockdown. The government message is to stay at home as much as possible and avoid all unnecessary travel. It’s been suggested that the most vulnerable (over 70’s) go into self-isolation for a period of 16 weeks. Schools and offices are closing around the country and mass gatherings are being postponed or cancelled. 

So, what does this mean for businesses’ and will this require a change in management and leadership styles. The short answer is yes if you currently manage a team that is usually based in an office, retail or restaurant – if you’re normally all under the same roof, then things are inevitably about to change.

How to effectively manage your teams remotely

Leadership styles and behaviours come in all shapes and forms, however, when managing a remote team, some styles will work more effectively than others. Remote working isn’t a new phenomenon. Flexible and remote working has been a part of our working lives for many years now, meaning that employees can work outside of the normal 9-5 and can work from home or an environment that isn’t the office. However, if you’re used to having your team by your side, then the next few weeks or months may require you to do things differently as a manager…

For some leaders and managers, remote work leads to a variety of concerns. It can lead to a lack of trust, driven by the manager, for a number of reasons… Are my remote employees really working? How do I know what they’re doing and if they are doing it right? Will everyone still be working toward the same goals?

While these are all valid concerns, with some effort and planning they can all be avoided.

In 2012, the Quality of Life Survey conducted by the MIT School of Management’s Executive Education Department found that if an employee has a supervisor who is open to flexible work, that employee is more likely to stay. Inspired by these results, Dr Peter Hirst, Associate Dean at MIT Sloan’s Executive Education department, piloted a flexible work program for his group.

One of the most surprising things that Dr.Hirst discovered was an increase in trust between manager and employee. More than half (62%) of employees reported feeling more trusted and respected by the end of the pilot. Dr Hirst suggests this improvement happened because of a change in the cultural perception of work:

“We went from a culture of assuming people were working because you could see them working to having a clearer understanding of what outcomes we’re trying to achieve and trusting everyone to be a professional.… The [employee] engagement that we got from that change of management relationship was really tremendous.”

HR Technology to help with managing your employee engagement

We use our big data and phycological insight form our Vibe platform to measure Stress, Trust, Empowerment and Passion. Levels of trust (particularly towards the line manager) in those organisations that encourage home working v’s those that don’t are often higher.

We also find in our Vibe 360 surveys and feedback, trust scores high when employees are empowered, listened to and encouraged to share ideas, and have high levels of quality communication on a regular basis – all leadership behaviours that now, more than ever, should be demonstrated. 

So, if you are going to have to change up your leadership style in the coming weeks /months, you should explore what type of leadership works for remote teams. You could have some special circumstances that should be considered when thinking about what type of leadership works best for your team, and previous styles of managing may need a rethink or refresh. There isn’t ‘one way’ to lead a team, the most effective type of leadership depends on the context. However, we know it can be hard for a leader to change their style. Our leadership programmes focus on the behaviours that drive effective leadership that can be adapted to the situation. Try and identify which leadership styles you are most likely to use, and then reflect on what you may need to do differently whilst your team are working remotely…

Top Tips to effectively manage your team remotely 

Create Face to Face Connections

Use video (Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Skype) to create a virtual face to face meetings. Don’t lose the human touch, particularly if people are used to having social contact in the office every day. ‘Self-isolation’ might be a lonely place for a lot of people, so make more calls and have conversations rather than email. 

Reach Out

Check-in on your team’s emotional wellbeing, not just the operational stuff. Many people may be (understandably) feeling scared, vulnerable and like their world has been turned upside down. Be mindful of this and demonstrate empathy and understanding in all interactions. 

Ask Questions

Use this an opportunity to flex your coaching style that can build trust and accountably. Also, asking questions means that we listen more, a great way to make people feel safe. Understand that your teams may also want to ask you lots of questions (what does the future hold, is my job safe, what happens if I get sick and need time off…) so link in with your HR teams or other senior leaders and discuss your companies approach to answering the important questions. 

Get Some Feedback

Now is a great time to ask your teams for some feedback on your remote leadership style. Vibe 360 is a fully digital, online platform that your direct reports and peers can complete via a link, asking up to 30 questions that relate to your leadership behaviours. We then run a skype or zoom feedback session with a qualified Laws of Attraction coach who can take you through your 360-feedback report. We’ve also added in a pillar that specifically relates to the COVID-19 crisis, so you can get some targeted feedback on how you’ve communicated the change, how effective your communication style has been, how supportive, engaging and available you have been whilst we have been in lockdown. Having a tool and mechanism to ask your teams how your performing as a leader is important, especially now. Drop me a line at to talk to me about how we can help you get some valuable feedback.

Stay safe, stay sensible and stay sanitised.


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