The Common Challenges in Remote Leadership and How to Overcome Them

Managing remote teams

by Cecilia Gorman, owner of Creative Talent Partners

Working remotely often seems like an ideal scenario for many employees, with no daily commutes, the freedom to set your own schedule, and the ability to have a working environment that perfectly suits your lifestyle. However, for those in leadership positions, guiding a remote team often comes with unique challenges.

Leading diverse teams can be complicated enough in a traditional office setting – where direct, face-to-face interactions are common. But these challenges can become even more pronounced when you factor in the remote aspect of many modern-day working environments.

However, rather than assuming your business isn’t yet ready to embrace remote working arrangements because of its challenges,  it’s crucial first to identify where and how these difficulties arise while adopting effective strategies to overcome them.

Lack of Face-to-Face Interaction

One of the notable challenges faced by remote teams is the absence of in-person training sessions and team meetings. This can make it challenging to establish trust and allow for seamless communication when team members are dispersed across different locations.

Despite these challenges, it’s still very possible to cultivate a strong team bond. Regular video conferences or online group discussions can serve as an effective solution. These virtual gatherings offer a platform for team members to engage more personally and develop a sense of togetherness and team spirit.

Keeping the team updated with the latest developments or changes in the organisation’s trajectory is also crucial. Utilising group chat platforms can be an excellent way to facilitate these kinds of conversations and maintain open lines of communication with where the company is currently positioned and where it’s going.

Communication Breakdowns

Remote work provides numerous advantages for employees but comes with its own set of hurdles. Often, when working in isolated environments, team members may not realise they are struggling until the situation becomes too demanding for them, and their performance starts to suffer.

To mitigate this, it’s important to create a structured communication plan. This could involve daily virtual briefings, weekly group discussions, or monthly full-team gatherings. Staying consistent with team interactions helps keep everyone on the same page, ensuring clarity on current projects and tasks.

Encouraging a culture of open dialogue within the team is also crucial. Establish a supportive working environment where team members can freely share their ideas, suggestions, or issues. When managing teams across various time zones, try to establish common time windows where there is overlap to get as many people involved as possible in meetings and discussions.

Employee Performance Issues

Assessing a team member’s output while working remotely isn’t always easy since their day-to-day activities are not directly observable.

Instead of focusing too intently on their methods, emphasise the importance of their results. There’s a temptation for some organisations to over-supervise remote workers due to the inability to oversee all aspects of their work directly.

However, the fundamental element here is trust. Continual doubts about your team’s ability to achieve goals may indicate a need to re-evaluate your hiring practices. While addressing underperformance is crucial, refrain from making hasty judgments.

Practice being direct and timely to address any apparent issues sooner rather than later, and collaborate regularly to improve work efficiency. A manager’s ability to better address performance is tightly connected to their ability to set clear expectations. Make sure there is upfront clarity and opportunity for questions when giving direction to your team. Being able to better hold them accountable hinges on this. 

Clarifying Individual Responsibilities

The lack of physical presence and direct oversight can often lead to confusion among remote team members about their specific tasks and responsibilities. This ambiguity might result in tasks being overlooked, with team members assuming others will handle them.

To counteract this, it’s essential to delineate each team member’s role and responsibilities clearly from the beginning. Ensure that everyone comprehends their duties and appreciates how their role contributes to the larger objectives. Using transparent project management tools for task assignments can also improve clarity and visibility regarding who is responsible for what and by when.

While accountability might sometimes be misconstrued as a synonym for “blame” if something goes wrong, in reality, it’s a fundamental element of developing a high-performing remote team. Encourage team members to take charge of their assignments proactively and to communicate any challenges early on. This approach creates a culture of personal responsibility and mutual accountability, which ultimately contributes to the entire team’s success.

Lack of Interdepartmental Collaboration

The absence of a physical workspace can lead many to lose sight of the importance of camaraderie, potentially causing teams to work in isolation, reducing overall efficiency, and, in some cases, derailing projects entirely.

To address this, it’s important to cultivate a culture that prioritises and facilitates team collaboration. This involves creating opportunities for online teamwork, creating an environment conducive to the free exchange of ideas, and acknowledging collective accomplishments.

However, it’s essential to maintain a balance. While collaboration is key, excessive teamwork can scatter focus. It’s important to establish clear guidelines on when and how to collaborate while also allowing sufficient space for team members to concentrate on their individual tasks and responsibilities.

Declining Company Culture

The erosion of company culture poses a substantial challenge in remote team management. The absence of a physical office setting can make it difficult to maintain a vibrant and positive organisational culture. This deterioration can lead to decreased employee morale, reduced productivity, and increased staff turnover.

To counter these challenges, it’s imperative for leaders to nurture a positive culture across their teams proactively. This could involve consistently reinforcing the company’s values and objectives, acknowledging the accomplishments of individuals and teams, and creating opportunities for social interactions and team bonding activities.

Leaders should emphasise creating a work culture grounded in trust and transparency. Regularly introducing team bonding activities, maintaining open and candid communication about matters affecting the team, actively seeking and responding to team feedback, and exploring management training options that align with the company’s core values are crucial for achieving success in this environment.

Manage Your Remote Teams More Successfully

While certain companies might consider remote work too difficult to effectively manage, it’s important for leaders to recognise the advantages it offers and take the time to adapt their management strategies. By setting clear expectations and guidelines, focusing on effective communication, and contributing to a healthy company culture, remote teams can achieve a level of productivity and success equally comparable to in-office teams.

About the author

Wildly addicted to all things leadership, Cecilia Gorman is a veteran of the advertising industry and the owner of Creative Talent Partners, a training consultancy that specializes in the development of rising managers and their teams. Whether it’s a team offsite, a manager workshop or through her online Manager Boot Camp course, Cecilia’s sole pursuit is adding value to growth-focused employees.