Skip to content

Leading From Afar: Tips for Managing Remote Teams

The battle keeps raging between remote work advocates and those who believe remote work has been an epic disaster for corporate culture everywhere. The reality is, it doesn’t matter who’s right. Remote work isn’t going away. 


I talk to small business leaders all the time whose teams are spread out across the country and in some cases around the world. Remote work has created an incredible opportunity along with its own unique challenges.

In my last corporate role, for example, I had multiple people reporting to me who lived in different states, far from headquarters. These people were great, and, for a number of reasons, were much stronger than the talent we would have attracted locally due to their very specialized skills. Remote work allowed me to build a stronger team. 

One thing I can also say with certainty is that I saw some of the most productive teams of my entire career work through the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic on “zoom” calls. It was impressive. 

Of course, we can’t recreate every day the spirit of can-do perseverance that marked those first challenging months of the pandemic. But, the experience suggests that new ways of working require a more purposeful approach to leading. 

Here are three leadership practices that can help when you are leading from afar: 

  • Provide a Sense of Purpose: 
    I believe what has changed since those early pandemic days, is not that we are tired of working on zoom. Rather, I think remote work has shed light on a problem that already existed – When people aren’t clear on “why” they’re doing what they’re doing, staying focused becomes much harder. Things start to drift. Communicating a clear “why” that connects the team to the goals of the larger organization is essential to keep them engaged, especially when they’re working remotely.

  • Focus on Learning & Growing:
    It’s easy in the day-to-day grind of getting stuff done to become task focused in your meetings and one-on-ones with your people. A task orientation can easily slip into a more transactional relationship with your direct reports. If you want them to be engaged, focus your discussion on how they are growing. Try starting your one-on-ones with the question “what did you learn this week?” rather than “what did you do this week?” End the conversation with “what are you hoping to learn next week? And how can I help?” This has the dual impact of letting them know you care about their growth and getting them into a learning mindset. 

  • Make Collaboration a Core Value for your Team:
    Get the team together virtually on a regular basis and in person when you can. When you do, celebrate wins that involve the team working together, supporting each other, and helping colleagues across your organization. Make the question “Who did you help this week?” a staple of your team conversations. People will naturally emulate the behaviors you reward and celebrate, so celebrate connectedness and mutual support. 

Each of these is something leaders can do to drive engagement with any team - whether remote or in-person. But, when the team is remote, it’s that much more important to ensure each employee understands the purpose of their work, feels someone is looking out for their development, and knows the value of collaboration. 

To receive practical middle management tips each week, subscribe below. 
If you are looking for support for the middle managers in your organization, or you’re a middle manager looking for coaching, send me a message at