Working remotely is the new normal, with the number of UK remote workers increasing by nearly a quarter of a million in the last decade, according to the Office of National Statistics. If this growth trend continues, it is predicted that 50 percent of the UK workforce will work remotely by 2020, with some splitting their time between the office and home, and others only ever working from home and rarely, if ever, coming into the office. In our global economy, virtual teams are on the rise, leveraging knowledge-based work and allowing projects to be resourced effectively, irrespective of where team members live.
The benefits of remote working for both companies and individuals are impressive: improved efficiencies in project deployments, increased employee retention, higher morale and wellbeing, access to a wider talent pool, reduced office costs and many more. But as a manager, it can add new complexities and challenges in your role as a leader. How do you maintain employee engagement, customer satisfaction and a high performing culture when your team is dispersed? And how do you avoid two classes of employees (office-based vs remote) and other pitfalls?
The basic principles of strong and effective leadership remain the same, whether working with someone sitting at the desk next to you or with someone who is a hundred miles away. You need to: share a compelling vision; agree clear objectives which are aligned and prioritised according to business goals; provide support, guidance and regular feedback; and act as a role model for learning, encouraging continuous development within your team.
With a remote team, you need to do all the above, but you must make more of a concerted effort. Regular communication with individuals is key, and effective collaboration within the team and with the rest of organisation is absolutely vital for success.
The success of leading a remote team ultimately boils down to two things: use your own emotional intelligence as manager and adopt effective communication and collaboration technologies.