I was intrigued by the recent article by Scott Edinger in HBR Blog Network, Why Remote Workers are More Engaged. He shares research that shows that remote workers are more engaged, and rate their leadership more highly. His article sparked a flurry of comments and debate, including questions of limited sample size and statistical significance. Despite the skeptics, I have not been able to get this conversation out of my brain. Why, Because my experience is that long distance leadership can be very engaging and achieve fantastic results.
I have been working in long distance leadership situations for almost 2 decades. I have led many highly dispersed teams. For most of my career I have not worked in the same state as my boss. Although Edinger’s research spoke to those working at home (I have also lead folks in that situation, and have worked from home at certain points in my career), I think the debate raises important conversation for any leader not working side-by-side with their teams on a daily basis.
In fact, in my current role, I am leading my most remote team ever. I am leading a team dispersed across the country in over 20 states and every time zone. It’s tricky. I spend much time on airplanes, and I am never “there” as much as I would like. And, I would argue this is one of my most engaged teams ever. They are on fire with results, are passionate about the work, and care deeply about one another.
And so, I offer my opinion on the “are remote workers more engaged” debate. No statistics. Just lots of personal experience and a track record of making long distance leadership work.
Why Long Distance Leadership Works
- Every interaction counts, people plan more for the time they have
- Both the leader and the team make extra effort to show up strong
- Teams and team members gain more confidence in self-direction
- Teams feel more encouraged to take risks
- It’s easier to be creative when no one is looking over your shoulder
- When teams are together they work hard to create relationships, and are deliberate about maintaining them across distances
- Absence makes the heart grow fonder– remote teams call on one another when needed, and have quality interaction
- They make better use of tools and technology
- They listen more closely because they are not distracted with the daily noise
Behaviors that Support Long Distance Leadership
- Select a fantastic team, carefully with a track record of self-direction
- Have a dramatic vision and crystal-clear goals
- Communicate that vision and goals loudly in every medium you have available
- Celebrate success loudly and frequently
- Show up face to face, more than is practical
- Be deliberate in helping the team to know you as a human being– distance can be scary, it helps if the team can see you as a real person
- Be silly and fun remote teams need to laugh and know it is okay to have fun
- Have a scheduled check-in pattern so no one gets left out
- Get really good at situational leadership– understand who needs what and give it to them
- Admit mistakes, it helps to encourage risk-taking and creativity
Are you a Long Distance Leader? Please share your comments. What have you found works best in managing remote teams?
I am delighted to be included in Dan McCarthy’s Leadership Carnival. I have enjoyed reading some fantastic posts included here from some insightful leadership bloggers. I encourage you to check it out.
My writing on Leader Athletes was also included John Bossong’s Top 10 Leadership and Sales Link Roundup. Another great collection of leadership posts worth checking out.
To all those on this wonderful leadership journey of reflecting, reading, writing, and collaborating.
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