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Managing remote teams: Strategies for effective virtual leadership

Virtual meeting


Managing anything can prove to be difficult, let alone people. Any manager would agree, tackling staff personalities is half the battle. But at least you had them all in one room. For most managers this was the case for a long time, till, Covid strong armed the professional world into remote working. As Covid shifted into an endemic, most companies anticipated a swift office return, for most. Little did they know their staff were set on having either the best of both worlds, in a hybrid solution or a permanent remote position.


According to the Office of National Statistics (ONS), 44% of UK workers were working remotely in 2023, 16% in full-time remote roles and 28% hybrid. In line with ONS, a survey conducted by Nucleus Commercial Finance noted 79% of SMEs admitted to encouraging staff to continue working remotely, in order to save from their bottom line. With the recent pushback from giants like Google, Amazon and Goldman Sachs, paving the way to a full return to offices, most experts are predicting the remote stats will continue to rise. So, it looks like remote working is here to stay, for now. But what does this mean for supervisors and managers?


It means the proliferation of remote work has reshaped the managerial and supervisory landscape, necessitating a paradigm shift in leadership approaches. Though some pre-existing learnings will continue to be the rudimentary requirements of successfully managing and leading a team, there is a need for companies and their HR teams to cultivate novel strategies tailored to virtual environments. To help the ship start sailing, below is a top line guide to empower those in need to navigate the complexities of virtual leadership, effectively.


Virtual meeting

Encourage open communication:


Now I don’t mean asking everyone to share how they truly feel about one another. Remember us humans we are complicated beings, and deep within we hold an even more complicated set of personality traits. Don’t open Pandoras box, unless you’re planning on leaving someone else to clean up your mess.


What I mean is to ensure regular communication between yourself and the team and most importantly amongst the team themselves. Now remember we are all different and our preferences even more varied, especially in today’s world. So, learn to leverage diverse communication channels to facilitate seamless interaction among team members. Joseph Walther’s ‘Social Information Processing Theory’ suggests that in the workplace, open communication facilitates the exchange of social information, which can lead to stronger interpersonal relationships and greater organisational cohesion. This cohesion helps boost productivity with the average logged improvements ranging between 20-30% between a number of conducted company surveys across the UK and US.


Studies on employee engagement consistently find that open communication channels, including regular feedback, transparent decision-making processes, and opportunities of dialogue, are key drivers of employee commitment and performance.


Establish clear expectations and goals:

Confusion is an unforgiving virus in the professional world and will definitely be detrimental to any team caught by it. So, ensure, with utter certainty, that your team are provided and communicated clear expectations and goals. This requirement is even more so important when dealing with remote workers.


Organisational Justice Theory explores how perceptions of fairness in the workplace, including the clarity and consistency of expectations, influence employee attitudes and behaviours. Research suggests that when employees perceive that expectations and goals are clear, transparent and applied consistently, they are more likely to feel valued and committed to the company.


Furthermore, Edwin Locke and Gary Latham’s proposed ‘Goal Setting Theory’ emphasizes the importance of setting specific and challenging goals to enhance motivation and performance. According to this theory, clear and measurable goals lead to higher levels of effort, persistence, resulting in better performance outcomes.

Team meeting

Build Trust:


In the working world most managers try to use their life lessons outside the work environment to guide them towards successful leadership, but sometimes the teachings and conditioning passed down from our surrounding can be incorrect. Your family and friends (well most friends and saying that most family not all) care deeply for you so they help condition you to believe to protect yourself because trust should be earned not given. In the professional world I would argue it is quite the opposite. You do not have the luxury of time to build relationships and move forward when placed in a managerial role, so trust is something you must give until it is broken. At which point accountability ensues.


Now here comes the plot twist. Though you have to willingly give your trust, you must earn theirs. You can make that face as much as you like, it is the truth. Earning trust is no simple bout but none-the-less very achievable. You can follow some quick win strategies. Just don’t try to cut corners, you need to put the work in. The ‘Social Exchange Theory’ posits that trust develops through reciprocal exchanges of resources, support and cooperation between individuals or groups. Spend time supporting your team, helping when needed and guiding them to be the best version of themselves, this will rapidly gain their trust.


Studies have demonstrated that trustworthy leaders are perceived as more credible, competent, and reliable. Trust promoted cooperation, reduces conflict and enhances organisational performance by facilitating information sharing and collaboration.

Female leader asking question


Now, we all know every team has a bad apple and no matter what you try they are disinterested and disconnected. Yet somehow, they have survived several managers. Yes, because those managers were uncomfortable with confrontation and failed to hold the individual accountable. The moment you choose to ignore is the moment you have made your role that much harder. Not only will you lose the trust of other diligent team members, but you are actively enabling insubordinate behaviour.


When holding a direct report accountable be professional, respectful and supportive. As a leader you always want to get the best out of people. I have had many underperforming team members become award winners. The key is finding what is holding them back and helping them get through it. This is when you gain the ultimate trust and is invaluable.


Albert Bandura's Social Cognitive Theory, touches on the importance of accountability mechanisms shaping individual behaviour. According to this theory, people are more likely to exhibit accountable behaviour when they perceive that their actions have consequences and when they are held responsible by others. In conjunction with this theory, Organisational Justice Theory explores how perceptions of fairness and equity in the workplace influence employee attitudes and behaviours. Accountability mechanisms, such as, equitable consequences for actions, contribute to perceptions of procedural and distributive justice, which in turn enhance organisational trust and commitment.

Feamle business leader

Lead by example:


My approach in any role I have ever undertaken is to lead by example. My disciplined commitment to this approach has help me rapidly progress in numerous roles. But little did I know, that was not the most rewarding part. It was when a number of my management team started mirroring my behaviour that I realised the significance of this.


Leaders must exemplify the behaviours and values they wish to instil in their team members. Authentic Leadership Theory emphasises the importance of congruence between leaders' actions and their espoused values, positing that authenticity fosters trust and credibility. Therefore, leaders must lead by example, embodying the principles of transparency, integrity, and resilience in their interactions with remote team members. By demonstrating vulnerability, admitting mistakes, and soliciting feedback, leaders foster a culture of psychological safety wherein team members feel empowered to express themselves openly. Furthermore, research by Walumbwa et al. highlights the positive impact of authentic leadership on employee engagement, job satisfaction, and organisational commitment, underscoring its relevance in remote work contexts. By embodying authenticity and leading with empathy, leaders can inspire trust, foster collaboration, and propel remote teams towards success.


Further considerations would be:

  • Provide all essential training, resources and ongoing support. Self Determination Theory posits that autonomy, competence and relatedness are fundamental psychological needs that drive intrinsic motivation and well-being. By championing autonomy and competence while fostering a sense of belongingness, leaders can empower remote team members to thrive amidst the challenges of virtual work.

  • Embrace flexibility and adaptability. The fluid nature of remote work necessitates a flexible and adaptive leadership approach capable of accommodating diverse work styles, preference and circumstances.

  • Promote team building and collaboration. Despite physical separation, remote teams can cultivate a strong sense of camaraderie and collaboration through purposeful team-building initiatives. Social Identity Theory claims that individuals derive their self-concept from their membership in social groups, highlighting the significance of fostering a sense of belongingness within remote teams.




It is fair to say that leading remote teams demands a multifaceted approach grounded in evidence-based strategies and psychological insights. Pre-empting the virtual leadership challenges and proactively recalibrating supervisory and managerial training text, will unequivocally support companies boost productivity through positive growth, effective leadership and purposeful decision making.


By establishing clear expectations, fostering open communication, building trust, and providing support, leaders can navigate the complexities of virtual leadership with confidence. Embracing flexibility, promoting collaboration, and leading by example serve as cornerstones of effective remote team leadership, enabling leaders to harness the full potential of their remote teams amidst the evolving landscape of remote work. As organisations continue to embrace remote work as a viable alternative to traditional work arrangements, effective virtual leadership will emerge as a linchpin of organisational success in the digital age.



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