The Unique Challenge of Leading Remote Teams

A good leader is a good leader, regardless of location, and recognizes how differences among team members can lead to discontent and challenges while working as a group. Leading a virtual team brings a new set of difficulties that may quickly derail progress. Here are a few things for managers / leaders to watch out for in order to be the same thoughtful leaders of remote teams as they’ve learned to be in the office.

The Challenge of Communication

In the modern workplace, a lot of communication is conducted virtually via online collaboration tools. Does the speed of communication matter there? A study from the University of Iowa suggests it matters quite a lot. It reveals that when we’re communicating in virtual environments, those who are capable of typing quickly tend to emerge as leaders more than their slower peers.

“Individuals who can type faster are able to more quickly communicate their thoughts and drive the direction of a team in a collaborative work setting, whereas individuals with lower abilities lag behind their counterparts,” the authors say. This may also have to do with direct and indirect communication styles, and leaders, whether virtual or in person, must work to engage all members of a team to ensure their voices are heard.

It Can Be A Challenge To Assemble An Ideal Virtual Team

Physical presence also matters when it comes to remote leadership. Team members provide higher leadership scores to those in the same physical location. It’s a finding that mirrors that of a previous study from Georgia Southern University and Brigham Young University.

“We found that people are biased toward the people they are physically located with,” the authors say. “People who are working remotely on a team can be at a disadvantage when it comes to being seen as a leader.” In other words, if the leader of a team works solely remotely while the rest of the team are physically in the same location, that leader is likely to experience more problems than if they are all located together.

This might be less to do with one’s physical proximity as it has to do with the familiarity your team have with you. When working together closely with others, whether in person or virtually, we are able to get to know each other on a deeper level, recognizing one another’s strengths and weaknesses. The key is our ability to forge strong and meaningful connections with our peers, in a way that replaces standing around the water cooler during the morning break.

Smaller virtual teams ensure that the conversations are of higher quality, with all voices being heard and deeper connections developing. Close bonds are formed and result in better communication, both within the group and outside of it. It is this sharing of information that drives forward team performance, while also reducing the possibility of conflict within the team.

Cultural Diversity Can Be A Serious Challenge For Global Teams

When teams are flung far and wide across the globe, time zone differences aren’t always the most difficult challenge to overcome. When working with people in different countries, cultural differences are bound to show up. This can lead to potential clashes of business and national cultures, which can erode at a team level and, ultimately, the company. A virtual manager must work to recognize the benefits of multicultural teams and encourage collaboration that embraces the different viewpoints such a team can bring.

Going beyond national culture, working remotely can affect a team’s relationship with their company. Since employees aren’t seeing a physical office every day, the virtual manager and what they represent, what they value, can become the embodiment of organizational culture for the people they manage.

Speaking of Time Zones | A Huge Challenge For Global Team Leaders

If you are managing a remote team with members located in different parts of the world, then you will have to adjust according to different time zones. Scheduling team meetings can get challenging when you are juggling people who work at completely different times. Although this may sound daunting, it can actually lead to productive changes for a team. The Groove company wrote in How Our Remote Team Manages Collaboration Across 9 Time Zones, “This challenge has also opened the door to a positive discovery: we’ve learned that we don’t actually need to collaborate in real-time that much. And that in many cases, real-time collaboration isn’t the best way to be productive as a team (and that real-time meetings don’t automatically equal productivity).” Work with your remote team to find what works best and don’t be afraid to try new things.


While leading a remote team can come with plenty of challenges, there are numerous tools to help develop a productive, dynamic group. Virtual teams are only likely to become a more common feature of working life, so it’s increasingly important that managers are adept at leading as well in the virtual world as they do in the physical one.  

Very best wishes for your every success,