As remote, hybrid and flexible work models continue to transform operations across most major industries, increasing numbers of management teams are being asked to adapt their leadership styles to better support distributed teams. As of 2023, it’s believed as many as 23% of US employees work remotely, an increase of over 17% compared to data from 2019.

While multiple positive benefits have been associated with the rise of remote work, including increased productivity, improved employee engagement and reduced levels of stress among workers, difficulties can surface when it comes to management. With an impaired ability to address potential issues in person, managing and supporting distributed teams can be challenging.

Thankfully, a great deal of research has been conducted in recent years regarding the best ways to meet the needs of remote workers, helping leaders better understand which aspects of their management styles could benefit from adjustments. To explore this subject in more detail, this post will cover a number of best practices for leading distributed teams effectively.

Common remote leadership challenges 

Before offering insights into actionable ways to improve the management of remote workers, it’s important to highlight the ways in which remote leadership can differ from more traditional in-office team management. While the basic tenets of strong leadership still apply, including respect, fairness, responsibility and clear communication, a few unique challenges can arise.

For the most part, issues are often rooted in the lack of face-to-face interactions associated with remote work, which can leave some employees and managers misunderstanding each other’s requirements. According to one study published in 2018, almost 85% of remote staff find virtual communication more difficult than face-to-face, seemingly supporting this theory.

While efforts have been made to improve virtual communications systems in recent years to better promote interactivity and engagement, distributed teams still tend to speak with their management teams less frequently than their in-office counterparts. In fact, it’s believed that remote staff are 36% less likely to feel managers are accessible or connected to their teams.

Additional areas in which communication issues can impact remote leadership include:

  • Facilitating team-building activities
  • Leading and evaluating training sessions
  • Checking in on the progress of tasks
  • Resolving misunderstandings in the workplace
  • Nurturing a sense of community among workers
  • Ensuring staff maintain a healthy work-life balance
  • Identifying and addressing mental health issues

Best practices for leading distributed teams

Understanding the source of common remote leadership challenges will help management teams to adjust their operations in line with remote work requirements. While facilitating the same level of availability and communication associated with in-office roles may be hard to achieve, duties can be adapted to support remote staff in different but equally effective ways.

Below are a number of best practices that leaders of remote teams should keep in mind to ensure their staff feel supported, and to foster a sense of community in virtual environments.

An image of two people in a coworking space.

Build personal connections

Creating and nurturing a sense of community in the workplace is central to developing high performing teams. Data published by the Pew Research Center reveals that when teams are satisfied with interpersonal relationships in the workplace, their overall job satisfaction levels also tend to be higher, resulting in a happier, more engaged and more productive workforce.

While building personal connections in any workplace environment will require a consistent commitment from all parties, for in-office teams, scheduling time for one-on-one meetings is often as easy as visiting an employee’s desk. Leaders of distributed teams should schedule regular catch-ups with individual team members to foster a sense of community. Use virtual communications tools to engage with staff, and ensure talks aren’t exclusively work related.

Make use of smart technologies 

Accurately gauging the progression of key projects can create significant issues for remote teams, leaving managers filling in the blanks with educated guesswork. While in-office staff can be reached at any time to provide progress updates, managers of distributed teams may be left waiting for virtual correspondence to gain assurance that certain projects are on track.

Much of this uncertainty can be avoided if teams commit to the use of smart organizational tools. Software systems can be implemented to track the progress of projects, workflows can be clearly communicated, updates can be easily shared and achievable objectives can be set to better illustrate the progress of big-picture projects, ensuring staff remain productive.

Promote a culture of security 

Creating a safe and secure workplace environment has always been central to a business’ success. However, with the rise of remote work, novel security issues have been uncovered that some teams may struggle to safely navigate. 91% of cybersecurity experts believe the growth of remote work may be contributing to a notable rise in sophisticated cyber-attacks, with criminals attempting to steal sensitive data via social engineering and malware attacks.

To protect remote workers and their organizations from such threats, managers must act to promote a culture of security among employees. Staff should be frequently trained in how to spot social engineering threats, create strong passwords, utilize multi-factor authentication and report suspicious activity to managers and IT teams. Leaders must stay informed about the latest security technologies, such as cloud-based commercial security systems, and best practices to ensure their teams remain secure.

Frequently acknowledge success

If managers aim to develop high performing teams, a concerted effort must be made to both identify and celebrate individual successes. It’s believed as many as 92% of employees will be more likely to repeat positive actions if they receive recognition for their efforts, helping business leaders create happier teams that can be up to 13% more productive on average.

While ensuring employees are recognized for their accomplishments can be a little difficult for distributed teams, software solutions can be developed to support leaders in this pursuit. Goals and milestones for specific projects can be set, which when achieved, will notify team leaders to ensure they’re able to reach out to high performing employees in a timely manner. 

Maintain some form of structure

Of course, one of the main draws of remote work for many employees is the flexibility that such schedules offer, but running any operation with no structure at all can be a recipe for disaster. Leaders of distributed teams must make efforts to set generalized schedules for individual employees, working together to find a solution that best suits all involved parties.

An image of two people in a coworking space.

Knowing the times at which leaders can expect responses from team members will ensure fewer communications go unanswered, while setting clear schedules for the completion of tasks will help employees to maintain a healthy work-life balance. It’s wise to also provide flexibility within these boundaries to build trust and respect, but try not to deviate too much.


As remote, hybrid and flexible work models continue to transform the way many businesses operate, increasing numbers of leaders may find themselves needing to adapt their management styles to better support distributed teams. Nurturing a sense of community in a remote work environment isn’t always easy, but there are a few ways to simplify this pursuit.

Leaders of distributed teams must focus on building personal relationships with employees with support from virtual communications tools, manage workflows with the aid of smart software solutions, promote a culture of security, and make sure to frequently acknowledge achievements via employee recognition programs. These practices, alongside mutually agreed upon work structures, will help managers to lead distributed teams more effectively.