Remote Management: Leading a Team Remotely

The Post Pandemic Landscape

As of April 2023, approximately one third of working Americans did so remotely while 41% were working remotely part-time or in a hybrid set up.(1) According to Forbes “This projection suggests a continuous, yet gradual, shift towards remote work arrangements.” Current trends also show that “98% of workers want to work remote at least some of the time” and “93% of employers plan to continue conducting job interviews remotely.”(2)

In a short amount of time, the COVID 19 pandemic reshaped how we approach working remotely and it is becoming a reality for a lot of working Americans. As the professional landscape changes to a more remote or “out-of-the-office” environment, there are some obvious and immediate challenges a leader or manager will face. I manage a team completely remote and face these challenges as part of my daily routine which leads to the question… How does a manager/leader adapt to these changing conditions and effectively lead a team that is hybrid or completely remote?

Inability To Directly Manage the Team

This is one of the first things that comes to mind when thinking about managing a team of remote workers and is a valid concern as most managers have learned to manage their teams in person. Two important things are required here, a competent and trustworthy manager as well as talented, driven team members. I know this is something every business owner wants but it is much more important when working in a remote context. Trust in the leader and the team is required as micro-management is an immediate killer of remote teams. These professionals need to be trusted to operate with some discretion and freedom.

  • The manager/leader you (speaking to owners & presidents) choose for this position should not be an inexperienced leader nor one that requires direct management themselves. You must have implicit trust that this leader will deal professionally with your clients, treat the team with respect, be humble in dealing with mistakes and problems but also adaptable and most importantly they must be committed to the organization’s vision and seeing it through. The idea here is to have someone manage the day-to-day without you having to manage them day-to-day.
  • The team should consist of competent professionals that do not require direct management, are independently motivated and people that the manager and top leadership trust to complete tasks and objectives without direct management. Finding and hiring these individuals is not an easy task and when you find them, remember how important they are to the running of the organization and compensate them appropriately.

The specific qualifications of the leader and team members will be up to the organization to define. Before hiring or promoting, define the roles/responsibilities and screen candidates against the defined roles. In addition, have a good understanding of their experience and skills brought to the table. My team is made up of investigators, researchers, administrators, and contractors (1099) and I have confidence that the team will be successful because I know all the team members are competent in their disciplines as well as trustworthy to see the job through to completion.

Heavy Reliance on Technology, Internet, and Cell Phones

I come from a military background and when strategizing during military planning, we are always aware of “single points of failure.” These are choke points in the execution of a plan or operation that if a failure occurs at this choke point, the entire operation suffers or fails. I consider technology to be the single largest point of failure for managing a team remotely. If your internet goes down, power outage or some other factor outside of your control cuts your technology off, you can be dead in the water if you have not prepared for it. This is extremely important to plan for and is mitigated by creating “redundancies.” A redundancy is simply a back-up plan if the choke point is exploited. For example, if I work from home and I lose power it would be a good redundancy to have a generator or secondary location I can work from where power is still available. Analyze your strategy for choke points and plan accordingly.

Along with this concern are new and unique security threats to working remotely. We are all aware of the threats to working from our computer and primarily over the internet. Hackers, Malware/Viruses, information leaks, etc. If you work with confidential or sensitive information as I do, you need to be aware of the cyber threats posed to your organization and build defenses. A good VPN and antivirus are easy ways to exponentially protect yourself.

Fragile Communication Structure

Communication is the key to any successful team and operation. In my experience, it is the MOST IMPORTANT discipline a leader can enforce, and the team can participate in. Even with teams that work in person, if thoughts, ideas, concerns, problems, and information are not shared in a timely and coherent manner then it does not matter how good your team of all stars is, they will fail. This is the biggest thing I emphasize when I talk to my team. In a remote context, this is even more important. Use whatever tools (video conference, emails/phone/ group texts, etc) available to you to improve communication.

As a manager, your team should know that you are available to them as often as possible and communicate with them when you will not be available. Go out of your way to communicate with your team, don’t wait for them to communicate with you. Your clients should know that you are available to them as well. Keep them updated regularly and make sure to have direct contact information for them (cell phones/desk numbers). If your leadership (Owner, president, etc) needs to contact you, make it a point to be available for them. They’ve placed a lot of trust in you and you owe it to them to be available and transparent.

As a side note, remember that bad news does not get better with time. Communicate mistakes and problems immediately and usually they can be resolved with little effort. Mistakes that go unaddressed will most likely turn into larger problems with time.

The leader has one other key responsibility as it relates to communication. You are the conduit by which information flows from the client to the team. For example, in investigations, it is my responsibility to receive the case to be investigated from the client, ensure all the data and information the investigator needs are there and communicate to the investigator everything they need to know to successfully investigate the case. After sending them the case, I am in constant communication with the client and the investigator to make sure both parties have everything they need to meet their individual objectives, until case completion. All this is done through effective communication.

Impaired Team Cohesion, Comradery, and Collaboration

It is inevitable that team members working remotely will feel disconnected from their fellow teammates. Without personal interaction, team members will not be able to develop an essential element of empathy for their teammates as well as never gain true appreciation for the skills/talents of their fellow team members. Communication is great but it is not a “cure-all.” Look at any high-performance team and why they are successful. There may be many reasons, but one consistent reason is good team cohesion. These team members feel a sense of comradery and personal connection with their fellow teammates.

So how do you foster this cohesion in a remote context? It is challenging but possible. The responsibility falls on the leadership to create opportunities for the team to come together and interact personally. This can be done regularly with weekly video calls to at least get open conversation to occur and for people to associate names and faces. More importantly, when opportunities arise to have in person meetings or get-together, take those opportunities. Even if it is a lunch/dinner, Christmas party or joint operation where team members can collaborate, these opportunities to be with each other in person give the team some “buy in” and motivation. If the team members are motivated and feel a sense of ownership in the mission, they will work harder to achieve success.

Finally, encourage out of the box thinking as well as team members using unique skills they’ve acquired in other areas. As investigators, former law enforcement and military personnel have a lot of unique experiences that compliment investigations work. Look for these unique skills in your context and encourage their use. Further, foster a “train-the-trainer” environment. If you’re building this team to operate in perpetuity, encourage skills and knowledge to be passed onto new team members from existing team members. Develop, promote, and invest in existing team members and they will be team members for a long time.

Where Do We Go from Here?

As the world becomes more reliant on technology and the workforce trends toward being “out-of-the-office” we as managers and leaders need to be adaptable. As of 2023, 16% of US companies now operate completely remote(2) and we are only going to see that number increase. This will change our approach to hiring, accountability and reporting processes. It is important to pay attention to and make sure your organization is prepared to handle the changes. If you are thinking of adjusting to a remote or hybrid structure, know that it can create opportunity and even open new paths for your organization to explore but can also come with some unique and difficult challenges. I think Stanley McCrystal said it best when he said “The basic DNA we’ve got to implant in leaders now is adaptability: not to get wedded to the solution to a particular problem, because not only the problem but the solution changes day to day. Creating people who are hardwired for that is going to be our challenge for the future.”


  1. Remote Work Statistics and Trends in 2024
    By Mehdi Punjwani and Sierra Campbell / USA Today
  2. Remote Work Statistics and Trends in 2024
    By Katherine Haan / Forbes Advisor
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