Remote team leader can perform better than an on-site team leader

Posted on April 10th, 2018

From the past 20 years in software business I’ve worked now five years mainly as a remote interim team leader for global software companies. A lot has changed during those years. Not only tools but also attitude: Remote team leading has become widely accepted.

An old image of remote work is a specialist working on some independent tasks at home, such as document writing or coding. It’s time to refresh this image: Remote work is as social and people-centric as the work at the office. Typically half of my day goes in the meetings with video conferencing, another half in online discussions across process and collaboration platforms.

Tools are important. Not only online apps and collaboration platforms, but also hardware - especially for team leaders. At my home office I’ve an integrated video conferencing system with several microphones and high definition wide angle camera to make sure that I can talk and walk while presenting. No more face close-up from a blurry laptop camera.

Here are some benefits of the remote team leading:

  • You are always available, but in better control of your time

    For old office clerks it’s still natural to run full eight hours from meeting room to another, but times are changing. Last year I was serving a large corporation customer in Helsinki. There people had decided to sit down at their office desk and join to meetings via Skype rather than walk three floors upstairs. This approach allowed them to control their time better. Same happens when you work remote: You are clearly available for your team when online, but you are not disturbed by constant commuting or dead time slots between tightly scheduled meetings.

  • Work across time zones is natural when not tied to an office

    People are expected to be at the office somewhen between 8am and 4pm local time. This is mainly because of the historical reasons, not because it would be the most effective way of working. Some people are productive in the morning, some in the evening. The bigger question is when should you commute to the office? That depends where your team is and how they are available - often across the world, across different time zones. When working remote without a need to commute, you can easier adapt the daily routines to support different time zones. This adaptation can also support your personal family life with for example flexibility to enjoy a proper breakfast with your kids.

  • Remote work is built on clear processes and collaboration

    A small local team can perform fairly easily without a process. That’s because constant face-to-face communication allows them to compensate the lack of workflows. It's often ineffective, but functional. When working online, things get naturally driven by tools and processes. A developer cannot shout loud “Done". Instead he or she moves the activity in collaboration tool from state In Progress to Done. This small gesture sends a notification via Slack or other communication channels to all teammates. At the office this would have looked a bit silly; Slack giving the “tap-tap" sound on each laptop at the same time. But for remote team it’s a positive necessity and a great benefit for the team leader, who can focus on improving these well-defined workflows.

  • Productivity is improved when you have a quiet spot to perform

    In office there’s always someone disturbing the quiet moments. For many of us it’s possible at least to close the office door, but even that does not guarantee the peace - sooner or later someone will knock the door and ask a question. Same of course can happen online, but there you are in control. You don’t have to answer a Slack message instantly and you don’t have to answer a phone when it’s ringing. Timing is everything, also when answering to questions. It makes everyone more productive if you can give proper answers in the right timing instead of rushing too fast to conclusions.

  • Remote team members are easier to engage when also their leader is working remote

    Companies are using global talent pools to find the best people to do the work. This naturally forms global remote teams for all projects. The challenge is that if the team leader is constantly at the office with handful of people, these office clerks become the main contributors just because they are locally available at the office. If team leader is also remote, the team members are treated equally with the same approaches, tools and processes. Remote team leader can fully understand what their remote workers are facing and how to make the work better together.

Only five years ago we were still struggling with regular connection problems of Skype. Slack was just another odd startup and Google Hangouts were about to unify the video conferencing tools into one web app. Now it’s 2018 and these tools among many other are finally working as they should. Functioning, but not too visible anymore. They are just natural part of your virtual office, enabling you to be fully present with your team.

Leading a development team or SaaS startup?

Would you like to boost your team's productivity with process improvements, new tools or agile management? You can hire me online for interim management and coaching. I provide remote consulting to companies mainly from US East Coast, UK, Central Europe and Nordics having outsourced teams across the world.
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K. Tanninen

I'm an Interim Manager, Agile Coach and SaaS Founder. With 20 years of work experience I help global software businesses and distributed teams to perform better.

I write about team leading, software development and SaaS startups. Join to receive these blog posts and occational announcements via email: