Distance Leadership – How Digital Presence emerges from Spatial Distance

Distance leadership describes the leadership culture that has developed in recent years in the wake of mobile working and home offices. For more than half of the managers in 2021, dealing with "distance leadership" was their greatest personal challenge.¹

Creating awareness – changing mindset

As a manager, how do I avoid creating social distance through physical distance? How can I support employees in developing their full potential, even in a home office? And is it possible to make the actual “leadership” tangible for everyone, even virtually?

In order to successfully lead remotely as a manager, you need to know what it means to lead a team virtually. The willingness to adapt one’s own mindset to the new working environment is one of the must-do’s of successful leadership at a distance. Both employees and leaders should be ready to face the challenges and be open to new ways of working together.

Distance leadership skills

In practice, a new mindset inevitably involves the acquisition of appropriate skills. One of the fundamental qualities needed to successfully lead at a distance is increased media literacy and technical know-how in the use of digital media as a foundation. Communication and exchange take place via software that enables employees to establish uncomplicated contact with colleagues and managers over a short distance. At best, it should be possible to use new software without lengthy training or familiarization. Managers must be able to use the tools with which they lead their teams without any problems. Further, they need to be prepared to build up an increased level of trust with their employees. Regular exchange via team meetings and individual discussions is essential so that the feedback culture does not suffer. In addition, an increased willingness to plan is required when people are not working together in the same office.

How important is the technical infrastructure for remote leadership? 

A well-functioning technical infrastructure is crucial for remote leadership. It allows employees to access the tools and resources they need to do their jobs successfully from anywhere. Without a reliable and fast connection, as well as access to the right applications and tools, employees will struggle to successfully complete their work and achieve their goals.

A well-designed technical infrastructure is a relevant variable whose influence on the communication process should not be underestimated – this is especially true for decentralized activities. Individualized systems, for example, support direct and efficient communication. If, for example, it is quickly apparent which person is currently available, this can simplify the start of communication.

Some examples of how a good technical infrastructure supports remote leadership are:

  • Access to cloud-based tools and applications that make it possible to access files, projects and other resources from anywhere.
  • A fast and reliable Internet connection that enables video conferencing, chat tools and other communication channels to stay in touch and collaborate.
  • Security technologies that make it possible to protect and secure employee data and communications.

A good technical infrastructure also enables the company to respond more flexibly to changes and challenges and facilitates the implementation of remote leadership models and initiatives. In summary, distance leadership has become increasingly relevant in today’s globalized and digitized work environment. While it presents some challenges, such as maintaining communication and building trust across distances, it also offers numerous benefits. Effective distance leaders must possess strong communication skills, including the ability to adapt their style to different mediums and cultures. They must also prioritize building relationships and trust with their team members and provide clear expectations and support to ensure that everyone is aligned towards achieving shared goals. Technology has played a critical role in enabling distance leadership by providing tools for virtual collaboration and transparent communication. Distance leadership is not just a temporary solution to the challenges of remote work but a long-term trend that requires new skills and approaches from leaders.

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¹ Hernstein Management Report 2021, Remote Leadership: Herausforderung für Führungskräfte

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