The State of Remote Leadership: How to Best Support Distributed Teams

Date: November 30, 2022
remote leadership

Recent years have brought about seismic changes in every aspect of our lives, including the way we work. In just a few short months organizations have experienced decades' worth of innovation as workplaces have pivoted to remote and hybrid structures in the wake of COVID-19.

But while it may have started during lockdown, it’s become clear that remote working is here to stay. Indeed one recent survey revealed that 82% of employees now view remote working as the new normal. 

The sudden shift in the way we work has brought with it a host of possible benefits. But it’s also created challenges, especially for remote leadership to find new ways to support their distributed teams. 

So what can leaders do to build better connections? Here we’ll explore how communication and employee recognition tools can help to bring remote workers together. 

Remote leadership

The current state of remote working

Remote working can look a lot different from traditional in-office structures. When done right it’s an amazing way to build a high-performance workplace where flexibility and empowerment are baked into the culture from the very beginning. 

But getting it right can be easier said than done. 

While new technology like employee recognition tools have made the transition to distributed workforces easier for team members, for remote leadership it can be challenging to adapt to the new normal. 

Research by Polly, which was shared during our recent webinar, reveals that the relationship between leaders and their teams is one of the key issues affecting distributed teams. 

Connectivity in particular was a key concern for team members. Research by Polly states that almost half (43%) of respondents revealed that managers are missing subtle cues now that they are working remotely while 58% said that quicker feedback would help to build better relationships. There were similar responses from remote leadership too, who admitted that giving regular feedback (45%), feeling connected with their direct reports (43%) and assessing emotional well-being (49%) were among their biggest challenges since the switch to remote working.

Remote leadership

Supporting distributed teams 

So what can leaders do to bridge the divide and build better relationships with their distributed teams? How can we provide effective employee recognition tools and resources? And how can we foster opportunities for human connection and cohesion?

Here are four small steps that can add up to make a big difference. 

1 - Constant contact is key 

Effectively managing distributed teams doesn't just require good communication skills, it requires great communication skills. That means that you have to step up your efforts to make sure your people feel connected even if they’re geographically spread miles apart. 

The trick to making remote workers feel connected is to give them more opportunities to make themselves heard. Constant contact is key, but that doesn’t mean you should be filling peoples’ calendars with video calls. Instead, you should take advantage of a wide range of tools to remain in constant contact. It could be a quick email, a message on Teams or Slack, even the occasional face-to-face meeting (or preferably a combination of all three). The key is to find ways to communicate outside of the traditional day-to-day routine so you can build deeper connections with your direct reports. 

2 - Lean into light touches

One of the issues that leaders face with the shift to remote work is losing the opportunity to have conversations with team members outside of work. Whether it’s a quick chat around the water cooler or a catch-up in the break room, we can no longer rely on the kind of accidental interactions that punctuated our in-office lives. 

These interactions were so important because they provided an opportunity to get to know colleagues outside of a professional context. We could chat about their hobbies and interests, learn about their families or generally check in on how they were doing. But shifting to remote working doesn’t mean giving up these kinds of interactions altogether. Instead, we just have to be more deliberate about how we have them. 


Leaning into light touches like icebreakers and hot takes at the start of meetings is a simple but effective way to create conversations that have nothing to do with work. Another technique is to set aside dedicated times to hold one-to-ones or virtual happy hours, where you can chat to your team members about anything other than work. Creating these opportunities for informal interactions is an incredibly effective way to build stronger relationships, but it can also help you to check on people’s well-being so that you can better support them should any issues arise. 

3 - Frequent feedback 

Feedback is one of the things that’s most different for remote leadership in a distributed setting, but it’s no less important. Indeed, in the current climate where the battle for talent continues to rage, it’s more vital than ever that your people feel engaged in their roles. 

This is where feedback comes in. Because your employees can no longer simply come and knock on your door you’ve got to create opportunities where they can share their thoughts and feelings. There are many ways that you can encourage this kind of feedback from your people. It could be something unstructured like a virtual suggestion box or a weekly office hour for example. You could also formalize your feedback by conducting regular pulse surveys. 

The key is to make feedback frequent. Showing your people that they’re being listened to won't just help to keep them engaged, it can also build a shared sense of purpose that helps everyone to pull in the same direction even if they’re not physically sharing the same space.

4 - Unlock the power of recognition 

One of the most effective ways your organization can bring your distributed teams together is by using employee recognition tools. Recognizing people isn’t just a basic human need, it’s a powerful tactic that in the right hands can be used to increase motivation, boost engagement and send your productivity soaring. 

At a time when your people are physically distant from one another, it’s also a great way of bringing people together to share in each others’ success and create a culture where everyone feels their efforts are appreciated. Best of all, thanks to employee recognition tools like Bucketlist, it’s now easier than ever to build an effective company recognition program.

If you’d like to find out more about supporting distributed teams check out our webinar with Deanna Sinclair, Head of People Operations at Polly. During an engaging session, Deanna discussed the current state of remote working and what remote leadership can do to better support their teams. 

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