In this time of COVED-19 induced locked downs and shut-ins, working remotely has become a new normal. And with remote workers comes the need for remote leadership.  The majority of research on remote leadership effectiveness is not encouraging.  Physical presence is a powerful tool in the influential leader’s arsenal.  It has no substitute. But one study provides some interesting insight into the communication effectiveness of remote leaders (Neufeld, et al., 2010).   Surprisingly, their study found physical distance had no influence on either leader performance or communication effectiveness. Taking a deeper dive into their data, they found that it was the deep relational familiarity shared by these leaders and followers that accounted for minimal loss of effectiveness upon moving remotely.  Specifically, they found three key reasons leaders were able to maintain communication and performance effectiveness when moving remotely:

  1. organizational tenure (leader & employees time with the organization);
  2. extended experience with the leader (2 or more years);
  3. interaction frequency (over seven times per week via synchronous or asynchronous means).

Having learned the details and nuances of their organization’s culture and managerial norms over time, both leaders and employees had learned how to adjust their behaviors and expectations to achieve desired performance levels. Encouragingly, the researchers concluded that distance does not have to be a barrier to effective communication, or effective leadership.

Reference

Neufeld, D. J., Zeying Wan, & Yulin Fang. (2010). Remote leadership, communication effectiveness and leader performance. Group Decision & Negotiation19(3), 227–246.