It would be stating the obvious to say that managing people remotely is not the same as managing them when they’re together. In this blog we’ll look at some of the problems of managing remote teams, how they can be handled and at how effective different management styles are. But first, let’s identify some of the problems:

1: Communication

We’ll start with communication. We’re familiar with communicating with our people when we are together in a meeting. But all physical meetings disrupt the participants to a greater or lesser degree and many meetings are not vgery effective.

1.1 Daily Online Meetings

In 2001 the Agile Foundation introduced us to the daily stand-up meetings.  These are where  team members get together for a few minutes and announce what they did yesterday and what they plan to do today. Everybody knows what everybody is doing and it’s a great concept, but it’s informal and the participants are not accountable. It also falls down when key team-members can’t attend because they’re somewhere else.  Holding an online ‘stand-up’ meeting on a platform like Zoom is better. Each participant has a minute to stand in front of their camera and tell it what they did yesterday, what they plan to do today and what’s holding them up.  Knowing they’re being recorded makes them accountable and they can all attend even if they are  thousands of miles away.

1.2: Kanban Boards

Another way to establish communication is by getting every team member to set up their own personal Kanban board and use it to organise their tasks. If there is an issue that requires the attention of more than one member, they can place tasks on the boards of other members.

Kanban was invented in Japan by Toyota in 1947, as a production control system and became widely used in manufacturing. It was adapted by the Agile Foundation and has since taken off in most areas of team development.

1.3: Conversations between Remote Workers

The inability of individuals to discuss issues between themselves is often perceived as being a major problem for remote teams. But when researching this blog I discussed this with a number of people in the habit of maintaining an open conversation on Zoom meetings which lasted for hours, and in one case I came across two members conversing with Zoom while sitting at the same table. They could easily have removed their headphones and talked in the old-fashioned way, but they did this because  their comments would not have been shared with the other group members.

1.4: Regular Social ‘Get-Togethers’

In another group which I talked to, I found that two of them, who regularly talked together over Zoom for several hours a day, had never physically met. Working remotely can cause feelings of isolation. It is therefore beneficial to arrange regular social events where remote workers  can meet in a relaxing environment for a period.

2: Choosing the best leadership style for Remote Workers?

Leaders must be able to motivate, inspire and instil passion, and there are many different leadership styles and they all – to a greater or lesser degree – achieve that.

2.1: The Autocratic Leader 

The Autocratic leader, or the dictator, simply issues orders and measures results. He or she is only interested in the result, not in whether the team members can or want to do it.

2.3 The Boss

Then there’s the authoritative leader, or the Boss. The Boss delegates effectively and usually gets the job done. But on the other hand, this type of leader – and the Autocratic leader – usually create teams of passive followers.

2.4 Participatory Leader 

Then there’s the Participatory Leader who gets involved with the team at every level. This can work well in remote environments because the leader quickly gets to know the strengths of the members and can direct them to the greatest effect.

2.5: The Democratic Leader

Finally there’s the Democratic Leader, or leader by consent. This can be a very effective way of managing remote workers, but a problem that frequently arises is that all the decisions, even trivial ones, have to be debated and voted on, and – as a result – this can take a long time to make a decision.

Democracy works in government, and to succeed in the lenger term, all successful countries have to have democratic governments. However, that’s only because all the other forms of government fail. Democratically led governments usually take a long time to reach decisions, and they are frequently wrong. Churchill once said that ‘democracy is the worst form of government by far, with the only exception of all the rest’.

But in the end we don’t choose a leadership style, we choose a leader and to select the right style is therefore a case of selecting the right leader.   To do that you need to understand what you want the leader to achieve, and what the individual leader wants and what he or she can do.  This is challenging, but Machine Learning can help. By asking of potential leaders lots of questions about their achievements, their leadership styles, their effectiveness, their preferences and their opinions, and then reducing their answers to numbers and use data analysis techniques to spot patterns, then comparing these to patterns to those people who have successfully lead teams in the past, you stand a good chance of being able to spot an leader’s likely chance of success.

These techniques are not foolproof but they can give you a valuable guide. In the past it has simply not been possible to store and analyse the huge amount of data needed. But today, using modern data analysis techniques, computers can rip through the numbers at the speed of light and identify the characteristics, background and abilities of successful leadership styles from the past, which’ll help you identify those with matching profiles.

This is not rocket science, nor is it science fiction. It’s not even at the leading edge of data science technology. It just hasn’t been used in recruitment before. But today, when recruiters are faced with this sea-change called remote working, it’s coming into its own. Tools like EnigmaScore exist and they can ask the right questions and are able to analyse the results.