Relevance of leadership in a remote working environment

By Priya Chetty on May 17, 2021

Leadership is the ability of an individual by virtue of which the person can lead others. An ideal leader must have commanding authority upon others by means of which he can influence their behaviour or thought processes (Surji, 2015). Effective leadership is important because successful leaders are able to communicate the mission of their organization in a manner that would influence the followers. Leaders can also make the followers empowered and responsible. The practice of work dispersion in modern organizations has popularized the concept of the remote working environment (Neufeld, Wan and Fang, 2010).  

Importance of leadership in remote working environments

Leadership is essential to run operations in businesses. It is the key to achieving organisational goals, mission and improving productivity and profitability. The remote working environment is different from a traditional workplace in the sense that the workers are not confined to a specific geographic periphery. Rather, they operate remotely from their individual spaces but stay connected with the workplace and colleagues through digital technology (Keeling, Clements-Croome and Roesch, 2015). The importance of leadership in remote working environments can be summarised as under.

Communication and collaboration

The remote working environment is complex in nature due to the physical distance between the employees. Here, the role of an effective leader proves integral in enabling smooth communication with all the employees by establishing regular collaboration with them (Neufeld, Wan and Fang, 2010).

Promoting teamwork and coordination

Good leaders can also promote socialization and encourage teamwork among the employees by making them enter face-to-face interactive sessions through virtual platforms. Common methods of doing this include promoting video collaborations, providing feedback, creating a sense of normalcy, and implementing interactive exercises to ease tensions/ stress (Kurter, 2020).

Virtual training and workshop to improve productivity

Thirdly, trainings and workshops also occur in virtual mode in remote workplaces. Here, efficient leaders  are able to overcome isolations among spatially separated employees by means of strategies like development of interactive websites, provision of extensive resources and  video conferencing (Ahmed and Bedawy, 2015).

Problem solving among team members

Spatial separation between employees in a remote workplace can lead to distrust among them. Here, the emotional intelligence and influencing capacity of the leader plays a significant role in providing mental support to the employees to regain trust for each other (Alward and Phelps, 2019).

Transformative leadership in a remote working environment

Transformative leadership is the style in which a leader can influence and transform the perspectives and beliefs of the followers to such an extent that they get motivated to perform beyond expectations (Avolio, Weber and Walumbwa, 2009). Employees in the remote working environment do not develop belongingness towards each other due to their spatial separation and lack of face to face interaction (Harvard Business Review, 2020). In such cases, transformative leaders influence them to prioritize organizational influence over their personal interests. Consequently, these remotely located employees develop mindfulness, aptitude towards working as a team, and focus on the benefit of the whole over individual interest. These changes in perspectives influence the employees to identify with the organizational goals and work towards its accomplishment (Macías and Varela, 2018).

Transactional leadership applicability in a remote working environment

Transactional leadership prioritises the interests of the followers. This leadership style aims to fulfil the individual interests of the employees so that it enhances job satisfaction. This will, in turn, make the employees try their best to meet the organizational objectives (Shah, Shah and Abhamid, 2015). In a remote and virtual workplace where there is no physical contact between the leader and the employees, a transactional leader is able to establish active interaction through strategies like body language, eye contact, verbal modulations, clothing and presence to prove an encouragement to the employees and make them feel rewarded.  This motivates them to work towards the achievement of organizational goals (Ruggieri, 2009).

Situational leadership in a remote working environment

Situational leadership is the type of leadership in which the leader acts as per the demand of the situation. So, the leader changes his leadership style directive to supportive, based on the profiles of their employees, the situation where the employees operate and the commitment and motivation of the employees to achieve specific organizational objectives (Choughri, Ghazzawi and Osta, 2017). Situational leaders can successfully motivate employees in a remote workplace where it is a challenge to motivate, coach and develop employees who are geographically separated and connected through virtual space. These leaders can understand if a specific employee works better when he directed or responds better in a supportive environment. Consequently, these situational leaders use strategies like personality assessment of employees, employee-employer trust-building and creating an ethos of collaboration (Flood, 2019).

Authoritative leadership applicability in a remote working environment

Authoritative leadership holds that a leader must be authoritative. Leaders who follow this model gain control of a situation by dictating their subordinates, setting goals for them, and giving them directions on how these goals can be achieved. There is no meaningful participation of the subordinates in this leadership style (Klaver, 2015). Lack of physical connection with the organization and the peer employees is a challenge in a remote workplace. The entire working suffers from communication breakdown due to this. This diminishes and even eliminates the feeling of organizational belongingness of the employees and tends to deviate them from the organizational goals (Lockwood, 2015). Such a workplace situation demands that the leader must be result-oriented and would be able to motivate the employees to provide result-based performances. Therefore, policies and procures have to be strictly mentioned so that the employees can rigorously follow them.  In addition, the leader must also have supervisory skills so that he can have a close track of the quality and quantity of output of the employees. These suggest that the authoritative style is a successful leadership model for remote working environment.

Application of leadership style as per the organisational environment

The primary leadership styles followed in contemporary workplaces are transformative, transactional, situational and authoritative leadership. Each of the leadership styles has its own set of features that complement remote working environments where employers are separated by space. However, each leadership style has advantages and disadvantages in the remote working environment as per the need of the situation. For instance, situational leadership offers a lot of flexibility, giving the leader the space to change their leadership style as required in the remote working setup. Authoritative leadership is useful in remote working environments too, as it gives the employees a sense of direction and a clear objective, which motivates them to perform better. Organisations must find the right type of leader that is suited to their work environment.


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Priya is the co-founder and Managing Partner of Project Guru, a research and analytics firm based in Gurgaon. She is responsible for the human resource planning and operations functions. Her expertise in analytics has been used in a number of service-based industries like education and financial services.

Her foundational educational is from St. Xaviers High School (Mumbai). She also holds MBA degree in Marketing and Finance from the Indian Institute of Planning and Management, Delhi (2008).

Some of the notable projects she has worked on include:

  • Using systems thinking to improve sustainability in operations: A study carried out in Malaysia in partnership with Universiti Kuala Lumpur.
  • Assessing customer satisfaction with in-house doctors of Jiva Ayurveda (a project executed for the company)
  • Predicting the potential impact of green hydrogen microgirds (A project executed for the Government of South Africa)

She is a key contributor to the in-house research platform Knowledge Tank.

She currently holds over 300 citations from her contributions to the platform.

She has also been a guest speaker at various institutes such as JIMS (Delhi), BPIT (Delhi), and SVU (Tirupati).