Remote Leadership - Lessons learned from Leading in lockdown

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Adam Loong | October 28th, 2021


How do you encourage team interaction when employees are locked down?


Even though most of us are starting to come out of our lockdown, it is quite clear that remote leadership will become more common in the future. Whilst remote leadership makes it more difficult for leaders to lead, it does not alleviate the necessity of leadership. It could be argued that in these situations, the requirement for strong leadership only increases. Therefore, in this article I will share some best practice tips that you can implement immediately that will make you a more effective remote leader and ensure you maintain a values led workplace culture centred on continuous improvement.

One of the most obvious challenges of remote leadership is the lack of interaction, especially the organic and casual iterations that are so important to relationship building. This can easily throw-off your natural leadership style which your team has become accustomed to. To minimise the impact of this, you may have to accept and embrace a more deliberate and structured approach to your communications. This article will focus on how to structure your comms to ensure consistency across both individuals and the team.

Structured conversations

If you’re like most people, you probably find that video conferencing is not as natural as having a conversation in person - with the inevitable awkward pauses, frozen screens, and unintentional “talking over”. This reality often results in leaders reducing their communications to their team as these difficulties become “too hard”.

Then there are leaders that love the zoom too much and suck up valuable time on regular long-winded video calls. Constant check-ins very quickly wear thin when the content lacks value and takes the team away from doing their job without providing any benefit. The intent of the leader is often honorable because they are looking after the welfare of their people, however, there is a fine line between effectiveness and overkill as people on the other end of the high-speed internet connection just want to get on with their work.

"Getting on with work or regular check-ins, it's a balancing act"

The solution - more structured and planned conversations. Don’t fret, I’m not suggesting a checklist with clunky, contrived fake-ness that also ignores the neck-scarf, designed to hide the stain on the t-shirt we are wearing, instead I’m referring to utilising best practice leadership communication techniques to ensure that the regular conversations are value-adding and not time wasting.

Best practice

Remote leadership has the same core requirements as any other leadership situation. The success or otherwise of the leader is primarily dependant on how well they converse with their team members. As a leader, you would be familiar with the three types of conversations that you should be having with every team member on a regular basis. As a reminder they are broadly defined as “Coaching”, “Supporting” and “Recognition”.

Coaching Conversations

As the name suggests, a coaching conversation is one that is deliberately focussed on providing information and sharing opinions on how to improve specific behaviours or achieve stated goals. In its simplest definition, the leader’s knowledge, experience, and expertise is being utilised to impart improvement/guidance to their team member. A coaching conversation doesn’t necessarily have to be long-winded or negative; however, it does need to provide some specific direction and guidance and it must include a portion of clarification to ensure the message is well understood.

Supporting Conversations

A supporting conversation is one that is more two-way than a coaching conversation and is designed to engage with your team members at a deeper level on the specific behaviour or goal that is the focus. 

The idea of a supporting conversation is to keep improvement at the forefront of everyone’s mind and to maintain the focus on specific behaviours. Additionally, a supporting conversation opens the opportunity for leaders to provide more in-depth and customised support and guidance on their team members improvement journey.

Recognition conversations

Recognising effort and positive results is a leader’s most effective, and arguably, easiest conversation. Confirmation and recognition that a positive result, stemming from deliberate effort and action and linked to workplace success, is a basic human desire and one that has been proven to create a greater sense of devotion and dedication to a team and organisation. 


In most cases, these three types of conversations should be equally distributed over time. Being too focused or neglecting either one of these is usually an indication that the leader is not comfortable in giving specific feedback, or alternatively the relationship is strained for some reason. If, for example, all conversations are geared towards coaching, it may suggest that either the employee is struggling to perform in the role, or the leader is biased or unable to influence the individual growth and improvement. On the flip-side, if all conversations are just of recognition, it may indicate that the leader is ill-equipped or unwilling to have conversations related to improvement.

In a lockdown situation, it is just as important as ever for leaders to ensure there is an appropriate balance of conversations occurring with each of their direct reports. As a leader, ideally you would hold yourself to account to ensure that equal attention is being applied to every team member and that each team member is benefiting from your expertise and experience. A simple way to hold yourself to account as a leader, is to keep a track of the number and types of conversations you are having with each of your team members. Here is an example:

The intent of tracking the conversations is simply to hold yourself to account to keep up a fair balance of conversation types with each individual and in keeping a fair balance of total conversations across all your team members. It does not need to be a work of art and nor should you record copious notes about the conversation. Both elements add overheads to having a conversation which in the medium to long term, will become onerous and influence you to reduce the number of conversations you are having.


It is no secret that leadership can be difficult and challenging and in doing it remotely is even harder. You are not expected to be perfect as a leader, you are expected to have a continuous improvement attitude though – hopefully, this article helps you to self-reflect on how your leadership is tracking – good luck!

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