Why Long-Distance Leadership Matters More Than Ever

I made a distinction in my opening post about remote workers and remote leaders, one worth revisiting. It is one thing to set up an office and report to a leader based with the team back at a central office. It’s an entirely different thing to set up an office and be the leader that everyone at a central office reports to.

Even harder: Doing it when several team members are based from different locations (some at the headquarters, some elsewhere, and usually with everyone spread out far enough that regular face-to-face visits with you aren’t possible).

Yet the need for this type of leadership has become crucial to the future success of all types of organizations. As I noted:

The increasingly mobile workplace, along with increased expectations about flexible work situations, means long-distance leadership arrangements must succeed if we wish to see organizations flourish in the 21st century. To do so will require outstanding relational commitments from the organization, the team, and the leader that transcend time, place, and technology.

I elaborate a bit further in the post, which you can read here. But here, I thought it would be interesting to share statistics I discovered while researching this subject the past year or so. They illustrate why remote-based leadership is here, growing, and accelerating.

Visible Leadership Roles

Consider the following organizations that are using off-site leaders on their teams:

  • Aetna
  • Barna Group
  • Capin Crouse
  • Christianity Today
  • GitHub
  • HOPE International
  • Kaplan
  • Mozilla
  • Wycliffe

Now consider the following details from three separate sources:

  • Forrester Research anticipated 43 percent of the US workforce (representing about 63 million people) would telecommute in some form in 2016, up from the 34 million US employees who said they did in 2009.
  • “Companies of all sizes hire for telecommuting jobs even at the highest levels of leadership,” according to a 2015 FlexJobs survey covered by Time.
  • Among 300 executives surveyed in March 2013 by Korn/Ferry International, 58 percent currently telecommuted, 77 percent had in the past, and 80 percent of employers allowed it.

The “Big” Idea

We already know telecommuting is not a matter of “if,” but of “when,” for many organizations today. But there’s a bigger idea here. Many of these workers also will be leaders in some capacity. That means the need only will grow for individuals who can lead well while based at locations other than their team members.

For organizations, telecommuting is no longer just about attracting great talent, retaining excellent employees, broadening the organization’s visibility, and saving real estate costs (although those are many of the big reasons why organizations allow telecommuting). It’s about recognizing the rapidly changing landscape of the workplace, and intentionally moving toward a model that educates and empowers leaders to do their jobs well while based elsewhere.

Whether a corporation, a nonprofit, or a ministry, it’s imperative organizations train and equip people to provide this kind of leadership.

On the flip side, leaders no longer can assume they will lead within a traditional workplace structure. It is imperative leaders study the dynamics of remote-based leadership, learn as much as they can about it, and incorporate these skills into their everyday leadership now. Those who are remotely based will achieve better outcomes; those who aren’t will separate themselves for future leadership opportunities.


Author: thelongdistanceleader

I'm an editor and team leader at Christianity Today, a not-for-profit global media ministry. I fell into a long-distance leadership arrangement in 2010--and the experience has been so life-changing, I'm writing about it here.

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