Managing Remote Workers: The Challenges of Remote Management image


Managing Remote Workers: The Challenges of Remote Management

Written by Nathanial Marshall, Engagement Manager at LI Europe.

Much has already been written on what the legacy of Covid-19 and lockdown will have on businesses. One of the big discussions has been around how leaders deal with their staff working remotely.

Is a business leader’s trust in their team a reflection of themselves, their team, company culture or all?

In “First, Break All the Rules” by Marcus Buckingham, research is compiled which empirically finds that an employee’s level of engagement is primarily related to their relationship with their line manager, even above company culture.

How does Covid and remote working affect this relationship?

Traditionally, one of the ways productivity has been perceived is through how hours people have worked. In these cases, firms have suffered from a culture of presenteeism. The phrase “working from home” was spoken with an emphasis on “working” in inverted commas and those who did work remotely were seen as having an easy day or a day off.

More progressive businesses have adopted remote working for many years placing a focus on employee wellbeing and have trusted their teams to get the work done by the agreed deadline regardless of where/when it is done.

McGregor’s theory of management split people into X theory or Y theory. The traditional businesses/managers who scorn at the thought of working from home would likely be X theory type:

These believe

  • The average person dislikes work and will avoid it if possible.
  • Therefore, most people must be forced with the threat of punishment to work towards objectives.
  • The average person prefers to be directed; to avoid responsibility; is relatively un-ambitious, and most of all wants security.

Those adopting remote working, prior to it being normalised by Covid would likely have been Y theory types:

These believe

  • Effort in work is as natural as work and play.
  • People will generally try to achieve objectives, without the threat of punishment.
  • The commitment to an objective is a function of the reward associated with achieving it.
  • People usually accept responsibility, and will seek it too.
  • Most people actually have a good imagination, ingenuity and creativity, and will use them to solve organisational problems.

Theory Y managers generally have a higher level of engagement with their teams. Thus, they give discretionary effort to improve the business which results in a higher level of productivity.

Trust is always needed in the relationship between leaders and their teams. Clearly defined outcomes and accountabilities are still required regardless of location the work is being done.

Should the manager take a one size fits all approach to this new way of working? Is everyone able to achieve their best results at home?

Some people might prefer to be directed and guided which can come hand in hand with office working and regular contact with their manager. These people may struggle when at “arm’s length” through remote working. This links with the theory of Tannenbaum-Schmidt and their levels of delegated freedom.

Every member of a team will have their place on this red line where they feel most comfortable.  Those who prefer freedom could flourish with remote working. Those further to the left may struggle. It is vital that the leader knows where every member of their team is on the continuum and adapt accordingly. The ultimate goal is to shift everyone to the right, but only gradually. Sudden shifts can cause disengagement and people to be disenfranchised.

Similarly, does the leader know who in their team are extroverts and introverts?

Extroverts might want to retain office time and face to face contact with people in order to energise themselves through their working day.

Introverts could be in heaven working from home. They don’t have to make small talk with their teams or feel the social pressure of being part of the team.

Can the leader adapt their amount and style of contact with each member of their team to work not only to their position on the Tannenbaum-Schmidt continuum but also on their personality style?

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced businesses to pivot and adapt their ways of working to deal with the situation. Remote working has become more of a norm which is, in my opinion, for the better. However, this doesn’t come without increased challenges and the onus on the manager in ensuring their teams can perform and thrive in these circumstances is significantly greater.

Want to develop your team further? Keen to enhance your management skills? Why not get in touch.


Before LI came we were facing the looming recession as a premium supplier with huge pressures on our margins from the trade. By improving our efficiencies we have been able to maintain our bottom line over the current ‘crisis’. I would recommend LI Europe to any Food or Pharma business that wants to achieve rapid and sustainable productivity improvement.

Andrew Shaw, Supply Chain Director, Seven Seas

It’s been running so well, we could do a crossword!