Studies confirm: leading remote teams is more stressful than leading teams in-person.Far be it from me to disparage research concerning the modern workplace (especially when regarding the topic of leading remote teams), but sometimes you just want to say, “DUH!

This research from Aalto University in Finland indicates that (Are you ready for this?) leading remote teams is more stressful than leading people in-person.

In a way, that’s kind of comforting.

In her PhD thesis, Johanna Saarinen interviewed 36 managers and came to the following conclusions:

  • Supervisors often struggle with tough, and often superhuman expectations. The expectations come from upper and lower levels, particularly to middle management.
  • The goals set are difficult to reach and a high quality of management is expected at the same time. Employees demand the supervisors to be present and engaged, as well as expect us to coach and listen to them.
  • Supervisors also expect a lot from themselves. Indeed, the supervisors participating in the study felt unable to provide a higher quality of supervisory work as they would like and what is expected of them.

It’s easy to be snarky, but it’s always good when research bears out what we know in our collective guts to be true.

If I were Ms. Saarinen’s thesis advisor (and she’d be in a lot of trouble; good thing she’s in the hands of professionals) I would ask her to consider that the job of leading — regardless of the method — is difficult. Leading remotely is more complicated, but isn’t that radically different.

Of course, the points made above — setting expectations, setting goals for both the employee and the manager, coaching and being available, and managing our own sky-high expectations of ourselves — are not new. They are what every true leader aspires to. We’ve just made what was already tough a little trickier.

Managers need to learn new technology as well as the evergreen skills needed to lead people and projects.

As this research shows, the thought leaders and academics are just now arriving late to the party.

You and I have been there for a while…


Wayne Turmel--The Remote Leadership Institute

Wayne Turmel
Co-Founder and Product Line Manager

Wayne Turmel is the co-founder and Product Line Manager for the Remote Leadership Institute. For twenty years he’s been obsessed with helping managers communicate more effectively with their teams, bosses and customers. Wayne is the author of several books that demystify communicating through technology including Meet Like You Mean It – a Leader’s Guide to Painless & Productive Virtual Meetings, 10 Steps to Successful Virtual Presentations and 6 Weeks to a Great Webinar. His work appears frequently in

Wayne, along with Kevin Eikenberry, has co-authored the definitive book on leading remotely, The Long-Distance Leader: Rules for Remarkable Remote Leadership. You can pre-order Kevin and Wayne’s follow-up book, The Long-Distance Teammate, now.

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