What makes a successful long-distance team member? The answer might surprise you.

As part of our ongoing effort to survey long-distance leaders and the people who work for them, we’ve been asking a lot of questions. Whether it’s the managers or the individual workers, one word popped up again and again: Proactivity. has this to say about proactivity (and you can read the whole, much longer description here): Proactivity or proactive behavior refers to anticipatory, change-oriented and self-initiated behavior in situations, particularly in the workplace. Proactive behavior involves acting in advance of a future situation, rather than just reacting. It means taking control and making things happen rather than just adjusting to a situation or waiting for something to happen. Proactive employees generally do not need to be asked to act, nor do they require detailed instructions.

As always, there is a “yes, and” associated with this. Yes, it means that to be a successful remote worker, you need to be self-motivated. You don’t always have your colleagues to push you, and your boss won’t come to your desk and ask why your Facebook page is up instead of that spreadsheet.

AND it means so much more than that. These are a few of the ways proactivity impacts your teammates, your manager and your work:

Proactivity means not waiting to be told something needs to happen.

This one is obvious, and it’s the first thing we think of when we hear about someone being proactive. If something needs to be done, you want to be seen as having the initiative and wisdom to just do it.

Proactivity means if you see something, say something.

This is a little less obvious. One of the pitfalls of working by yourself is a tendency to focus on your work, sometimes at the expense of others. This might mean seeing a potential problem, or someone asking a question of the group and your not responding, or not following up with a question to make sure they are on the right track. Long-distance teammates help each other just as much as those who share a cube farm. Don’t wait to be asked.

Proactivity means checking your ego at the door and asking questions.

This is the area managers report having the most concern about. Often, in an effort to appear capable and independent, people are afraid to ask clarifying questions, or double check their priorities.  Most managers would much rather have you ask a simple question before spending hours on unproductive work. But many employees are afraid they will be seen as needy or not sufficiently independent. As a result, too often we dig ourselves into a hole when we could have been saved by a little proactive questioning and qualifying.

Proactivity means volunteering and seeking out opportunities for growth.

One of the great fears of those who work remotely (especially if most of the team is co=located) is being “out of sight, out of mind.” This is particularly true when it comes to task delegation and participation in projects. These are the opportunities that can make you shine and help build your resume for career advancement, but too often these go to people who are right under the manager’s nose. It’s not intentional, it’s just that leaders often need someone right away and they grab the first person they see. If you are interested in keeping your profile high and seeming valuable to the team, be proactive about seeking development opportunities. Let your manager know during your one on one calls that you are open and eager for the challenge. That way you’ll stay on the career path.

By not only being proactive about your tasks and work, but about reaching out to teammates and working on your career, you’ll be seen as a productive, valuable, and effective long-distance teammate.

Of course, there’s another word that begins with “P” that will make you a great long-distance team member: productivity. Check out our e-course on Maximizing Your Productivity as a Remote Employee


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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