The Three Types of Remote Teams

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The term “remote leadership” has gained prominence. However, to simply label any team where not everyone shares a physical workspace as a remote team is overly simplistic. It’s similar to declaring that you are encountering a snake. While informative, it lacks the depth needed to navigate the nuances of various team dynamics. In this discussion, I aim to shed light on the multifaceted world of remote teams, exploring the distinct types that exist and providing valuable insights into effective remote leadership. I have had the privilege of working closely with diverse leaders and organizations in the realm of remote teams. This experience, coupled with my own leadership journey within a remote team, has led me to believe that understanding the nature of your team is a critical step toward successful remote leadership.

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My goal here is two-fold: to provide some terminology so that those who care have more tangible ways to think about and understand their unique teams and use that description to lead their specific team more successfully.

The Types of Remote Teams

Remote teams are not monolithic; instead, they can be categorized into three distinct types, each with its own set of characteristics and considerations:

1. Fully Remote Teams

In this scenario, every team member operates from a different location, whether it’s from the comfort of their homes or separate offices. In such teams, both team members and their leader are physically separated from one another. If you, as a leader, share office space with one or more team members, your team does not fall into this category.

2. Hybrid Teams

Hybrid teams comprise a mix of centralized and remote team members who work from different locations. Typically, hybrid teams are formed when the leader and part of the team are in the same physical location while others work remotely. A subset of hybrid teams occurs when part of the team operates in one office while others are co-located in different offices across various locations. Hybrid teams exhibit some characteristics of remote teams, but not all team members are remote.

3. Flex Teams

The third and increasingly prevalent type of remote team is the flex team. In flex teams, individuals are co-located part of the time but also engage in remote work. This category includes workgroups where substantial business travel is involved. More specifically, a flex team exists when team members work from home (telework) one or two days a week or commute to the office one or two days a week.

These brief descriptions illustrate that, much like the diverse species of snakes, not all remote teams are created equal.

Leadership in Action

Now that we’ve established the diversity among remote teams, the pressing question for leaders is: What do you do with this information? 

Here are several practical steps to help you lead remote teams more effectively:

1. Diagnose

Reflect on your team situation and determine which type of remote team you lead.

2. Look Backward

Consider whether the composition of your team has changed over time. For instance, you may have transitioned from a co-located team to one with teleworking members, indicating a shift to a flex team. If your team makeup has evolved, it’s crucial to adapt your leadership approach accordingly.

3. Address Challenges

Examine the challenges your team faces. Does the type of team shed light on the root causes of conflicts, miscommunications, or missed handoffs? Consider how the team’s dynamics intersect with the work processes to address these challenges effectively.

4. Evaluate Focus

Especially pertinent to hybrid or flex teams, evaluate where your leadership focus lies. Are you dedicating more time and coaching to those in the office versus remote team members? Assess whether your focus aligns with the team’s perception and needs.

5. Cater to Everyone’s Needs

Delve into your team’s work processes, such as meetings and social gatherings. Are you accommodating the unique needs of all team members in these aspects?

These five suggestions, when put into practice, can enhance your team’s success and contribute to your productivity as a leader. 

The Realm of Remote Leadership

The realm of remote leadership is not a one-size-fits-all endeavor; it requires an understanding of the unique dynamics of your specific team. Recognizing the diversity among fully remote, hybrid, and flex teams is the first step toward effective remote leadership. By diagnosing your team, adapting to changes, addressing challenges, aligning your focus, and catering to individual needs, you can lead your remote team more successfully. Remote leadership is a dynamic journey, and by embracing its complexities, you can guide your team toward remarkable success in the ever-connected world of remote work.

Headshot of Kevin Eikenberry
Kevin Eikenberry

Kevin Eikenberry is a recognized world expert on leadership development and learning and is the Chief Potential Officer of The Kevin Eikenberry Group. He has spent over 30 years helping organizations across North America and leaders from over 40 countries on leadership, learning, teams and teamwork, communication, and more. Twice, he has been named by as one of the top 100 Leadership and Management Experts in the World and has been included in many other similar lists. He is the author, co-author, or contributing author to nearly 20 books, including Remarkable Leadership and bestseller From Bud to Boss: Secrets to a Successful Transition to Remarkable Leadership (with Guy Harris), The Long-Distance Leader: Rules for Remarkable Remote Leadership and The Long-Distance Teammate: Stay Engaged and Connected While Working Anywhere (both with Wayne Turmel).

Connect with Kevin on LinkedIn.

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