#52 Guru David Burkus: How to Be a Leader in the Age of Remote Teams
May 10, 2022
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In 2020, one of the most-asked questions by CEOs, team leaders, and employees alike was, “When are we going back to the office?” And as we quickly came to realize as the pandemic went on (and on) was, “We’re not.”

At least, not everyone and not 9-5.

And team leaders are suddenly grappling with a new concept: How do you motivate, inspire, and encourage collaboration in fully remote or hybrid teams?

In this inspiring keynote speech, leadership speaker David Burkus shares three need-to-know traits to help you lead from anywhere.


Trait 1: Shared Understanding

Burkus defines shared understanding as:


“The extent to which members of the team have a commonly held perspective on the team’s expertise, assigned tasks, context, and preferences.”


He poses some techniques to ensure your team are all on the same page, despite physical distances.

Now that everyone works odd hours, ask your team to share their work calendars. This makes it easy to see who’s available when.

Spend some time defining your team’s working process. How long do you wait to follow up on an email? How is progress reported? What does the “busy” status mean in your company? Consider adding the process into your onboarding documents so new starts know what to expect from day one.


Hold regular huddles where you ask each team member to report on the following questions:

  • What did I just work on? This question allows you to keep tabs on progress without micromanaging.
  • What am I focused on next? This question ensures no project or client gets left behind.
  • What’s blocking my progress? This question trains your team to work out loud so everyone’s on the same page.


Trait 2: Shared Identity

Burkus defines shared identity as:


“The extent to which team members feel the same sense of who they are as a designated group.”


In other words, how do you get hybrid or remote teams to feel part of the same mission?


He offers an example:

Fika is a Swedish concept that loosely translates into time spent talking about things other than work. Many remote teams already embraced this concept naturally, be it with a weekly Coffee Talk, the Slack water-cooler plug-in Donut.

Burkus mentions one company he worked with held monthly Taco Thursdays. They’d send a gift card out to employees, tell them to order from their favorite local taco restaurant, and then come together on a Zoom call to eat it.

Basically, as a leader, you need to create non-work-related opportunities—virtual rituals, Burkus calls them—for friendship building and bonding between team members. 


Trait 3: Psychological Safety 100

Burkus defines psychological safety as:


“The extent to which team members feel safe to express themselves and take risks.”


Team members need to feel safe taking risks, and that can be hard to do when you’re communicating via video chat.

Try these ideas to provide a safe space for confident communication:

  • Treat task-focused conflict as collaboration. If someone sees a problem, it shows they’re passionate about the project and want it to succeed.
  • Celebrate failures. “You win, or you learn.” Learn from what you got wrong and thank the team member for taking a risk by drawing attention to the problem. If they hadn’t, nothing would have been learned.
  • Encourage dissent. Encourage people to speak up. Turn it on yourself as the leader—ask people to tell you what you might have missed in a discussion.


Working Well No Matter Where You Work

So, it’s time to start focusing on building a sense of shared understanding, shared identity, and psychological safety—because it’s almost certain that at least some of your team will choose remote working over in-office for the foreseeable future.

“The only thing I know for certain is that the future of work isn’t home or the office; it’s working from anywhere,” Burkus concludes. “And if you build those three pillars, you’ll have the skills you need to lead from anywhere, as well.”


Do you agree with David Burkus’ three traits for successfully leading remote and hybrid teams? Or do you feel there’s something he’s missed or something that’s cropped up in 2022 since this speech was recorded?

We want to hear your thoughts and experiences! Share them (and this article) on your socials and drop us—Viral Octopus—a tag. And if you need more marketing advice, be sure to browse the other guru insights on this page.