Remote leadership: what can be learned from R2D2

Remote leadership: what can be learned from R2D2

This blog post is based on a video recording on the subject of remote leadership, which you are also welcome to watch. You are welcome to watch the video or read the content as part of the blog article. Just learn how it suits you best!

SPOILER ALERT: If you haven’t watched the Star Wars movies yet and plan to do so, you should do a Star Wars marathon first and then read this article. Have fun!

The possibilities of digital collaboration

Jana Piske is a travel enthusiast. She’s been to Costa Rica and Africa, then moved to Spain, but wherever she’s lived she’s been very passionate about what she does. The idea that people who travel too much cannot work on a project long-term has always bothered Jana. Even as a digital nomad like she is, she still wanted to take part in various projects.

In 2014 she founded a non-profit organization herself. Taste of Malawi is a sewing project in Malawi, in the heart of Africa, which supports women on their way to an independent life through further education. You will receive tailoring training which, in combination with commercial workshops, forms the basis for a professional career. The project also offers the women a broad network of contacts, which enables them to get to know each other with women in similar situations. Even after the training, the seamstresses are accompanied on their way, which leads to financial independence.

But the special thing is that their non-profit organization is completely digital! Here people from all over the world can participate in the project in the long term. This guarantees cultural exchange and the opportunity to travel on. Digital collaboration is your solution! In this context, she noticed how difficult remote collaboration is in other companies and organizations and how little experience most teams have with digitization.

In 2020 she founded Fairlinked. She idealized Fairlinked as a training platform for digital soft skills by advising social entrepreneurs, associations and NGOs in the field of digitization and digital organizational development. Due to the pandemic, these offers were in very high demand. Everyone had to go digital very quickly and suddenly to be able to work from home given the isolation and social distancing.

Remote work: expectations and reality

But there is a gap between the expectations and the reality of remote work. When you think of remote work, you picture working on the beach with a cocktail in hand. On the one hand remote work means freedom and self-determination, the possibility to work in different places or conditions (with children, pets, and other commitments). On the other hand, the reality is different: you feel lonely because you are away from the other colleagues, and this weakens the team spirit. Technical problems can also arise, for example with communication.

But why does this situation arise? Let us think of our responsible leaders and role models of leadership. Most of them were born in the 1970‘s and were only introduced to digital collaboration in the 1990‘s when the internet first offered this opportunity. This means that the majority of our leaders had an education and the beginning of their career in an analogue, not yet digitized context. They therefore have little or no experience with remote collaboration.

Our current situation, on the other hand, is the opposite: in 2022, 28.2% of employees will be working from home. We have a lack of role models and opportunities in this area, although the skills are very important for work today. In the last 12 years, a 165% increase in employees working from home has been observed. And the guess is that by 2030, %-75% of people will be remote workers. Our leaders will soon need to adapt and learn the new skills to keep up with the digital transformation.

What can be learned from R2D2?

Jana’s personal inspiration for successful leadership of remote teams is the robot R2D2. Here are 5 things to learn from him:

1) Caring for the emotional and physical well-being of the team:

That’s what R2D2 did after the fights, and that’s what we should do in non-combat times as well. In hybrid teams, conflicts are harder to spot and the well-being of team members isn’t always obvious. It should be made a priority as these issues (which are sometimes uncomfortable) need to be addressed. In this way we ensure a trusting atmosphere with exchange and friendship.
Our tips:

  • Start with good humor and peace in good situations, so that by the time a conflict arises, you’ve already practiced it.
  • Create a focal point for concerns and support so the team has a place to raise difficult issues. The different levels of communication should be considered. Messaging apps, team building events, all have different uses. You can read more about means of communication here.
  • All meetings need to include some team building by hosting small check-ins or short coffee dates, for example.
  • Always ask for feedback on what is going well and what is not going so well.

2) Provide orientation and security:

R2D2 has always helped his friends in life-threatening situations and pursued the goal. That’s exactly what we have to do in stressful situations: stay calm. When you’re sitting alone and without the other collaborator, it’s easy to lose focus and feel lonely. You get lost in turbulence because of annoying technical problems or bad moods that you interpret from emails or Slack messages. Therefore, as a leader, you have to stay relaxed when there are problems (be it technical or communication problems) and be a role model for the team members in stressful situations.

3) Lead, not lead:

R2D2 knew Darth Vader was Luke Skywalker’s father all along, but instead of just telling him that, he followed him all the way, allowing him to make his own mistakes and learn from them. This is a perfect example of leading, not leading. Micromanaging is never good in remote or hybrid teams because it’s hard to be in all channels and all meetings and catch all the details. Therefore, you have to trust the team that they will find their way on their own. As a leader, you can motivate the team to make their own decisions, work independently and creatively develop their own ideas. The introduction of home office as an example:

  • The whole team must be involved and decide together to what extent home office can be introduced. When management and workers are far apart and making decisions alone, the potential for conflict increases.
  • Otherwise, you can do a lot with a hybrid working atmosphere: you can introduce office days, organize company outings with all employees together, or organize digital events for analog employees. The cross connection must always be communicated because despite the working environment they are still a team. This is how you strengthen the team spirit!

4) Promote communication:

R2D2 has built friendship and trust with his team despite his limited communication skills. He’s a robot that can’t talk. Our communication options are also limited in the digital space, and that’s why small signs mean all the more here! Our tips:

  • Insert emojis in texts and emails to express feelings. Because you can interpret a lot purely with text, without voice and facial expressions.
  • Always be visible in video conferences: with good lighting and a good mood. Here you have to exaggerate your facial expressions, facial expressions and gestures so that your non-verbal communication can be perceived more easily. This creates better understanding and more trust.

5) Stay Human:

R2D2 was not perfect and was still a good leader. You too: don’t be too hard on yourself! It’s not about being perfect, it’s about creating an error-friendly and trusting atmosphere. In this way you learn how to deal with mistakes with respect and fairness in order to grow together from mistakes.


Those were the five lessons from R2D2’s behavior as a team leader. Other Star Wars characters have different, different leadership styles! Now think about your pop culture inspirations: what are they and what can we learn from them?

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