Virtual Leadership. The New Normal?
There are a number of key traits that lead to good virtual leadership, and while many of them mirror keys to office-based leadership, the importance of some of them is heightened when managing a virtual workforce.
- Building Trust
As we look more deeply into these traits, we will discuss how they apply to the virtual workspace, and the ways they come together to create a cohesive virtual environment.
Understanding your employee’s home life and personal situation is just as important as having an understanding of their position in the business world. In a virtual workspace, this level of empathy becomes even more paramount because you are faced with employees whose lines between the office and the home become very blurred, which can lead to unique stresses in their lives. Loneliness, distractions, and lack of motivation are all common issues with remote workers, so efficient leadership needs to lean on an empathetic understanding of these factors.
An empathetic manager will obviously want to proactively tackle these possibilities, but it’s also essential that they pick up on warning signs that these issues are becoming problematic – the amount of communication from an employee (whether messaging/emails/calls) starting to fall, and lack of communication in group meetings are both signs that an employee is possibly struggling in their remote environment. An employee who seems to be attempting unachievable levels of perfection or over-exerting themselves can also be a sign as a product of self-doubt and over-compensation. Understand the predicament that remote work poses for your employees, and you’ll more easily see the signs when the cracks occur.
Having empathy for your employees can be for nothing if you don’t have the compassion to back it up. Knowing that your employees will be experience struggles, what can you do to alleviate the stress? The biggest answer here revolves around communication. Poor communication in the office environment can be overcome at times due to the intrinsic nature of being in a physical location with many other colleagues – the structure can remain intact because of this. However, poor communication in the virtual world will always lead to exacerbation of the root issues. Individual communication, one-on-one with your employees, whilst demonstrating a high level of empathy is the first step in ensuring good virtual leadership.
Depending on your team, understand which forms of communication are the most appropriate for different circumstances. Using IM chat to check in with an employee to see how they’re doing, use email if you’re communicating something that they may need to refer back to during a project, and always utilize video chats to add a level of “human interaction”, both in the group meetings and in the one-on-one interactions. Communication is also about increasing your visibility and encouraging others to do so too. Asking what your employees need, understanding their requirements, and where possible meeting their expectations will lead to a cohesive and efficient virtual landscape.
Succeeding with the steps of empathy and compassion is the first step to building trust. Empathy without compassion or compassion without empathy will lead to a breakdown in trust that can be very problematic to repair. The other side to building trust is knowing that your employees are working hard and getting tasks done. This isn’t achieved by checking on their work every few minutes, it’s achieved by knowing you’re giving them the tools and the environment to complete their tasks, understanding the time that’s required for them to finish the task, and having a system in place to know that the work has been done. All of this is achieved by giving your employees the trust that they will do this while also holding them accountable if they don’t. But none of this can be achieved if the trust hasn’t been built in the first place. In the words of Abraham Lincoln, “…people when rightly and fully trusted will return the trust.”
Finally, transparency becomes so much more important in the virtual leadership world. Whatever you’re communicating to your staff, whatever goals you’re setting, whatever metrics you are using, ask yourself, “am I being completely transparent?” Telling your remote staff that you’re always available for them needs to mean just that. When giving remote staff tasks, be 100% transparent about what you expect from them, when you expect it, and how you’re going to measure success with the task. Without this transparency, frustration will form, the trust will be lost, and all efforts of empathy and compassion will be broken.
Virtual leadership is not an impossible endeavor, but it does require you to be vigilant in doing the right things, any mistakes you make as a manager will be amplified in the virtual work environment, so it is of utmost importance that you remain vigilant – if you do so, you’ll find that virtual leadership can be immensely rewarding and satisfying. To learn more about our Leadership courses, contact us.