7 Exceptional Strategies to Ace Your Role as a Virtual Leader
Key components of being a successful leader centres around your vision, mission and your interpersonal relationships. To be successful, a good amount of a leader’s time must be spent on each of these components. In the pre-COVID world, team leaders had a different environment to influence employees on these components through their thoughts and action; and most importantly – in person.
In the given situation, where daily operations may be scattered, team leaders have a difficult task of driving not just a strong goal but also a powerful purpose virtually. In the absence of this, the relationship between the team leader and the rest of the team can be perceived as highly transactional. This might lead to team members losing steam quickly. Add to this, anxieties associated with what is happening around the world and in their immediate environment.
So, given that leading people is happening the digital way, let’s look at a few ways in which a team leader can drive better engagement and commitment from the team.
1. Entrust more authority to your employees.
While working remotely, the general tendency is to feel a loss of control and that leads one to gravitate towards micromanaging. Add to that the fact that in a virtual work environment, it becomes hard to oversee large teams beyond 5-6 members at a time.
What you need to do is to be able to find a sweet spot between micromanagement and being completely hands-off. Decentralised leadership is a great way to do this. It creates a diversity of roles that allow individuals to address various work-related challenges themselves, leading to fewer escalations.
Skill Tip: sharpen your delegation skills
2. Don’t question loyalty.
Distrust is one of the most serious challenges of virtual teams. Distrust develops when a misunderstanding turns into something more serious or has been allowed to become serious due to non-communication or lack of transparency or even letting an issue take its due course expecting it to resolve itself.
Without trust, even the most advanced task management and workflow tools (like Google Suite, Jira, Atlassian, Confluence) will not drive results. Focus your efforts on identifying challenges early so you can proactively provide solutions to your team members virtual work challenges. This will allow you to concentrate your energies on redirecting the team and ensure that the team is on the same page about how it will work together, as well as about how project roles and responsibilities are divided.
Skill Tip: refine your problem-solving skills
3. Actively take steps to bring the team together.
Many of the workplace situations may not apply in the virtual scenario such as seeking clarity while working or setting priorities if one is dealing with many important tasks at one time or even having a good time during a colleague’s birthday celebration.
It’s important to find ways to bring the team together; continue to include your employees in goal-setting conversations, take their inputs, ask them to suggest fun activities and to provide both positive and constructive feedback regularly. Providing simple forms of recognition such as appreciation on social media platforms or during team meetings will go a long way in developing strong bonds with them.
The idea is to foster a sense of trust, handling conflict with respect and fairness and providing feedback, having a few laughs together help bring the team together and put them in a collective mindset working towards shared company goals.
Skill Tip: enrich your team-building skills
4. Back them up.
Even your top performer may be feeling out of gear and may not be able to deliver on tasks with the same enthusiasm, at the same speed or the same quality. As a leader, it will be important to watch out for signs of burnout and help your team to overcome work-related stress and anxieties.
This is the time to reset your expectations of them and help them identify realistic timelines, provide necessary tools, information and guidance to help them get easy wins. It’s a perfect opportunity for the team leader to work with individual team members and help them become the best version of themselves.
Skill Tip: polish your mentoring skills
5. Don’t follow the herd.
In a fully virtual working environment, all communications are digital and a new set of rules, know-how and abilities are needed. With over three months of working from home, employees are slowly becoming use to online meetings. But that does not mean every conversation in the day must be done over a video call! It’s exasperating. We can still rely on the age-old telephone for long and detailed, conversations.
When communicating with a remote team, leaders should use their discretion even more than before. While working in an office, you could walk up to someone’s desk and have a short 2 min conversation, while over a video call there is never a 2 min conversation. Try not to overuse technology just because it’s available. Don’t forget, teams were productive even without long video calls.
Skill Tip: revisit your communication skills
6. Give your team members some personal space.
Let’s put the fish on the table, employees often suffer from overworking. The blurring of lines between work and life, and accommodating different time commitments, is making it hard for employees to unplug. All of which takes a toll on well-being. Not to mention the loneliness associated with remote work, and intensifying burnout.
So don’t disapprove your team member’s demands of holidays or half days or a sick leave. Don’t call out or reprimand an employee for taking breaks. Be mindful that even though they work from home now, they still need personal time to recuperate and once again be focused on work and deliverables.
Skill Tip: exercise empathy
7. Check on how your employees are doing personally.
Taking off from the point above, well ask, and ask again. And this means not just about projects, but about how employees are doing as people. This starts with creating a safe space for your team to share thoughts and feelings. This is critical during such an unprecedented and difficult time.
You’ve got to check in often and demonstrate your commitment to the team. If a team member hasn’t seemed themselves in recent days, check on them.
Skill Tip: hone your listening skills
What you should deduce from this article is that managing a successful virtual team requires leaders to double down on the fundamentals of good management, including establishing clear goals, running great meetings, communicating clearly, and leveraging team members’ individual and collective strengths. Let’s not forget, our role as team leader is not changed, just that now there is more distance, literally. What we need to do is expand of skills and adapt to working remotely. Several challenges will come up, but by overcoming them you will reap the benefits from healthy team dynamics which ensures the right actions are taken to create winning virtual teams.
At Yellow Spark, we work closely with leadership teams to map and assess manager skills to develop customised personal effectiveness programs for team leaders. To know more write to firstname.lastname@example.org
Author Profile: Deepam Yogi is an adventurer at heart, socially conscious in her gut and professionally a strategic consultant. She co-founded Yellow Spark to support organisations to build workplaces that people love being a part of. Deepam describes herself as a shy yet opinionated writer and firmly believes that most answers to complex issues lie in simple communication.