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Becoming the Virtual Leader

4 Pieces of Advice

Many of us are now getting settled into the ‘new norm.’  That includes adjusting to being grounded (no flights) makeshift works spaces at home, families together under one roof all day every day.  Things are quite different.  Business, however, must go on as best it can.

Some of you are accustomed to working from home, albeit in a much quieter house.  For the rest, however, working from home is a huge transition and a difficult one at that.  It is one thing to take a job knowing you will be working from home.  You can mentally prepare for the transition and get set up to be productive accordingly.  These days, working from home was forced upon many of our employees suddenly and dramatically.

I recall a book I read by Dr. Ann Gladys, a professor at Pepperdine Graduate School of Education & Psychology.  In her book, The Invisible Leader, Gladys writes about how to transition a team to a virtual workspace successfully.  I recognize we simply did not have the time to transition nicely into virtual environments due to recent events. Still, there are absolutely some pointers that we, as leaders, need to remind ourselves of. 

If you’ve suddenly found yourself leading a virtual team, you’ll want to read the below four pieces of advice to make this time as successful as possible.

1. Determine the type of leader you want to be. You will fall into 1 of three categories as a virtual leader:
– I don’t trust you
– Leave me alone
– Pull people up

The only way you will come through this period of time successfully is by pulling your team up. In this style, you recognize your employees are out there alone, and you demonstrate the type of behavior you’d want your employees to emulate. 

If you do not trust your employees to continue to perform their work virtually, they will feel micromanaged and begin to resent you as a leader.  Alternatively, if you are disengaged with your team right now, you are sending a clear message that you are thankful everyone is home and you are enjoying this time of fewer conversations and interruptions.  Unfortunately, that also tells your team that you do not value them as employees.

Connect with your team, encourage them through this difficult time and keep them motivated.  Have a little empathy for what they are going through too.  By doing so, you’ll pull them up and through this incredible time.

2. Understand the social dynamic need. For those of you leading teams that were suddenly thrust into this virtual environment, the risk of your employees feeling isolated is high.  As a leader, you must make even more effort to communicate with your dispersed team.

The team will look to you for direction and guidance.  Inspire socialization among them by taking the lead and setting up an increased cadence of team meetings, create a virtual coffee meet up a couple of times a week, or a virtual happy hour.  These are extremely popular right now!

Above all, your employees need to continue feeling they are doing valuable work.  Empower them to lead by your own example.  They will continue to deliver during this time.

3. Embrace technology.  Leveraging some sort of video conferencing application is the closest thing you have to sitting around a conference room right now.  Webcams are inexpensive and most laptops have them built-in.  With cameras on, you are better equipped to interpret tone, stress, facial expressions, and hand gestures.  Your meetings will be more connected, productive and meaningful. 

Do not rely on emails and texts; there is simply too much room for misinterpretation.  Deliberate, enhanced communication is needed to avoid confusing and inaccurate messages.

4. Be present, be there and pay attention.  This is no time for an ‘out of sight, out of mind’ approach.  Virtual employees need more attention.  Be mindful of an individual’s circumstances at home.  Everyone is different.  Some people are thriving in this new virtual environment, others are struggling to make it all work.  Ask.  Just ask how they are adjusting.  Employees will naturally want to answer that with a work-related answer, ensure they know you are asking about them personally.

Ensure you are available for questions and when they come in, be responsive to their inquiries.  This is a good time to solicit feedback.  It reinforces the message that you value your employees, their ideas and input.

They also need to see your human side as a leader.  Let hem know they are not alone in their situation.  Share your adjustment experience and create the connection.

There is no manual for these unprecedented times.  Leading a suddenly virtual team is challenging, but not impossible.  Trust your people, empathize with them and connect.  The bottom line is this; treat them as you would like to be treated.

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