Ten Top Tips for Virtual Leadership

By rotide
Created 16/06/2020 - 13:19

In March 2020, we were plunged into lockdown by COVID19. As we continue to work from home and begin to explore hybrid working (with some in the office, some at home), we need to use the principles of virtual leadership to be successful and to get the best out of our teams. Remember to consider any team as a virtual team, even if only one person is remote geographically.

Let's explore how to apply virtual leadership in both pure virtual and hybrid situations:

  1. Encourage others not to work like robots, and model this yourself. Avoid the temptation to sit in front of your computer from 8am to 8pm. We know it doesn't work - people lose focus and productivity as they go from video meeting to meeting without pause, grabbing food and bio breaks seemingly at random. If you want people to work at their best, encourage them (and model it yourself) to take breaks and eat properly, so you can all be fresh and well-nourished, able to focus and be productive throughout the day.
  2. Choose a facilitative leadership style. If you tend to use command-and-control and micromanagement when you're in the office together, then change now. Instead, agree with team members what they need to do, how they'll report progress and how they can get help if they need it, and then get out of the way. This sort of facilitative leadership works best virtually. An added bonus is that people feel trusted and motivated when given autonomy.
  3. Develop understanding of your team, and yourself. Start with self: what are your preferences when it comes to keeping in touch: phone, video calls, chat? What are your strengths and your weaknesses? What about your own biases? What about your team members? Work out what suits all of you together. Decide your team's ways of working so that everyone can work well during this time.
  4. Build common ground, to connect diverse people together. In virtual teams, many of the aspects that stand out when you're in a room together are less prominent online. Ethnicity, generation, appearance, nationality all take a back seat for once. Try using other aspects to build rapport and connection across the team. Compare what team members can see out of the window, the books and films they've enjoyed during lockdown, how they have kept fit. Find common strands and use them to build rapport and ultimately trust.
  5. Be clear, and make sure that people understand what you mean. Be clear on how you'll be working together as a team. Be clear on the point of every meeting and its objectives. Be clear on what's happening when. Be clear what actions people have agreed. Generating this clarity will mean it takes more time to prepare for meetings and for any communications than you would have done pre-COVID.
  6. Engage others in team meetings. Most virtual meetings go on for far too long and are deadly dull. Instead, draw people in by using memorable stories and presenting information in narrative forms. Use visuals over words when presenting, and annotate your slides as you go - there are options for this in most software.
  7. Use different-time (asynchronous) working, as well as same time meetings. At the start of lockdown, people rushed to use virtual meetings and used these almost exclusively, so much so that a new phrase entered the language: ‘Zoomed out'! Being in back-to-back virtual meetings is not the best way to work virtually and it isn't sustainable. Use asynchronous ways of working together, supported by tools such as recordings of meetings, chat, discussion and collaboration tools, to allow people to join in and do the work when it suits them, rather than having to join meetings all day. This works for those who have responsibilities such as looking after children who can't go to school, but also frees up night owls to do their work late or early birds to start before breakfast. It's motivating and breaks the cycle of endless video calls!
  8. While technology helps, it's not the be all and end all for great virtual teams. Of course, we need technology to connect, just as we need electricity to able to live in a house. Electricity, though, doesn't make a house a home. It is the same with virtual technology. It enables us to connect. Focus on the other things that make an effective team. Like virtual leadership...
  9. Use your senses. Most of us only use sight and hearing when working virtually. A powerful way to bring in other senses is to send out a parcel for your next team meeting or social. Delivered by post to each team member, it contains some treats of food and drink to open on the day. Make sure you know everyone's dietary preferences and restrictions first of course!
  10. Things will go wrong. As a virtual leader, monitor what is happening and be on the lookout for early warning signs of conflict, loss of morale or poor performance issues. Stay calm and help the group when you encounter troubled waters. It's much better to be aware quickly and to put things right, than find out once things have gone really sour.

As we take the step into hybrid teams (virtual, plus in the office) we need to keep a level playing field for all workers, including those who remain virtual. Good virtual leadership will help you and your team to succeed together.

Dr Penny Pullan is a virtual leadership expert at Making Projects Work Ltd, and the author of Virtual Leadership: Practical strategies for getting the best out of virtual work and virtual teams [1]

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