• The Enabling Function

Art of leading virtually: Becoming an effective virtual manager

Updated: May 12, 2020

By Supriya Sharma

The impact of Coronavirus pandemic is not only economic but challenges existing style of operation and leadership at workplaces. Leaders are learning to cope this new style of leading their team as it redefines the workplace and work rules. Leading virtually is an art and can be acquired through concerted effort and discipline.

The impact of COVID-19 is being felt across organizations in significant and multiple ways. Apart from the obvious economic impact, many businesses have implemented work-from-home policies and practices in order to minimize potential exposure to workers and help keep their workforce safe.

However, working from home requires a different kind of leadership for managers charged with leading virtual teams. Without this kind of leadership, engagement and collaboration can suffer – with subsequent drops in performance and productivity.

In such a situation, managers can become more effective simply by applying the following few principles in their day to day work:

Leverage technology to stay connected

Setting up the basic infrastructure such as high-speed internet, audio & video conferencing tools, laptops, etc. will be the first step in making the employees accessible and connected. As a leader, review each team member’s readiness to work virtually and make necessary arrangements.

"Organizations are sponsoring high speed internet, laptops or headsets or other related infrastructure to enable employees to work from home."

As per a poll conducted by LinkedIn, video conferencing was found to be the most effective virtual means for communication followed by audio conferencing, chats/ messages shared on a collaboration platform such as slack, yammer, Microsoft teams or workplace by Facebook and then emails in that order. Leaders will have to go online and explore the functionality of each of these platforms and learn to use them effectively. Introducing project management or brainstorming platforms such as Asana, Jira or any other will also allow teams to collaborate and track progress effectively.

Creating and sustaining trust virtually

Building trust with your team members makes them feel secure and confident about performing their job. However, this has been the biggest challenge for all leaders and creating trust virtually is harder.

The basic principle to build trust as a leader is to maintain fair, transparent, and consistent communication. In virtual settings, communication may happen between you and one or two members from the team and sometimes does not reach the entire team. Chances are they would feel left out and can view you as biased. To avoid any such misunderstanding, try to include everyone in the team while sharing any critical information. Sometimes even while defining the scope of the project for a small work – group, it may be worthwhile to include others in the team into the discussion. This would help everyone to be on the same page and avoid any confusions later.

While it may seem exhausting, it is a good idea to over-communicate to avoid any misunderstandings within the team.

Identifying the right medium for communication

Communicating a significant strategy change through a message will only create anxiety and confusion, while reminding the team to submit a project by a certain timeline over an audio or video call will be an overkill and waste of time. Hence, selecting the right medium is an important part of effective communication.

For more strategic or sensitive communication such as change in strategy or role, change in business plans, etc., announcing it over a group video call will be ideal. In cases where video is not possible, at least leverage group audio call to ensure that everyone gets the news at the same time and gets an opportunity to seek clarification, if required. For routine follow ups or regular communication, emails or chat messages on yammer, slack, etc. could be used.

Managing the deliverable

To ensure that work related deliverable do not get impacted due to working virtually, break down work into smaller modules and track progress regularly. This could be done in the following ways:

  • ·Weekly goal setting: Start the week with a quick video huddle to set weekly goals for the team and define every individual’s contribution clearly. This could also be an opportunity to discuss any challenges or obstacles so that you can help resolve them. Providing clarity on the actionable would help to stay focused and ensure that everyone understands expectations from them. Successful delivery of these modules will continue to motivate the team to deliver more.

  • Weekly 1:1s: Schedule calendarized weekly video one – on – one catch ups to replace informal catch ups with your team members. This would be a chance to review their contributions, give/ receive feedback and understand if they are facing any challenges with their work. Use this time to connect with the employee and check the overall health and well-being of the employee.

  • Identify core – working hours: Bumping into someone at a coffee machine or a water cooler or walking up to someone’s desk to clarify a doubt or resolve a query can be replaced by identifying core – working hours. Core working hours for the team would be the common slot when anyone in the team could be approached without any hesitation of disturbing at unsolicited hours. If no one reaches out, this time could be used for finishing any pending work individually.

Every meeting or 1:1 should be summarized with a follow up mail to reinforce the communication and to use it for reference later.

Build a collaborative environment

It is easy to feel isolated while working virtually. Working independently can create fear – of – missing – out (FOMO as it is commonly referred) for the individuals on your team. Working as a team enhances the morale and productivity of team members but working virtually can dilute the fabric of a team.

Create opportunities for collaboration by allocating projects to small work – groups instead of individuals. Conduct weekly informal engagement activities such as virtual coffee breaks, lunch breaks or even happy hours as a team to keep the casual vibe of the team intact. Celebrate individual or group achievements together to keep everyone motivated and engaged.

Engaging with the organization

One of the important levers of employee engagement is for employees to understand their own purpose, how their work is contributing to the larger goals of the organization. In virtual set – ups, it can be very easy to miss out on the organizational context and not understand the impact that individual contribution is making towards achieving company’s goals. Reinforcing this through emails, engagement platforms, if any or through frequent town-halls or All Hands meetings is an important aspect of engaging the employees virtually. This would also be the opportunity for employees to ask questions from leadership about anything.

Personality Type and art of leading virtually

Your Personality Type would have an impact on your virtual leadership style. Introverts find it hard to take initiative in reaching out to the team resulting into missing out on communicating important information. Extroverts may tend to overdo the communication causing communication fatigue to the team. People with a certain personality type may require more hand-holding or follow ups than others as they may find it challenging to focus on immediate tasks.

Knowing your personality type and that of your team would help you to understand their styles of working virtually. Leverage personality assessments like MBTI, Big Five or Strengths Finder to become aware of your own personality and of your team members. Once you understand everyone’s personality type, it would be easy to find ways to work with each of them accordingly.

Virtual teams come with clear advantages. Organizations can explore talent across the world and hence create a competitive advantage for themselves in terms of innovation and cultural diversity. It also allows flexibility and freedom to team members to operate from anywhere and helps them strike a good work – life balance.

Leading virtually will be an important skill to have in the times to come as we progress towards remote working arrangements. The challenges of leading virtually can be overcome by any leader through concerted effort and discipline only if we try! :-)

The Enabling Function team can conduct sessions for you or your team on "Art of Leading Virtually: Becoming an Effective Manager" or conduct MBTI Personality Assessments to help you understand your personal style of leading virtually.

#leadingvirtually #humanresources #smallmediumbusinesses #MBTI #remoteleadership

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