Businesses all around the world were gradually adapting to the rapid pace of digital transformation.
However, the COVID-19 outbreak drove the final nail in the coffin. It has been established that the disruptions will have long-term effects on the psychology and dynamics of traditional workplaces. A staggering 54% of businesses believe that the aftershocks of the global pandemic will continue through 2020. So, it is high time for companies to embrace the remote work model.
As a result, there is a growing need for leading the change in the virtual work environment. Virtual leadership can help foster a solid work culture that will set your business on track for success!
What is Virtual Leadership?
As the name indicates, virtual leaders are in charge of virtual teams. A virtual team comprises of professionals operating from different physical locations.
A virtual leader carries out all the roles and responsibilities of a traditional leader. Hence, virtual leadership plays an instrumental role in determining the success of any project.
The Rise of Virtual Leaders
The demand for virtual leadership is not a new concept. Studies and reports dating back to 2009 have highlighted how remote teams can outperform on-site employees in productivity and task management, provided that they are under stable virtual leadership. According to Gartner, the number of remote employees rose by 4% from 2012 to 2016. Nearly 43% of this overall workforce operate remotely in the US alone! While the development was slow yet sustained, companies faced challenges in the form of trust deficit, unmet expectations, work stereotypes, and technological limitations.
As technology started to catch up with the industry demands, there was a proportional growth in the demand for virtual leadership. It emerged as a silver bullet that helped overcome these obstacles. Virtual leaders emphasized communication and collaboration to nurture trust. Similarly, they assigned specific roles to outline a defined work structure, which boosted employee productivity while meeting business objectives. Finally, they helped with the integration of technology through collaboration software for efficient task management and disposal.
The imminent maturation of virtual leadership ushered in the age of remote working and virtual teams, making it the new normal.
5 Essential Virtual Team Leadership Skills
Now that we understand the crucial role of virtual leadership, it is time to review the qualities and characteristics to emerge as a successful virtual leader.
Here are five crucial skills that every virtual leader should hone for efficient task management:
Remote interactions are robbed of the personal touch that comes with one-on-one conversations. Resultantly, there is a higher scope of missing out critical details.
Virtual leaders must convey instructions, feedback, and guidelines clearly and concisely. Any ambiguity will contribute to confusion.
Set aside an appropriate frequency for conducting structured meetings, while also leaving room for impromptu catch-ups. Communicate consistently with your virtual teams and the team members.
The trick is to strike the perfect balance. If you check in too often, you may make the employees feel like they are being micromanaged. On the other hand, hold meetings too infrequently, and your employees will slip off the routine.
Setting up channels for synchronous and asynchronous communication will help teams even if they operate in different time zones. Incentivize collaboration, and your project will be rewarded accordingly.
Do not limit the conversations to mere “work stuff” and encourage employees to replicate the traditional “water cooler.” In this way, you will be adding to the work culture.
For several organizations, adapting to the remote working model has been tough. Naturally, there will be a few employees that may struggle with the technological aspect. Similarly, isolation, lockdowns, and quarantine may also take a toll on your employees’ emotional and mental well-being. On the other hand, you will have to deal with employees who cannot maintain the work-life balance.
An ideal virtual leader can identify such issues through social cues, even without learning about them explicitly. It could be in the form of loss in employee productivity, change in work behavior, and other indicators. Virtual leaders must locate these setbacks by tapping into their social awareness and relationship-building skills and mitigate the risks through proactive remedial measures.
Simple, empathy-driven decisions such as getting in a VC with the troubled employee or giving them some timeout to recover from burnout can help your team members.
Information silos will slow down your team’s productivity. For this reason, you must maintain cultural transparency in all your business operations. Whether it is access to the company database or assigning tasks to a team – virtual leaders incorporate transparency everywhere.
Fortunately, you can bank on several tools and software that make use of technology to add this layer of transparency. At the same time, constant communication also lays the foundation for transparent operations.
Maintaining transparency will help with employee engagement and will also hold them accountable for their work. Eventually, it will contribute to social cohesion that will glue your virtual teams together.
Cultivating trust in a virtual environment is one of the major challenges of virtual leadership. Make your team members an integral part of the decision-making process and keep them in the loop for updates.
At the same time, instill the belief that you trust your employees to carry out their tasks even if they do not have a boss hovering over your shoulders. Rather than stressing on the number of hours your team members put in, shift the focus to the overall output and impact. Once again, if you notice a dip in productivity, feel free to discuss the issue sympathetically.
Virtual leaders will have to be considerate of all team members. As stated before, involve your team members at every stage of the decision-making process. Virtual leaders must consider the team as an integral part of the project, right from planning to execution.
On an individual level, you can pair your experienced employees with the freshers to make the freshers feel included in all the business transactions. It helps overcome the common issues that newbies face during the onboarding stage.
Through this two-pronged approach, you can be sure that you are including and empowering everyone.
The Final Word
To sum it up, virtual leadership is the life and blood of a remote system.
Virtual leaders play a critical role in fostering trust, boosting employee productivity, encouraging open communication and collaboration, outlining goals and procedural guidelines, and keeping the team morale high. To meet these goals, virtual leaders tap into an array of collaboration software and tools that grant seamlessness even in remote work environments.
Having a trusted and reliable virtual leader in your team can boost your company’s chances of success!
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