Businesses around the world are working hard to adapt to a new way of life brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Some are struggling to plan for long-term success in a professional landscape riddled with uncertainty. When Gallup conducted a survey on COVID-19 and the workplace, they found 54% of respondents believed workplace disruptions will extend beyond 2020. Many companies made the switch to remote work at the start of the global pandemic, and it’s likely remote collaboration will continue for the foreseeable future.
As such, the demand for good virtual leadership skills is more important than ever, which is why we made inclusivity and transparency our top priority when defining our virtual leadership skills.
Here’s why you should, too.
In this post, we’ll look at how important virtual leadership skills mirror good non-virtual leadership skills (but with a few key differences.)
What is virtual leadership?
The definition of virtual leadership is a form of leadership in which teams are managed via a remote working environment. Like traditional leadership roles, virtual leaders focus on inspiring workers and helping teams accomplish their goals.
Overall, virtual leaders must take a different management approach than they would with collocated workers, as team communication isn’t done in person. As such, virtual leaders need to have great writing skills that translate important things like empathy and understanding into written words shared within a virtual context (as this is how much of cross-team communication is done.)
Virtual leadership focuses heavily on boosting collaboration through regular communication, transparency, and accountability. An effective virtual leader should:
- Deploy tools like a Work Operating System (Work OS) to maintain an open line of communication and to share everything from status updates to digital assets with team members
- Be transparent about company goals and desired outcomes, as this can boost engagement and help members take ownership of the work they’re producing
- Give workers autonomy and hold them accountable for the work delivered
Virtual leadership, remote teams, and autonomy
Before the COVID-19 outbreak, companies were already starting to embrace virtual teams. Back in 2014, the consulting firm Ferrazzi Greenlight surveyed 1,700 knowledge workers and found nearly 80% of them belong to distributed teams. As virtual work has grown in popularity, the need for virtual leadership emerged as well.
Remote employees have more autonomy due to the nature of virtual work. As such, virtual leaders can’t check in with workers the same way in-office managers do, so they have to put their trust in workers’ capabilities.
But for increased autonomy to work with remote teams, there must also be a culture of accountability. That requires virtual leaders to be clear on their expectations.
You can do this by:
- Assigning work to specific workers (or teams)
- Agreeing upon a deadline and putting that date in writing
- Create checkpoints and use software wherein you can review work, offer guidance, and provide feedback
At monday.com, we ensure everyone at the company has a strong understanding of our goals and objectives. We give all team members access to metrics to help them measure progress when working towards our common goals, which increases worker autonomy. We’ve found that this helps our teams make informed decisions about how their work should be managed, which leads to greater agility across the organization.
3 Essential virtual team leadership skills
We believe that strong leadership and people-oriented values are instrumental in creating a business culture that’s productive, innovative, and able to adapt to an ever-changing professional landscape.
When building our own virtual team leadership skill set at monday.com, we prioritized three important elements that are similar to traditional leadership roles:
- Transparency: Don’t keep relevant company data locked away in departmental silos––make it accessible so workers can have a better understanding of your goals and desired outcomes
- Inclusion: Allow employees to participate in the planning phases of your projects, as they’re the ones with the technical know-how and practical skills (meaning they can offer valuable insight when you’re creating an action plan)
- Trust: Leadership and workers should be upfront and completely honest when sharing data and status updates (even unfavorable information) in order to maintain credibility and preserve the integrity of the data being shared
We’ve identified these elements as essential leadership skills for managing virtual teams and have integrated them into our company culture. While the daily practice of these skills can look slightly different when our leaders are communicating virtually, we’ve found that overall they’ve resulted in more agile teams that can quickly adapt to unexpected change without experiencing significant setbacks.
Overall, being inclusive and open with company information makes planning and problem-solving more effective, as it increases the resiliency of the entire company.
How do I create a virtual culture that lasts?
Being an effective virtual leader is challenging, and there will probably be a number of hurdles you’ll have to overcome as you become comfortable with collaborating online. During the COVID-19 pandemic, these challenges may feel magnified due to uncertainty.
You may have traditional command-and-control managers who will struggle with unfamiliar concepts like transparency, worker autonomy, and accountability. This is normal, and it will take some time for them to adjust to a new leadership style that values agile traits like responsiveness and adaptability over long-term planning.
There are some steps you can take that will foster a virtual culture that thrives, regardless of location:
- Ensure your
- s and workers embrace good virtual leadership skills and incorporate them into their day-to-day activities. You can do this by making transparency and inclusion part of your company culture.
- Senior leadership should make it a priority to transform the company into a virtual-ready organization by holding routine virtual leadership training sessions. The initial training session will teach managers how to adapt to the virtual workplace, and subsequent training can be aimed at helping them get acclimated to their new role as virtual leaders.
- Keep an open dialogue. Virtual team members might feel isolated sometimes, so be sure to foster regular, open communication through meetings, one-on-one chats, and tools that make cross-team collaboration simple.
Master virtual leadership
Want to learn more about becoming a remote company during the global pandemic? Download our ebook “Working from home amid COVID-19” to get a better understanding of the challenges teams face when working remotely. That way, you can use your virtual leadership skills to help your teams transition smoothly to remote work.