Now You See Them – Now you Don’t: Leading in a Virtual Worod

• Do you have employees, customers, vendors who are located in other geographies?

• Do you have teams that are dispersed across the globe or domestically?

• Do you have telecommuters who work at home or in satellite offices?

What do you need to do differently as a leader to manage those who you rarely or never see face-to-face?

The first rule of thumb is to do whatever you do well managing in a face-to-face environment. If you don’t demonstrate fundamental leadership skills in a virtual world, it is a kiss of death. Here is a list of commonly agreed upon leadership competencies:

1. Set clear performance expectations and accountability.
2. Build trust.
3. Agree on norms for how work gets done.
4. Demonstrate the value of individual and culturally differences.

Each of these skills are critical in a face-to-face world but in a virtual world if you do not practice them your team members will flounder. For example, in a face-to-face world it is easier to build trust because team members are co-located and talk over cubicles or meet at the coffee machine. They chat with one another as they walk into a conference room for a meeting. It is important to simulate these informal encounters in a virtual work environment.

Unfortunately, most teleconferences focus on task only. It is important to take a few minutes at the beginning of virtual meetings to schmooze. What movies have people seen, where did they go on vacation, what recommendations do they have for a family trip, how did the kids soccer game go? Find ways to engage your team in informal conversation to build relationships and develop trust. The content will unfold more readily if virtual team members trust one another.

Another example from the list of fundamental leadership skills above is: Agree on norms for how work gets done: in a virtual world it is important to reach agreements on expectations such as turnaround time for emails and voice mails or the editing or review of documents.

There are additional critical leadership competencies managers need to demonstrate in a virtual world that may not necessarily apply in a face-to-face environment.

1. Coach team members to navigate organizational boundaries: Team members who are not located in the central office may not know who the key stakeholders are, especially those in other functional areas. Team members may not be aware of existing political sensitivities. It is important for the leader to brief team members on key stakeholders. It may also be important to make introductions or to have key stakeholders attend one of your team meetings. Imbuing team members with the organization’s values and norms is important so they can feel a part of the organization and so they can make appropriate decisions.

2. Focus on career development – The major complaint I hear from clients who work virtually is: “Out of sight, out of mind”. Many feel invisible and feel that they may not be considered for promotional opportunities. Thus, it is important for leaders to make a concerted effort to discuss career goals with each team member. Demonstrate an interest in your direct reports’ careers and they will give back in terms of loyalty and productivity.

3. Manage technology: So much work on a virtual team is done using technology. If technology is not your specialty or you don’t have time to keep up with cutting edge tools, delegate that responsibility to someone on the team.

Being a virtual leader has its challenges and rewards. Adapting your leadership skills to a virtual work environment will help you become a better manager and help your team achieve their business goals as well as their personal goals.

Virtual leadership is a reality in today’s workplace. The challenges are real. Although technology provides connectivity, social isolation can create personal and professional problems. Virtual leaders need to acquire new skills and sensitivities to help their team’s work optimally. Here are some resources to help you:

To learn more about virtual leadership and team challenges go to: Virtual Connection

To read more virtual leadership tips and strategies go to: Virtual Connection

Lots of good academic research and information at: Virtual Leadership

Enjoy an ABC News Report: Click here

Sound advice: Click here

Virtually Yours,
Barb Miller

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