Skills for Effective Virtual Leadership

Managing remote teams inevitably introduces a different set of challenges for leaders, and given that many companies intend to continue with virtual work for the foreseeable future, it is important that remote leaders are confident in effective techniques for managing distributed teams, so they can motivate them and maximise their potential.  

To start, while strong communication skills are a vital component of effective leadership in all settings, the virtual environment may require a higher degree of clarity. Indeed, in the absence of physical cues and body language indicators which help team-mates to understand what others mean, it may be even more important to ensure that messages are clear and less open to misinterpretations or ambiguityas these can result in team or organisational failures like work delays or missed deadlines.  

Additionally, building and maintaining trust can be particularly important in remote work where managers cannot physically see their teamsespecially because it can help prevent the occurrence of micromanagementwhich can have detrimental effects on team morale, employee engagement, and even cause employees to leave. Indeedone study showed that micromanagement was in the top 3 causes of voluntary attrition.  

Some techniques to increase trust and help to avert micromanagement include getting to know employees betteras well as making a deliberate effort to see individuals´ actions in a positive light – as opposed to automatically assuming the worst. Furthermore, delegating and setting realistic and measurable goals may also help to combat micromanaging tendencies, give employees the space to be creative, and be conducive to trust. These steps can be seen as part of a management style which focuses on goal attainment and output, as opposed to presenteeism and input. 

Following the shift to home working, some companies have observed that virtual work has caused departments to become more separated and isolated from one another. Where this is the case, making an effort to regularly set up meetings with divisional counterparts can be useful in maintaining organisational communication, synchronisation, and staying appraised of how team projects relate to larger business goals. 

Finally, being capable of demonstrating empathy is important as a remote leader, as virtual teams may require specific emotional support and understanding amid the crisis and the challenges of working from homeEach member of the workforce is situated in a unique domestic environment and will inherently face different challenges. For instance, childcare responsibilities or lack of office furniture/equipment may cause some to experience stress, and as such, they may benefit from adjustments or additional support. In these situations, being aware and empathetic towards employees´ personal situations can be a good foundation for providing this support, achieving engagement, and delivering a positive employee experience. 

References: 

  1. What Are Virtual Leadership Skills? January 2018, HR Daily Advisor.
  2. Five core skills for remote leaders, March 2014, Management Issues. 
  3. A Guide to Managing Your (Newly) Remote Workers, March 2020, Harvard Business Review. 
  4. 4 Essential Skills for Virtual Leadership, May 2020, BizLibrary.
  5. Leading Distributed: The Remote Guide to Management, Twist.