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How to prosper in virtual leadership roles

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by Charlotte Gurney

The past year has presented some significant challenges for anyone in a leadership role. Moving to a more virtual style of management where staff aren’t physically present has put many leadership skills to the test and forced those in these roles to find new ways to connect and inspire on a more remote basis. This has been tough at times but there are also some advantages to a more remote working environment and opportunities to prosper in virtual leadership roles.

Moving away from the traditional office environment

Prior to COVID-19 many leaders were used to a traditional office environment in which staff were present in a single physical and social context. It felt much easier to see how relationships were being built and to monitor behavior and provide guidance and motivation. However, this has all changed over the past year and we now find ourselves in a situation where the traditional office environment may never again be the way some businesses exist. So, how is it possible to prosper when leadership becomes more virtual?

Understanding the context

The first step for anyone in a leadership role is to understand the context of remote working for staff. Every home will be different and create alternate obstacles to focus, motivation and confidence, whether that is noise and business or loneliness and isolation. It’s possible to gain some insight into an employee’s life and the challenges they are facing, especially during video calls, but it’s also incredibly important to remember that most of the time these may not be obvious now that working environments are different.

Nurturing effective leadership

There are three ways to prosper in virtual leadership roles:

1. Build trust. This is certainly harder to do in a virtual environment where there is less opportunity for face-to-face contact and exchange of ideas. However, it can be done. Clarity is crucial here, both when it comes to expectations and also what the requirements are for day-to-day working. It will be essential to stick to promises and be reliable in terms of contact and monitoring. Creating opportunities for people to interact, and setting aside time to get to know everyone individually, are also very effective tools.

2. Provide support. When you’re not seeing people regularly it can be difficult to work out what kind of support they need. Remote working democratizes teams as staff have more control and managers get less insight. Effective behaviors here include modelling the way that you want staff to act and scheduling regular one-to-one video chats to check in. Goal setting and performance review will also be very important.

3. Create some social glue for your virtual team. It’s this glue that contributes to motivation, engagement and helping people through tough times. Without shared lunch breaks, employee events etc. it can be missing. The solution is virtual socializing and ensuring that leaders make space for non-work-related chats and interaction, both between themselves and staff and also just between staff.

The virtual nature of many leadership roles today presents challenges but there are still opportunities to prosper.