The global workplace is becoming more and more reliant on virtual teams, with the IWG survey reporting that 62% of businesses around the world have more flexible workplaces. Increasing amounts of teams are seeing the benefits of remote work and are leaving the office, instead communicating on video conferencing apps like Zoom and collaboration software such as Trello. Some companies are even starting virtual teams from the get go, with people that they have never met in person.
Every virtual team needs virtual leadership; and this can be a somewhat intimidating job. Being a good leader in the workplace is one thing, but managing people that you can’t even physically see is a whole different experience.
First, let’s look at what virtual team leadership actually is.
It is the running of a team who doesn’t work in an office. So, all of the managing is done online, through communication and collaboration software.
There are obviously issues that can come from this, especially because it is such a new style of working. These could include: technological problems, communication issues, cultural differences, a change in attitude and motivation struggles.
It can be a bit intimidating to develop virtual leadership skills; but this blog post should help!
As we all know, the difference between a physical workplace and a virtual workplace is that the latter is online - therefore, it is crucial that a virtual leader becomes well-versed in technology and the right way to use it.
Some suggestions for virtual team leaders would be:
Technology can be a bit daunting - but if a virtual team leader embraces it and spends some time learning about what can work for their specific team, the virtual workplace will already be a lot more positive!
One of the main principles of effective leadership in virtual teams is making good use of collaborative software. Deciding on a project management tool that is fit for your business, ensuring that the whole team is on board and using it to effectively delegate tasks as well as track progress is a great method to stay organised as a virtual team.
Collaborative software examples include:
It’s a great idea to read some reviews about these softwares and find the best ones for the specific business.
The strongest pillar of any successful virtual team should be communication. Virtual team leadership should involve knowing team member’s needs, wishes, and abilities, just as well as a leader would know someone in a physical office. Effective communication in the virtual sphere is therefore really important.
There should be open communication about all sorts of topics: the person’s background, their goals at the company, their life ambitions, their beliefs, and their history. If they are working from another country, it should be a leader’s goal to get to know their country more - both to show interest, and to work out if there may be any cultural differences that should be addressed.
Obviously, there are things that virtual team employees won’t want to share with their manager - just like in physical offices - but there should be the same level of communication with remote employees as there are in normal working situations.
It’s important for virtual leaders to communicate their needs to their employees as well. For example, they should speak about their expectations of employees, how they consider the virtual workplace to run, and any consequences that might derive from certain actions.
Having this established from the get go will really help virtual teams to function proactively.
But it shouldn’t all be serious. Leaders should also arrange fun activities for virtual teams, including team building exercises and quiz nights. This kind of recreational communication will also help to build a great workplace culture.
While many sources report that working from home makes employees more productive - this report from CoSo Cloud says that 77% of employees report greater productivity and 52% say that they are less likely to take time off - it is true that one of the best benefits about working virtually is its flexibility.
Many people join virtual teams because it means that they don’t have to worry about picking the kids up from school, or taking an extended lunch break one day. Generally, it doesn’t mean that they aren’t working the same amount of hours - it’s just that they are fitting the hours around their lifestyle.
To avoid people being absent during important times, it’s advisable to ask them in advance if there are any times when they will be not working, and block in times when people definitely do need to be at their desk. However, don’t make these too frequent, as long as the work gets completed. One of the best virtual team leadership skills is trusting colleagues to get the work done!
If you’re asking yourself ‘which leadership style will be most effective in leading a virtual team?’, you may find it is indeed motivational. If you really believe in your brand, it will shine through and the motivation will rub off on your team.
If you think that there are some issues in your brand, try to address them with the people higher up. Talk to them openly and honestly, and try to fix any issues and subsequently change your perception of the brand. Then focus on the positives of the company and express these to your virtual team.
Be productive as well; aim to reply to emails quickly and thoroughly, stay enthusiastic and thank people for their work. That kind of motivated, positive attitude will make team members want to try their absolute best for you.
Becoming the best virtual leader encompasses many different aspects. An open line of communication is very helpful for virtual teams, as well as different attitudes to how work should be done.
It’s also really helpful to have the right equipment, such as an interactive display and excellent collaborative software. These can really help with the practical side of running a virtual team.
However, the best way to manage a virtual team is to stay positive and motivated, expect hiccups to happen and to try to pass on a level of optimism to colleagues. This will boost worker morale significantly and ultimately, forge the company’s success in the virtual world.