Amid the global pandemic, organizations have faced many new leadership challenges in the virtual world of the workforce. These challenges have made it necessary for companies to embrace a variety of new platforms, tools, and skillsets to help leaders—and employees—adapt to the new normal.
Here are five essential skills that virtual leaders must incorporate for effective leadership.
1. Know when to use synchronous vs asynchronous communication
As companies integrate remote and hybrid work into their business models post-pandemic, one of the most important things leaders must learn is how to best communicate with their employees at any particular time. There are essentially two types of communication to choose from when forming your communication strategy—synchronous and asynchronous.
Synchronous communication occurs when two or more people interact in real-time, with the expectation of immediate responses, all without room for ambiguity:
- Socializing and celebrations
- Meetings necessitating complex discussions
- Dealing with sensitive issues or critical feedback
On the contrary, this type of communication can also encounter hurdles, such as time zone differences, constant direct message disruptions, and less productivity caused by unavoidable interruptions that go hand-in-hand with working in an office environment.
Asynchronous communication is any form of communication that doesn’t occur in real-time and allows for a delay between responses. This type of communication includes email, direct messaging, project management programs, and collaboration tools. In virtual environments, this method of communication is often preferred, due to its several advantages:
- Easy communication across time zones
- Relieves pressure of immediately responding
- More control over the workday with fewer interruptions and more focus
- Better planning and documentation
However—when using asynchronous communication—effective virtual leaders must be aware of feelings of isolation or lack of connection, less spontaneous brainstorming, and longer response times due to time zone differences.
Fortunately, these simple concepts empower leaders to create the right communication strategies—blending both synchronous and asynchronous—that best fit their virtual teams.
2. Make building and fostering relationships a priority
Despite what some may think, it is possible to bond and form relationships even when you’re not all under the same roof. In order to be an effective leader, it’s essential to provide your team with encouragement and reassurance regularly. In order for virtual teams to be a success, leaders must use an empathetic approach to maintain employee morale and motivation.
A good leader acknowledges the challenges everyone faces—and addresses how best to work through them. When employees are struggling to meet deadlines or keep up with company goals—especially in today’s global climate—a lack of communication and transparency can lead them to form inaccurate conclusions, further adding to the stress of the situation.
Remember to keep your employees updated when any changes—whether it involves people, policies, processes, or procedures—are being introduced in the company. Proper communication regarding plans and goals ensures that everyone has a clear direction and aligns their work strategies accordingly.
3. Minimize meetings and define ground rules
Excellent leaders know when it’s necessary to hold a meeting and when everyone needs to be present. In those cases, work with time zones and schedules to best accommodate your team whenever possible.
While it’s important to connect face-to-face at least once a week, virtual leaders also know how to combat Zoom fatigue—a term we all became accustomed back in 2020. Be choosy when selecting required participants, and remember, not everything has to be a meeting. Again, work to identify which method of communication would be more suitable for any given circumstance—synchronous or asynchronous.
Another crucial for virtual meetings is to define ground rules to ensure smooth sailing. Some common guidelines are:
- Set an agenda and assign roles beforehand
- Mute mics to ensure there is no background noise so everyone can hear each other
- Remind participants to limit their distractions
- Keep cameras on whenever possible; face-to-face is more authentic
4. Lead by example and model best practices
Regardless of their role, effective virtual leaders should always model the best practices and behaviors that are expected of the employees. This includes being sensitive and aware of the cultural and diverse makeup of the team.
In the virtual workplace, leading by example is critical to your team’s overall success. Even the simple things like being (and staying) productive and aiming to reply to emails quickly and thoroughly are important. Stay enthusiastic and thank your team for their work—keeping a motivated, positive, and empathetic attitude will empower team members to do their absolute best work.
It’s best to always keep in mind that everyone encounters the stresses of everyday life. By caring for and prioritizing your own mental health and well-being, you will not only be a great role model, but also a successful virtual leader.
5. Establish clear boundaries
By establishing and abiding by your own virtual boundaries, you will be well-equipped to educate your team on setting healthy boundaries, as well.
- Establish a clear distinction between working and non-working hours. Encourage your team to power off at the end of each day. And you do the same.
- Prompt everyone—yourself included—to take several “screen breaks” and do light activities throughout the day.
- Be sure all team members are taking their full PTO allowances, to truly unplug and recharge. Yes, the same goes for you.
- Practice good time management—across the board.
It’s not uncommon for virtual employees to have trouble establishing clear boundaries between work and personal life. This can lead to stress, anxiety, and depression. As a fearless virtual leader, you alone have the power to guide your team in a positive direction, which in turn, brings in positive results.
DB Latimore Professional Services Group is committed to a humanistic and systemic approach to talent development. We specialize in several types of leadership development that cater to the physical, hybrid, and virtual workforces. To learn more or book your complimentary consultation, visit dblatimore.com.