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What’s the Framework for Virtual Leadership?

Long before the pandemic, remote work was gaining in adoption. From global billion-dollar companies to startups, the shift to telecommuting has long been a smart business choice. It saves money, widens your talent pool, and often yields greater productivity. However, virtual leadership feels new because it probably wasn’t a priority until remote work became more than an option. Now, it’s a necessity. That’s led me to think, what’s the framework for virtual leadership?

Businesses Thrive or Die Because of the People

Every business is made up of people. People are inherently social, and collaboration is a byproduct of this. Moreover, that desire to work together, tackle challenges, and ideate has long been thought of as ideal in an in-person experience . Technology changes the game here, teaching all companies and leaders that collaboration and interaction aren’t limited to  four physical walls. This idea that people are at the center of what matters most in business is the foundation for virtual leadership.

Virtual Leadership Is About Connectedness

The human element in running a business will always be important and in many cases can be a key differentiator for many organizations. Leaders focus on delivering value to customers because they know that’s what keeps people coming back and thus ensures their business succeeds. That focus doesn’t and can’t change because you’re remote. It evolves, and virtual leaders need to realize how critical it is that people feel connected, wherever work might take them. Creating that connection can feel harder nowadays but is  possible by having effective conversations and teamwork sessions that build on ideas and plans collectively. Really, what it boils down to is purposeful communication that fosters connection.

Virtual Leadership Requires Presence

In the context of conversation and collaboration, you can always send emails or messages back and forth to discuss something. It can seem like the easier and quicker choice in many circumstances, but you lose context when it’s just words in an email, or a quick question over chat. You need presence with your team – looking them in the eye, hearing their voice inflections, and seeing their expressions. This will not only give you a better indication of what they need to get their job done, but will also give you the opportunity to understand how they’re doing and ask questions based on their non verbal cues. It may seem like more work in the moment, but will only create a more effective and dedicated team in the long run.

Defining the Virtual Leadership Framework

From a framework perspective, as a leader, I set the tone. I converse over chat with my team all day long, but when we are bringing everyone together to discuss a program or initiative, I want to use video conferencing so that there’s more engagement, and everyone can check in with one another. Some people might not notice it, but a meeting where everyone is just on the phone versus everyone having their camera on has a different quality to it, one where more gets accomplished in my opinion. 

Leadership is about bringing people together to achieve a specific goal. Maybe that was easier in some cases when we were all in the same room. Virtual leadership requires the conscious decision to be present. It brings about new challenges, but also new opportunities and technology is really the catalyst to making it not only possible, but effective. More than just having the capability to be together virtually, these times together need to have the same energy and engagement as they did when we were all in one location. As a leader, you need to make sure your team feels heard.

Leadership has less to do with the leader than you might think,  it’s more about the people around you and what you can achieve together. Everybody needs to work a bit harder to be connected and on the same page. To me, it’s also about being an example. Okay, so a lot of people don’t love being on camera in a video call. That’s normal, but you’ll feel less self-conscious about it when others participate. When I have a meeting with my team, I’m the first to turn on my camera, then others tend to follow suit. I’m not mandating they do it, but I want them to because it’s valuable to see each other, because it adds another layer to communication (remember how I said that it all comes down to communication?).

Virtual Leadership Tips

So, how should you approach virtual leadership? Thus far, in the framework, we’ve talked about the human element, presence, connectivity, and technology. There are a few other tips I’d offer.

  • Check-in with team members often and urge other leaders to do the same with their teams.
  • Video conference fatigue can occur, so choose when to do this. Not everything has to be a video call, especially if it’s a quick discussion.
  • Routines are crucial. I try to start my day just as I would have if I were going into the office. There are distractions along the way that aren’t avoidable—pets, kids, etc. I encourage all remote workers to treat the work area of the house like a business environment and establish boundaries.
  • The final point of the framework is empathy. Leaders who have empathy for their team, customers, and partners are more successful, no matter where they are. Empathy is about really checking in with people and letting them know you’re there for them, that you value them as a person, not just an employee. For example, I have a team member that lives alone. While I have my family in my bubble, she doesn’t have that support system, so it’s really important that she knows I’m here for her. So, I encourage all leaders to show and practice empathy.

More Remote Team Management Insights

If you’d like to learn more about leading a remote workforce, read my blog that references tips for managing remote teams.

About Kirsten Barta

Kirsten Barta is Sr Marketing Communications Manager at Intermedia