Leadership is challenging, and when you add a virtual workplace into the equation, the level of complexity and complications go even higher. The qualities of a good leader are thrown more sharply into focus when you need to manage an entirely remote team successfully. There’s no such thing as “management by walking around” or any of those leadership styles that benefit from being in an office.
While fundamentally, leadership stays generally the same, the unique aspects of being a leader in a virtual environment can be tricky. For example, you’ve got to consider the logistical issues of scheduling across time zones, communicating virtually, and overall, how you’re going to foster teamwork remotely.
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You must create unity within your team and ensure that you are working towards the same goals. A study from Harvard University revealed that leaders need to develop a common identity and understanding for their virtual teams. Without it, virtual team members are especially prone to “us versus them” thinking and the perils of incomplete information. You can’t have soloists or teams developing within your team. Everyone has to be enrolled towards a single purpose, although they are working on different things. Create opportunities for you and your team to connect via weekly meetings and even online calls that are not solely about work. Create a team culture that everyone will feel comfortable and happy to be in.
According to the aforementioned study at Harvard regarding digital work environments:
“Digital dependence often impedes information exchange, however. For example, in face-to-face teams, participants can rely on nonverbal and contextual cues to provide insight into what’s going on. When we walk into an in-person meeting, we can immediately sense the individual and collective moods of the people in the room—information that we use (consciously or not) to tailor subsequent interactions. Having to rely on digital communication erodes the transmission of this crucial type of intelligence.”
Communication is so important when you have a virtual team. Finding ways to ensure that there are many channels and platforms to communicate is imperative to your success. Always be clear about expectations and be open to any incoming information. Please make yourself available to your team and let them know that sending over an instant message or a call is more than ok.
Manage your processes and information
Creating processes is very important, so is documentation. Make sure that both your processes and documentation are always up to date and organized. Over time, you will find that your processes need tweaks, so analyze them and discuss them frequently with your team to get them just right. Also, be sure that you religiously document and organize all your data, etc. Hand in hand with your processes, this will be the foundation of your business, and you must be the one to spearhead this.
The qualities you need to be an effective leader for a virtual team do not stray too far from a leader’s need in any other situation. Patience, openness, responsiveness, and flexibility will always give you good results. All you have to do is pair those qualities with the strategies mentioned above. You will hit it out of the park for sure.