Many leaders are currently leading their teams online instead of in-person. It’s no surprise that there is now overwhelming and sometimes conflicting advice about how best to be a virtual leader. All the chatter makes it difficult to know where to focus. Below, we highlighted three (3) common challenges in leading a virtual workforce, and how to address them through clarity, connection and trust.
Misunderstanding is more likely when not communicating face-to-face.
When was the last time you misinterpreted what someone intended to say when their words were expressed through text? There are so many subtle context cues we use in interpersonal situations to better understand someone’s meaning and intention. However, most of these cues are only present face-to-face.
When leaders communicate with their teams in virtual spaces, the possibility of misunderstandings around goals and expectations increases dramatically. You can minimize potential missteps by communicating team goals and priorities often and in multiple contexts (verbally in a team meeting, and then again in an email or in your team’s messaging space). Additionally, have an “open door” policy—through email, messaging, or phone calls—to allow team members to address any uncertainties they have about their own goals and tasks.
Performance and productivity decrease without social motivation.
Drawing from the research and ideas of Adam Grant, renowned author and professor of Organizational Psychology at Wharton, one of the biggest challenges facing virtual teams is the breakdown of a shared identity, or the feeling that a team is working towards a common goal. Additionally, team members lose the social motivation (and “healthy” competition) that come from working side-by-side. Working side-by-side toward a common goal has repeatedly been shown to increase an individual’s proactivity, persistence, performance and productivity.
As a leader, how can you help maintain your team’s shared identity and social motivation?
- Give them the space to connect with each other. Ensure there is time before and/or at the end of your team meetings for people to informally interact with each other, just as they would when they walked into or out of a conference room.
- Look for opportunities to provide recognition. In a remote working culture, visual signs of appreciation are almost non-existent, and all humans have a basic need to be recognized for their contributions. Schedule time in your team meetings (or emails) to provide some virtual high-fives. Additionally, invite peers to recognize each other for their contributions and support.
- Creativity (as well as productivity) blossoms in a social environment. In-person collaboration can sometimes feel like the room is bursting with energy and ideas. To keep this energy from dissipating, establish a set time when your team members are online—even if it’s just a couple hours—to help recreate this feeling of in-person “burstiness” or energy explosion. This provides the added benefit of brief, informal interactions, just like they would get when chatting with each other in the office.
Leaders have a tendency to dominate virtual spaces.
One of the initial hopes in developing video-conferencing technology was that it would help to even the playing field and make it easier for everyone to speak up. Unfortunately, the opposite tends to happen, with bosses and outspoken team members dominating the space. The voices of those without authority—or with an introverted preference—get silenced.
Make your virtual spaces more accessible for everyone to speak up. One simple workaround is to enable the chat feature in video calls, and allow members to write out questions or feedback before and/or during a call. Additionally, consider making virtual meetings more participatory by using polls and the chat function to solicit input from everyone (e.g., “If we had to make a firm decision today, would you vote yes or no? Everyone please reply in the chat box.”).
Since some of your team members express themselves better in less public settings, it is a good idea to have regularly scheduled one-on-one meetings, and be sure to include personal check-in time. Leaders who share their own struggles and challenges of working from home provide tacit acceptance for team members to share, reinforcing connection and trust. To make these check-in calls less formal (while promoting greater self-care), you might suggest a walking meeting, where you both dial-in while taking a walk outside.
How Can Innolect Help?
Social connections and trust are paramount when it comes to leading successful teams, but these can be difficult to maintain in a virtual work environment. We encourage you to build spaces for your team that revitalize collaboration, communication, and connection.
For support and assistance on leading your virtual team, contact us to schedule a consultation: