Five Strategies to Lead Effectively in Today's Virtual Workplace
In today's virtual world of work, entire businesses are run online by employees who work from home. Learn how to make virtual meetings and collaboration more effective in building team synergy and performance.
Have you seen the YouTube video Conference Call in Real Life
? It has over 11.5M views! Go ahead – I give you permission to stop reading and click on the link to watch. It will put a smile on your face and make this conversation more relevant.
So are you now cringing because this hits too close to your work reality? In our tech-enabled world we enact these scenarios every day. We live and breathe technology-enabled work – virtual meetings, virtual teams, email, IM, Google hangouts, Skype, WebEx, LiveMeeting, and the list goes on. Welcome to the world of technology-enabled collaboration – if we can call it that!
This has become so commonplace now, have you stopped to consider how technology creates a very different, and often challenging working environment for leaders and their teams? With so much value in our ability to connect virtually, the tech-dazzle can blind us to the unintended consequences. Unless we consciously think about how we approach a tech-enabled working environment, it can significantly undermine our effectiveness as leaders in driving business forward and engaging our teams.
Time now to stop and think
These challenges are apparent during leadership seminars when I ask attendees to consider how the tech-enabled workplace impacts their ability to lead effectively and credibly. In a recent “Leader as Coach” program for a senior team of pharmaceutical executives, here’s a sampling of what I heard from these leaders:
“All my employees are in different geographies and time zones. I can’t see them. I don’t know what they do on a daily basis. I don’t know how they are reacting to my feedback, so we just meet on an exception basis – when a problem arises. How can I coach them and build any type of trusting relationship when I’ve never met them in person?”
“Conducting conference call meetings with my team is a nightmare. No one speaks up – only a few – so who knows what they are doing? People are taking the calls in the airport, in the car. Once someone put us on hold and we heard music and had to end the meeting. They aren’t productive, so I hold them less frequently.”
“I have an employee in Brazil who reports to me, and I can’t get him to deliver work on time! I don’t know what to do. I send email after email, and he may get back to me, he may not. He is a talented employee, and I don’t want to lose him – but this can’t continue.”
We need to acknowledge that ‘virtualness’ does impede us. And as leaders, we need to be purposeful and thoughtful on how to operate differently – perhaps by using specific strategies that will bring human connection to the forefront of our tech-enabled work environments. This is absolutely critical in order to support our teams and our businesses. This does not come naturally for most of us, but it’s a skill we can learn.
Rethinking your leadership approach for the virtual work environment
Take a look at the following suggestions for driving business success in your tech-enabled workplace. Which will you put into practice?
1. Give thought to how (or if) you are fostering relationships and building trust – don’t confusion task collaboration for relational connection. Relationships are especially important. Team synergy, team performance and individual engagement increase with personal connections. To build trust, focus on:
Process and structure—Insist on habitual routines for working, ground rules for behaving, and tools for coordinating tasks/knowledge
Clear goals—Establish the direction, set specific measurable individual goals, and provide ongoing feedback
Relationship-building—Allot time to connect on non-work topics. Highlight each individual’s unique competence/expertise (anonymity is not an option). Use tools that allow real-time face-to-face exchanges (webcams, Skype, Google hangouts). If possible, schedule at least one annual in-person meeting
2. Use good virtual meeting management practices. Make virtual meetings worth attending and give each person a role. Virtual meetings aren’t the place for updates – those can be done through email – meetings are the place for discussion, input and exchange of ideas. Ensure that technology serves as an enabler, not as an excuse or a collar. As a leader, stay connected and available.
3. When selecting employees consider their suitability for working virtually and independently. Offer training and support for employees to help them master this way of working and don’t assume competence or confidence even if your organization has been working this way for many years.
4. Take the lead in creating a forum for positive conflict. Positive conflict – in other words, overt productive disagreement - is critical for teams to mature and achieve peak performance and is especially difficult to accomplish in a virtual working environment. Set the protocols for doing so:
Develop a method for managing conflict / disagreement as part of your team structure and process
Ask members to look at how their methods of handling disagreements may harm or help the group’s performance
Assume purposeful and overt leadership. The team cannot mature or build trust until everyone feels at ease with disagreement and openly discussing differences of opinion.
5. Build leadership competencies that are critical to success in a tech-enabled environment. Consider, for example, how well you – their leader - are able to:
Effectively communicate vision and lead with clearly articulated expectations
Demonstrate strong listening skills, modeling and encouraging clear understanding between self and others
Create collaboration and connection without the option of in-person meetings
Drive accountability for actions team members have agreed to complete
While the Conference Call in Real Life plays it for laughs, the underlying message couldn’t be more serious for leaders who have to manage through virtual connections. Becoming more conscious of your approach to meet and master the challenges of the tech-enabled environment can help you lead your team to greater success in the virtual workplace.