Virtual leadership skills for a remote workforce

Post-pandemic, remote work is at an all-time high, and the trend is here to stay. While some companies have opted to work remotely full-time, others are testing hybrid work models where employees are required to come into the office twice or thrice a week and have the flexibility to work from home the remaining days. 

Though remote work has many benefits, it’s not without a few drawbacks. Some employees struggle with isolation, feeling detached from the rest of the team and finding it hard to maintain a work-life balance. As such, the need for managers to possess exemplary virtual leadership skills is vital. Similar to in-person managers, virtual leaders need to ensure that employees are motivated and inspired to accomplish their goals while working remotely.

Following are some of the top leadership qualities managers should possess for a remote work culture:

1. Communicating effectively

For employees working from home, it is easy to feel left out and disconnected from the company due to the lack of face-to-face interactions and having no one to physically check on them. This is where effective communication comes into play; managers need to proactively maintain contact with their employees by asking questions regarding work, such as task progress and obstacles they’re facing in achieving their targets. It is also important to remind your employees that they can come to you for help with any issues despite you not being in the same vicinity as them physically. Further, it is preferable to conduct video meetings rather than just voice calls as this will enhance communication through facial expressions and body language while leaving less room for misunderstandings. 

2. Being tech-savvy

As a virtual leader, you must be digitally fluent and able to provide basic technical support to your employees to ensure the team as a whole can function efficiently online. The more technologically proficient you are, the easier it will be for you to help your team communicate and collaborate virtually. It will be beneficial for you to have a sound grasp of concepts such as video conferencing, file sharing, online presentations and utilising project management tools taught in PRINCE2 Foundation and Practitioner training in the UK. 

3. Being flexible

A major advantage for remote workers is the ability to work non-traditional hours. Some may have parenting roles at home, some could be based in different parts of the world, and others may simply prefer working evenings or nights. As a virtual leader, you will sometimes have to adapt to your team members’ schedules even if they’re outside your preferred working window. It is important to understand that different people have different working styles, and as long as they are helping the company produce the desired output, they can work at their flexibility.

4. Delegation

Delegating work is an effective way to save time and assign responsibility to others. Not only does it reduce the load off your shoulders, but also helps your team members improve their skills and take accountability. You can sign up for a project management programme such as PRINCE2 Foundation and Practitioner official exams package that uses a process-based methodology which can assist you in breaking down projects into small easy-to-handle tasks. While delegating work, it is important to ensure you don’t end up micromanaging your team members, as this can make them feel untrusted and demotivated, especially if you’re calling or checking on them constantly at home. Instead, show that you trust them to accomplish the tasks assigned to them by holding catchup calls weekly or even bi-weekly and letting them know that you’re always available to help. 

5. Building connections

With a traditional office setup, events such as seminars and team gatherings were frequent occurrences, making it easy for team members to form connections with one another. With a remote workforce, however, there are hardly any opportunities to connect. Hence, a leader needs to be able to build connections virtually. One-on-one catchup calls are a great place to begin. During these, you should take a personal interest in the lives of your team members, asking them about their families, interests, how they’re managing working from home and whether they feel like they’re part of the company. They are all good conversation starters. You can also organise virtual events such as quiz nights and hold other team-building activities. 

6. Motivational

While working from home may initially seem extra productive, it soon becomes tiring and mundane similar to working at the office. There is research that suggests employees working from home struggle with remaining motivated, citing the lack of physical peers as the main reason. Therefore, an important virtual leadership skill is being able to motivate your employees. Some ways this can be achieved are providing a clear pathway for promotions, maintaining regular communication, setting an example by accomplishing targets the way you’d like your employees to do, and giving feedback (see next point). A nice gesture would also be to make arrangements to send small tokens of appreciation on employee birthdays, provided it is within the company budget/rules.  

7. Giving feedback

In a traditional office setup, an employee who lands a client closes a deal, or does a good job at something, receives a pat on the back or a high-five. However, none of this can be done virtually, hence, a good leader needs to give feedback whenever possible. It doesn’t have to be positive feedback all the time, you can also talk about areas that need improvement and how they can perform better. This ensures that employees feel seen and are constantly performing to their best abilities.  

In addition to the above, using the right tools to perform regular tasks is vital as it can reduce unwanted stress and wastage of time. This is where project management plays a key role as it enables you to make data-driven, efficient decisions, making you a better leader. PRINCE2 Foundation and Practitioner including both official exams is a globally recognised course designed to equip leaders with valuable leadership skills that can be applied virtually, such as maintaining transparency, delegating tasks and monitoring team members’ progress. Good leadership doesn’t necessarily need a physical presence; equipping yourself with the necessary virtual leadership skills will allow you to lead successfully from anywhere.

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