Leadership is about making others better as a result of your presence and making sure that impact lasts in your absence. Leadership exists even when people are not in front of you. Leadership is about being available to guide and help others. Leading virtually requires a leader to use technology in appropriate ways that support their remote team. Leaders who do this well have more engaged, higher-performing employees.
Establishing ground rules and identifying the collaboration tools are two considerations that must be addressed when leading virtually. Collaboration tools allow the team to communicate more efficiently. The tools selected vary from organization to organization. Ground rules can be provided to the team, or as a team, you can decide the rules and expectations together to get the most buy-in and efficiency for the virtual interactions. These rules could include how often people will be expected to contact each other, whether the team will use chat or direct messages, the expected response time for communication, etc. Collaboration tools, for which there are many, can make the group interactions more efficient.
When leading virtually:
- Be transparent with your employees about what’s going on with projects. This helps them stay up to date and feel more comfortable about communicating with you when they need help or have questions.
- Lead by example. Actions always speak louder than words. If you expect people to contact you for help or take initiative, make sure you are available and do the same.
- Use technology well. Technology allows leaders to communicate across time zones easily, but it can also be inefficient if not used correctly. Clearly establishing which forms of communication will be used for what purposes reduces confusion about when something should be done or answered via chat vs. email.
- Focus on quality, not speed. Taking the time to carefully consider your responses is much more important than answering immediately because miscommunication may occur due to different time zones or cultures/languages being used.
- Provide context. Ensure people know what’s happening outside their team, so they aren’t left in the dark when they need information. This could be through group chat, updating projects in software tools, or other means to avoid anyone being stuck not knowing what’s going on outside of their part of the work.
When working virtually:
- Be proactive: There are fewer boundaries to make us feel like we can’t send a message about something that doesn’t belong specifically to our role. This is beneficial for people who may not always ask questions because they don’t want to bother others or feel like they shouldn’t speak up if it isn’t relevant to them. If you see an opportunity for your team to do something better but don’t say anything, you’re not prioritizing them finding ways to improve.
- Be considerate: When sending emails, use clear and concise language and respond promptly. If you don’t get back to someone immediately, give them regular updates if they’re waiting on information from you.
- Be available: When working virtually, check in often with your team. Keep in contact, even if it’s to say hello. This shows that you value them and truly want to know how things are going for them.
- Be supportive: When people aren’t face-to-face, there is less body language available to help determine what the person means when they are communicating. Therefore, using a supportive tone is essential to ensure people know you’re listening and understand what they are saying.