Amidst COVID-19 pandemic. The role of the leadership is becoming more critical and important than ever. We are seeing social distance and working remotely is becoming new normal. The role of a leaders working and guiding remote teams and keeping them engaged has become a point of discussion today.

In our extensive research, we found that more than 25 percent of virtual teams are not fully performing and 33 percent of teams rate their virtual leaders as less than effective. Making the current situation even more difficult for many leaders is that employees are scattered across different geographic areas and have little face-to-face contact with one another. Hence leading a virtual team or employees who are geographically dispersed has become challenging.

In these challenging times “Effective leadership” remains the best predictor of success and long-term organizational viability, and this was true even before the emergence of the pandemic crisis. Effective leaders are “impact-multipliers,” who work through people, teams and organizations and rely on attributes such as self-awareness, empathy, humility, agility and resilience.

Based on the research here are the 5 lessons learned from successful leaders who have managed virtual teams

Lesson #1: Build Trust

Trust is a crucial factor for effective collaboration on any team. Effective virtual leaders look for new ways to infuse team spirit and trust into their teams, helping to boost cooperation. Leaders build rapport by empowering people to make decisions and encourage them to act on the decisions. They also help people interact informally outside of the team’s work.

Lesson #2:  Empower and motivate team members

In the virtual environment employees are expected to work more independently . which makes it even more important to find ways to delegate work and provide team members the freedom to make decisions on their own. In many cases, team members are dependent upon others to complete work, so leaders must facilitate open communication to ensure that everyone is productive. Effective virtual leaders don’t micromanage they are good at  setting up a system to monitor progress and follow up frequently. They setup smaller teams composed of people interested in specific topics so they can work more autonomously on projects. Feedback and coaching is  provided in a timely manner to the team members besides focussing on accomplishments and contributions of the team members.

Lesson #3. Conduct effective virtual meetings

Leader has an important role to play in ensuring the virtual meetings are meaningful.  In the current environment virtual meetings have emerged as a practical solution to bringing people together to achieve goals. In the absence of regular face-to-face contact, holding frequent virtual meetings becomes increasingly important to keep everyone on the team on the same page. However we have also seen employees getting distracted in these virtual meetings. Hence it is important keep few important things in mind. It is wise to hold shorter meetings and use other emails to share communications. Make sure you have  only necessary meetings and then explicitly involve people in the meeting agenda to ensure high level of engagement. Don’t call for meetings or people without a important reason. You can also consider rotating the facilitator to engage other team members in meetings.  

Lesson #4 : Create a “high-touch” environment

Communications technology has made virtual teaming possible, but such platforms are obviously not a perfect substitute for human interaction. It can be easier for team members to become isolated, focusing solely on their work without a lot of social interaction. Collaborative software and video conferencing platforms enable employees to interact with one another regularly, helping to create a high-touch environment that makes relationship building possible. A few other tips that virtual leaders can use include. It is suggested to use videoconferencing versus audio-only meetings to foster engagement. You can also create opportunities for virtual coffee chats, lunches or virtual happy hours to help people engage with other team members.

Lesson #5 : Soft Skills are critical

Soft Skills are extremely essential in leading a virtual teams.  As a leader you must work to maintain frequent communication between members, coach and inspire your teams to achieve goals and manage conflict. Soft skills, in particular, are important for leading virtual teams, as leaders must work to maintain frequent communication between members, inspire people to achieve goals and manage conflict. Companies are conducting virtual team building session to help members socialize and get to know each other. Organizations are also  continuously assessing the development need of team member and then conducting skill building focussed on identified areas of improvements.

Leadership matters more than ever in uncertain times. With remote working and virtual teams becoming the new normal, attributes such as self-awareness, empathy, humility, agility and resilience are even more important if leaders are going to effectively build trust, develop strong relationships, coach from a distance and hold employees accountable for performance.

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