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How to Develop Virtual Leadership Skills

How are you finding managing your teams remotely?

Tough? Better than you thought? Getting better with time?

Maybe you can’t wait for the office to re-open.

But we are now around a year into this huge home working experiment and a return to ‘business as usual’ any time soon appears unlikely.

So, this feels like a good time to take stock and consider how we are doing remotely and what could be improved.

Here are our tips for developing your virtual leadership skills:


Communicate

Good communication has never been more important. If anything, you should be looking to overcommunicate in the current climate where what we see and hear is saturated by news about the pandemic.

That can create concerns and anxieties and it is important our teams feel they are informed and up to date on what is happening in the organisation and that leaders are providing direction. Without it, remote workers can quickly feel isolated and disconnected.

But this does not mean they want an endless succession of Zoom meetings. Not only are they tiring, but they can also prevent your teams from being productive.

The key is to mix it up like you would if everyone was back in the workplace. We have formal meetings in the office, but a lot of the good stuff can also come from the water cooler chats, bumping into a colleague in the corridor or maybe enjoying a walk with someone.

So, alongside your team and individual Zoom meetings, consider other virtual communication methods to not only keep your team informed but also motivated, inspired, reassured and able to have fun.

Video updates are a great communication tool. They enable leaders to be visible but also allow workers to watch and absorb the information at a time that works best for them. And you don’t need any fancy tech to record and edit these videos – just your smartphone.

Instant messaging software is a good way of communicating quickly. You can use it to say ‘hello’, get updates and even just share something funny.

But there is also a place for more traditional communication methods like email and phone, particularly for detailed updates or requests.


Listen

Listening to what our teams are saying is just as important as what we say to them.

It is crucial for building and maintaining relationships and gathering information about the work that is being done and how people are feeling.

Listening is a soft skill that it sometimes overcomplicated by phrases like ‘deep listening’, ‘proactive listening’ and ‘active listening’.

But ultimately you are either listening to what your people are saying to you or you aren’t.

Here are a few tips from our business coaching courses about being a leader who listens well:


  • You listen without an agenda and put aside your concerns.
  • You are interested in what the other person is saying and make them the key topic of the conversation.
  • You let the other person finish speaking and avoid confirmation phrases like ‘ok’ and ‘uh-huh’.
  • You wait for at least two to three seconds before responding, even if you have been asked a question.
  • You don’t assume that you know what the other person means and seek clarification. “How do you mean?” “Help me understand”.
  • You paraphrase what the other person has just said. It is a great way of showing you are not only listening, but are also understanding what is being said.
  • You acknowledge the person you are speaking to when they share something. This shows you care.


Empathy

We might be a year in, but remote working is still something of a learning curve for most of us.

And people are still trying to find the best way of doing it.

Some of your teams will be juggling work with home-schooling and other family commitments. Others may not be tech-savvy. There will be those who feel isolated and some who don’t enjoy the best home-working conditions. And some will undoubtedly be feeling exhausted 12-months in.

So, it remains crucial to regularly ask your employees how they are doing and give them opportunities and time to discuss how they are feeling.

Also, make sure they know the best way to get in contact with you when they have any issues or concerns.

Being prepared to share your story about the obstacles and challenges you are have faced – or are continuing to face - can be key here.

It can help you become more relatable and for others to see your human side more clearly. And it can encourage your team to be more willing and open to talk about their experiences.

Something we stress on our business coaching courses is the importance of being curious and asking the right questions.

This can often be dressed up as asking ‘probing question’, ‘deeper questions’ or ‘third-layer questions’, but it is really about asking the right questions at the right time.

And, if you are listening in the ways we outlined earlier, you are more likely to get these questions right.


Consistent

These are worrying times. We are surrounded by uncertainty and speculation and it doesn’t take much for that insecurity to creep into our working lives.

Let’s say you begin to cancel a few of your team’s weekly check-in meetings. It does not take too much imagination to see how that could start to unsettle some of your team and how they may read more into it than there is.

Similarly, if you start logging in to Zoom meetings suddenly looking tired and washed out, your teams may start to worry about how you are coping and whether you are being open with them about the challenges you are facing.

In times of uncertainty, people search for consistency and security.


Coach

We’ve already spoken about the importance of asking questions.

If the answers to those questions reveal problems and issues, the temptation can be for leaders to try and find all the answers and solutions.

This is particularly true when backs are against the wall.

While you don’t want to create a “don’t bring me problems, bring me solutions” culture, you can’t solve all of your team’s problems.

This is another area where business coaching skills can play an important role. A few simple coaching questions can help employees find the solutions themselves and become more resilient in future.

So, the next time you are presented with an issue by one of your workers, ask them three coaching questions like these:

What is the situation you find yourself in?

How do you think it can be solved?

What is stopping you from doing that?


Informal

Do your teams worry that their children or pets might disturb the team meetings? Do they feel compelled to tidy up the background ahead of team Zoom calls?

While these things certainly matter for meeting with customers and suppliers – or if you are doing remote interviews with the media – are they something to be concerned with for team meetings?

Allowing your teams to be relaxed for these meetings can, at least, remove one of the concerns they might have.

That said, we’d probably draw the line at condoning waist-up only dressing.


Flexible

Managing a remote team requires a lot of flexibility. And Trust.

For many leaders, covid has thrust them into remote management for the first time and without training.

One of the biggest issues that presents is being able to trust our teams and be flexible about when work is done.

But as long as it is done – and to the usual standard – does it matter whether it is carried out during the usual 9-5?

Whereas people normally leave their personal life at home when they work, now our homes have become the office. And we have to fit in all our other commitments into the equation. That means for some, it may be easier to get work done early in the morning or in the evening.

Focus on the output rather than the process.


Positive

It can feel hard for a manager to have a positive outlook at the moment We’ve been thrown into remote management and it has pretty much been a case of sink or swim.

And there remains so much uncertainty in the background.

But our teams look for positivity and being positive helps with motivation.

This doesn’t mean they need everything to be sugar-coated or that they should be shielded from reality.

You can accept things are tough while still showing your employees you are optimistic about the future.

Another way to inject some positivity is to celebrate achievements, successes and milestones – both those that take place in the workplace and outside.


Technology

Virtual leadership relies heavily on technology.

This can be a bit daunting, particularly if you are not confident about using it.

But you need to develop those skills and confidence levels.

There is a lot of technology out there and what is available seems to increase by the day. If that feels intimidating, consider whether you had heard of Zoom this time last year and how often you are using it now.

Work with your teams to understand the technology they think would be the most beneficial and then look to embrace it.




The BCF group has been helping organisations develop their talent, inspire their people and overcome obstacles and challenges for the past 25 years.

We deliver training that makes a difference. Find out more about our business coaching, management training and interpersonal skills options.



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