Running a company effectively takes great leadership skills, even in the best of times. Of course, these are not the best of times. A global pandemic has fueled a boom in remote work around the world. That makes leadership skills even more important…in this case virtual leadership skills.
As CEO of a remote work staffing agency, DistantJob (both in the COVID-19 era and for years beforehand), I’ve learned from experience that virtual leadership can make or break a company that employs remote workers. Learning how to lead a virtual organization requires a different skill set than the one you’d use to preside over a central office work environment.
Let’s take a look at some of the best practices for effective virtual leadership, and the key skills all virtual leaders need to succeed:
Give Your Employees the Tools to Succeed
If you’re the CEO of a company with a large number of remote workers, investing in technology can offer many benefits.
First, state-of-the-art tech can boost company productivity. Paying for super high speed Internet enables your remote workers to connect seamlessly to teleconferences and perform other collaborative work that can gobble up bandwidth in a hurry. If your company operates with a hybrid in-office/remote setup, you can turn your physical conference room into an interactive studio to get everyone more engaged during virtual meetings. High-end microphones and headphones can also improve workers’ ability to connect, leading to less wasted time troubleshooting tech issues and thus more productive workdays.
The other big benefit of all those tech tools is that they can make remote workers feel more involved on a psychological level. Going from a central office with dozens of colleagues all around you to stuck at home alone working from your kitchen table can feel like a jolt to the system. The easier it is for remote workers to link up with their colleagues, the more connected they will feel.
Monitor and Nurture Your Employees Mental Health
Continuing our earlier theme, virtual leadership skills absolutely must include caring about your remote workers’ state of mind. There are numerous ways to display virtual leadership in 2020, as so many of us deal with the mental health repercussions of COVID-19.
For starters, make time for one-on-one meetings with your employees, so you can see how they’re doing. They’ll appreciate the individual attention they’re getting, especially if you make it clear you’re checking in because you truly care. If your company is too big to make one-on-one meetings feasible with each and every remote worker, assign managers to carry out those same one-one-one check-ins.
Another good way to display virtual leadership related to positive mental health is to encourage fun activities for your employees. Turn the Monday morning meeting into an opportunity for people to talk about what they did over the weekend. Arrange periodic virtual happy hours to foster company camaraderie. If your employees are feeling overwhelmed and isolated by being stuck at home all day, consider a small budget to pay for employee child care, so that your remote workers can have an occasional date night or night out with friends to unwind.
Foster Open and Honest Communication
Many companies pay lip service to the idea of communication. At DistantJob, we take it to the next level.
First, both myself and the other managers at the company meet regularly with remote workers to give them feedback on how they’re doing. Letting employees know where they stand is one of the key skills all virtual leaders need. That means giving them positive feedback as often as is warranted, to let them know that they’re doing a good job. It also means offering constructive criticism when necessary. If you make honest, blunt feedback a regular part of your company culture, your employees will learn to take criticism in stride, and use it as motivation to improve every day.
The key is that honest and blunt feedback go both ways. You’ve reached the height of virtual leadership skills when an employee can reach out to you via Slack, Zoom, or whatever other platform you use to stay connected, and tell you the ways in which you as a boss have fallen short. If you want to expect your remote workers to improve by absorbing criticism, you should show your own virtual leadership abilities by likewise taking constructive feedback and using it to become a better boss.