While working remotely, I have been in online meetings where people are missing because they failed to take time zone differences into account. I have attended 5:00 AM meetings during which leaders sheepishly admitted they forgot the time differences. I have also been that leader who scheduled a virtual meeting without regard for the time differences of participants. Even worse, I once loaded my high-stakes presentation with video clips before realizing that our internal security protocols would not allow anyone to view videos on their end, thus losing my message and impact. I have also made the mistake of failing to stay focused during one-on-one sessions, and have multi-tasked while talking with employees or colleagues, or while on various meetings. Yep, I’m guilty of all of these virtual leadership sins! Here are four simple strategies for you to keep in mind, to help you avoid some common pitfalls.
Strategy #1: Ensure technology supports your intentions
There is no doubt that working remotely requires a specific set of technology assets and unique skills. If you are using a global meeting calculator app to identify the ideal time to meet, or you are identifying ways to maintain focus and engagement, you are proactively adapting to virtual leadership. Spend a quick moment to identify what your intention is, then find a technology or app that supports that. You will save yourself time and potential embarrassment!
Strategy #2: Identify communication preferences and optimal energy times
Navigating the virtual leadership landscape can be tricky, but leaders can learn how to do it. I made some embarrassing virtual leadership mistakes as I transitioned into a global leadership role at a large technology company, but then I learned various strategies that enabled me to lead well in a virtual environment. For example, it can be invaluable to remember each team members’ preferences for ways in which they prefer to communicate and share documents (email, phone, instant message, meetings, shared folders, and calendars, etc.). Equally important is understanding when employees bring the most energy to their tasks. Some employees are most productive early in the day, but others are night owls who are productive in the evening. Knowing communication preferences and energy cycles helps leaders support employees and optimally schedule important tasks, meetings, and projects.
Identifying communication and energy preferences does not have to be an arduous task; I simply asked each person their primary and secondary communication preferences, and when they typically felt the most energy to complete work (or when their ideal time to work was), and then noted it in an Excel sheet. After referencing the Excel sheet a few times, I typically had the individual’s preferences committed to memory. This not only helped establish rapport between us, but also showed them that I took a genuine interest in meeting them where they were: even though our “meeting” was in a virtual environment.
Strategy #3: Foster community
Kendra (not her real name) asked to speak one-on-one with me after a large virtual group meeting. At the time, as Director of the global learning group, I was only holding large group meetings monthly and relying on the managers of the teams to hold weekly meetings to keep groups connected. During our one-on-one meeting, Kendra hesitantly explained to me that she was beginning to feel isolated, losing her sense of connection, and observing social silos creeping into our overall environment. She suggested we should begin to meet as a large group twice a month because she was hearing from others (and she felt the same) that they wanted access to me more often, enjoyed the structure, format and activities of our monthly virtual meetings, and felt that the monthly meetings created camaraderie and connection.
I’ll admit that my initial thought was: “This will be a lot more work for me.” Those monthly meetings took a long time for me to plan, as well-executed virtual meetings usually do. I hesitantly agreed to hold large group meetings twice monthly, and we surveyed the broader group before we launched the new meeting cadence and again after some time to see if the increased frequency was having the desired effect. The survey results were clear: the team experienced greater focus, higher engagement, and more satisfaction overall.
I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the monthly meetings were a great opportunity to invest in developing our people. Inviting all members of the team to plan a portion of the meeting enabled them to develop important new skills, and gave them renewed interest in the meetings. This fostered team trust, and inspired us to celebrate individual and team successes in new and innovative ways.
Strategy #4: Shift from focusing on work activity to work output
Admittedly, early in my leadership career I was a bit of a micromanager. I mistakenly thought that if I could see the work being done, then I could control the outcomes. That is faulty thinking regardless of whether you’re leading in-person or in a virtual leadership role. Leading well in a virtual environment means learning to shift your focus from work activity to work output. By doing so, you encourage your team members’ self-reliance, create time and space for you to facilitate the networking that must occur amongst colleagues, and help to develop the careers of your employees. When a virtual leader creates the environment in which their team can thrive, the output and outcomes don’t need to be micromanaged or seen daily, and the results speak for themselves. Your team members – who now enjoy greater work-life integration – are all the happier for it!
One of the greatest compliments I ever received as a virtual leader came when a colleague from another country remarked: “I never knew you and your team worked from home. It seems like you guys are everywhere – on calls, meetings, in person from time to time, in trainings, writing on blogs…everywhere!” I knew then that the investment I made towards becoming a good virtual leader had paid off.
I hope sharing my lessons learned about working remotely helped guide you… but if you’re still struggling or wanting more support, join me for our virtual program, Leading Virtually™, or schedule a call to work with StartHuman one-on-one. We’re here to help you on your leadership journey.