5 Keys to Effective Virtual Leadership

Virtual jobs have been a growing trend in the past 10 years, but the coronavirus epidemic has launched companies into the deep end of virtual team creation and management.

Virtual leadership holds its share of challenges, but if you do it right it also presents unique opportunities.

A publication by the American Psychological Association states that remote employees report increased performance, job satisfaction, and feelings of commitment to their organization. On the flip side, social and professional isolation, blurring of boundaries between work and personal life, and information sharing difficulties are common challenges encountered by virtual employees.

So how can company leadership create and lead effective virtual teams?

Attention to 6 key factors not only sets up employees for success, but creates a virtual workplace culture in which employees remain connected, committed, and motivated.

1. Emphasize Culture in the Onboarding Process

In virtual work situations, new employees do not have the opportunity to be physically immersed in the organizational culture that is present in an on-site work environment.

To compensate, the virtual onboarding process needs to place more emphasis on the company’s culture including the values, systems, and traditions that the company is built on.

Devote time to discussing the core values of the company and how employees can emanate these values while working remotely. Set clear expectations of expected behaviors that exemplify the core values. This gives the employee direct guidance on expected behavior and helps them understand the team culture they will be a part of when interacting with their coworkers.

In addition to these discussions, onboarding needs to include the small details that an employee would experience in on-site onboarding.

In addition to discussing the company culture, talk about the fun weekly or monthly traditions the company observes. Set up one-on-one video meetings with individuals from various departments to help the new employee establish connections and get a better feel for the company culture.

2. Create a Team Environment and Foster a Feeling of Belonging

One of the challenges of managing virtual teams is the lack of connection: it is harder to feel like part of a team when employees are not at the same physical location.

Small but important rituals such as greeting fellow employees as you walk to your office or pre-meeting social discussions are easily lost in the virtual workplace. Successful managers in a virtual work environment need to create the above scenarios in unique ways.

Start virtual meetings with each employee answering a fun question of the day. Traditions like employee of the month, meetings that start with shout-outs of work well done, or theme meetings and lunches help foster connection, reinforce the company culture, and help new employees feel like they are a part of the team.

Virtual team building “retreats” are another way to keep your team connected.

3. Emphasize Shared Goals

When managing virtual teams, it is important to emphasize the shared goals of the team. A shared sense of purpose builds team spirit and cohesiveness.

Defining each team member’s role in these shared goals helps employees see that they are part of a greater purpose.

Use weekly, monthly, and quarterly meetings to broadcast your team’s goals and to shout out individuals’ contributions toward goal achievement.

Outline how one team’s goals align with and/or further another team’s goals. This increases team collaboration and strengthens a team culture.

4. Create Casual Communication Channels

One of the most difficult things to replicate for virtual employees is the casual conversation that occurs in an on-site workplace.

If employees are allowed and encouraged to connect over more than just work, it creates stronger social bonds and, in turn, a stronger company culture.

This Fast Company Magazine article references a study in which employees given the opportunity for 15 minutes to chat and socialize with coworkers showed a 20% increase in performance.

Start with the aforementioned meeting openers: a get-to-know-you question or asking everyone about their weekend helps your team get to know each other better.

Model creative virtual leadership and encourage team leaders to plan intentional events that foster casual conversation and team bonding such as:

  • Virtual lunches or happy hours
  • Choose a team member each week to give a virtual tour of their home workspace
  • Put together a quiz filled with random facts about team members and have team members match employees with their facts

5. Utilize Discussion Forums and Virtual Team Rooms

In Keith Ferrazzi’s Harvard Business Review article Getting Virtual Teams Right, he emphasizes the importance of discussion forums and virtual team rooms. Software such as Microsoft SharePoint and Moot allows team members to present information to a larger group for coworkers to review and comment on.

This collaborative discussion, termed “messy talk,” is deemed by scholars as critical for successful completion of complex projects.

By eliciting feedback from a broader group within the company, valuable feedback – sometimes received from unexpected sources – is elicited for the project. This data not only benefits the project at hand but is stored in a searchable database for future reference.

Set Virtual Team Members up for Success

Be up front about the challenges and benefits of working remotely.

Help your virtual teams avoid possible productivity pitfalls by sharing these 9 Key Remote Work Strategies to Avoid Distraction.

Periodically touch base with employees and ask what struggles they are experiencing. Work with them to address and eliminate these challenges.

Make Effective Virtual Team Management Part of Your Company Culture

Virtual leadership is an increasingly vital component of company success. Implementation of the above 6 steps will get you off to the right start.

For more tips on successful virtual team management, check out these articles:

Adjusting Your Business in Response to the Coronavirus

Celebrating the Holidays at Work


Is virtual management leaving you with no time to focus on your company’s growth and success?

Robin Kramer is an Online Business Manager that has been working with small businesses for 23 years. She can help you analyze your overwhelming to-do list to identify what tasks need your executive expertise, and which ones she can manage for you to free your valuable time.

To learn more about Robin’s skills and how she could help your business, contact her for a free consultation today


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