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Virtual Leadership: How to Lead a Virtual Team

Andrew Langat
February 24, 2023
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At the height of Covid-19, when social distancing became the norm and companies increasingly operated online, many companies were forced to adjust to the new reality.

It was also a steep learning curve for leaders who became virtual leaders, with most having no prior training.

The effect of Covid-19 might have significantly been controlled, but many companies have adopted remote working as the new reality of working.

According to research by Industry Research, 74% of companies plan to make changes to ensure employees work remotely after the Covid-19 pandemic.

Many companies are creating a new position aptly called the head of remote to manage remote team members.

This position is worth consideration for leaders with the right leadership behaviors.

In this article, we will learn what virtual leadership is, its importance, essential virtual leadership skills, and essential skills needed to be an effective virtual leader.

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What is Virtual leadership?

Virtual leadership is a type of leadership where remote workers are managed through a remote working environment.

Virtual leadership is almost similar to the traditional model, as the leader guides and motivates employees to accomplish their objectives. However, virtual leaders take a different management approach than the traditional office setting, where a leader could physically work with team members or schedule physical meetings.

Virtual leaders focus more on technological tools to facilitate remote collaboration.

So what makes Virtual leadership different the traditional leadership roles?

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What are the Best Practices To Lead Virtual Teams?

Virtual leadership has different challenges than the traditional setup when leading teams. For one, if you are leading remote employees without motivation, the physical absence of the leader may result in poor delivery.

Here are some virtual leadership skills one needs to have to lead a virtual team effectively:

1. Instill the need for regular updates and feedback.

Creating the need for regular updates and feedback helps the employees involved.

Regular feedback, such as 360-degree feedback, will improve performance and help employees learn about areas of improvement.

Regular updates help keep team members informed about important developments, changes, and project progress. This can help ensure everyone is on the same page.

Providing regular feedback and updates shows a commitment to transparency and openness. This can help enhance trust among team members, which is a good indicator of an excellent virtual leader.

2. Develop communication guidelines.

Effective team communication is essential to leading remote teams. Virtual leaders must set clear expectations and guidelines for when and how to communicate with team members.

This should guide areas such as mandatory meetings, communication etiquette, preferred video conferencing tools, etc.

Without clear guidelines, an employee may send an urgent message via email instead of text or some other instant messaging app, not knowing that their colleague may not check their email soon enough.

Creating effective communication guidelines can be a collaborative activity for the team to share their communication preferences.

Open communication channels can be available on Skype, WhatsApp, zoom, or phone calls.

As a good policy for efficient virtual communication, inform all parties, including the agenda, before meetings and set clear expectations.

3. Build up on transparency and honesty.

Trusting someone in an online space nowadays is complex, and no one likes working with someone with hidden agendas. Good leaders create transparent atmospheres where they can build trust. This is why integrity is important in leadership.

Virtual leaders are responsible for setting and maintaining transparency in the team. Leaders can do this by communicating openly with team members and encouraging open communication.

Transparency is necessary for building trust among team members. When employees are at risk of feeling left out, transparent communication can keep them in the business and the team's work.

4. Learn how to use technology well

An important aspect of great virtual leadership skills is learning to use technology to your advantage. Remember that when you accept to lead remote teams, you will likely come across a diverse set of workers who might not know the essential skills for online communication.

They will rely on your direction for effective trading. Learn how to use various tools for video conferencing, instant messaging, and project management.

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What are the Essential Virtual Leadership Skills?

Virtual leaders need to have the following skillsets.

1. Process Analysis skills

Successful remote teams have a process that works, and their leaders have a part to play. As a leader, you must give your team a place to start with an articulated process.

Over time, team members can offer suggestions to improve processes, but it can take time to rise above the chaos if you haven't given them a start. Processes in a virtual team can be restricted in ways that those in co-located teams aren't. As a virtual leader, you must find a process that can work and maintain it to achieve successful ends.

2. Human connection skills

As a virtual leader, you must create a human connection, foster a strong business culture, guide an ever-changing professional landscape, and lead employees toward a shared purpose. This calls for great interpersonal skills and emotional intelligence.

Research by Harvard shows that virtual leaders must develop a common identity and understanding of their virtual teams. Finding ways to bond as a virtual team is one of the virtual leaders' responsibilities to encourage teamwork. You can't usually do an in-person team-building session, but you can set up processes that become part of the virtual culture.

4. Great communication skills.

As a virtual leader, you need to have good communication skills. Body language and tone are often missing in a virtual setting. Therefore, you need to be good with your words.

Some virtual teams rely on tools such as instant messaging apps for immediate communication needs and email for detailed messages. Still, those are missing the vital contextual clues that voice or in-person.

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What is the difference between Virtual leadership and Traditional leadership roles?

Some differences between the two are classified into the following:

1. Leadership style.

In virtual leadership, leaders cannot physically control the day-to-day operations and monitor each member's activities. Therefore, they delegate virtual work.

2. Relationship building.

In traditional leadership, leaders meet their team members daily, and they tend to develop close ties. A rapport is created when they interact face to face.

While virtual leadership focuses heavily on tasks, leaders are more task oriented. Furthermore, identifying facial and verbal cues is difficult and does not allow a personal touch in communication.

3. Decision-making and knowledge exchange.

In traditional leadership, information is exchanged during informal discussions. But in virtual leadership, employees have limited access to information. Therefore, there is a need for more frequent updates on project status and building a shared database to provide all the essential information to the team

When the time zone differences in global virtual teams are considered, it becomes challenging to schedule meetings. Thus in the case of virtual leadership, times delays occur in fixing a problem or reaching a consensus.

Traditional team sessions can be called anytime when all the members are together in the office, resulting in quick decisions and problem-solving.

4. Team members.

Traditional teams are on the same page and time zone, while in virtual teams, the team members can be multicultural, from different cultural backgrounds, and work in different time zones.

5. Communication.

In Virtual leadership, interaction among the virtual team members is mediated via information technology. On the other hand, traditional leadership depends on face-to-face interaction.

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What Are Virtual leadership Styles?

When leading remote teams, no one-leadership approach can be used. Remote leaders need to tailor their virtual leadership strategies to the specific needs of the team members.

Here are some leadership styles that a virtual leader can consider:

1. Servant leadership style.

Servant leaders put the needs of their team before theirs. They focus on helping others develop and grow and always look for ways to make things easier for their team members.

Servant leaders typically have strong emotional intelligence skills and can build trust and respect within their teams.

The type of leader you need will depend on your team's needs. If unsure which style would work best, try experimenting with different approaches until you achieve your desired outcomes.

2. Transformational leadership style.

Transformational leaders inspire change and motivate others to reach their full potential. They do this by providing a clear vision, setting high standards, and providing employees with realistic expectations.

Transformational leaders are often able to create passionate and engaged teams that are constantly striving to improve.

3. Participative leadership style.

This style of virtual leadership focuses heavily on actively involving team members in decision-making. Participative leaders ask for input from employees and consider their suggestions when making decisions.

This leadership style often leads to higher levels of employee engagement and satisfaction. It can also help to build trust and improve communication within the team.

4. Authoritarian leadership style.

Authoritarian leaders are those who make decisions without input from others. This style of virtual leadership can be effective in some situations, such as when there is a need for quick decision-making or when employees are not yet ready to take on more responsibility.

However, this leadership style can also lead to frustration and resentment in the whole team. It's important to use this style sparingly and only when essential.

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Which Leadership Style Best Suits a Virtual Team?

A combination of transformational and participative leadership styles is best suited when leading virtual teams. The two may not necessarily offer what remote employees need, but both aspects may help virtual leaders manage their entire team more effectively.

Remote teams need autonomy and flexibility to be successful. They require little oversight to be able to sustain their tasks and projects. Transformational leadership usually emphasizes employee ownership, and initiative supports this outcome.

Remote work can feel lonely and isolating, and team members can find it challenging to measure their performance without contact from their virtual leader. Virtual teams need to be connected with the business culture. Therefore, adopting a Participative leadership style will ensure the workforce is engaged in strategic conversations and can share their input and expertise, helping teams accomplish their objectives.

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How can you create a virtual culture that lasts?

Successful organizations, companies, and businesses have spent a better part of the last 10-15 years building a positive work environment to retain and attract talent. Now they have to figure out how they can transfer that culture online.

Here are some tips you can take up to create a positive virtual environment that lasts:

1. prioritize Open communication.

Communicating effectively is essential for the performance of a virtual team. When creating a positive virtual environment, ensure you have an online wall of suggestions to provide feedback that improves the company and increases internal satisfaction.

An open communication channel will ensure that many employees perform better and the company can maintain credibility for the foreseeable future.

2. Use appropriate Language

Some leadership language sets a tone for team members. During virtual meetings, a leader should take away terms with a negative connotation. Use language that encourages an employee and keeps a team member positive.

4. Organize physical company events

Because your company is primarily remote does not mean you have to cancel all events. You can hold virtual happy hours and online team-building activities. Also, if enough of your team is local and comfortable, you can continue quarterly, monthly, or yearly outdoor events. The goal is to keep the fun current and the excitement ongoing. This ensures employees with cultural differences can interact, and team cohesion can be improved.

Inspiring, isn’t it ? Want to learn more about connecting self-awareness to professional development? Get in touch today.

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Trust Highrise To Make You a Better Virtual Leader.

At Highrise, we provide leadership training and development programs targeting virtual leadership skills. These programs help leaders develop the skills and competencies to manage remote teams effectively through knowledge of giving effective feedback and balancing work and life, plus more.

Check out our membership today.

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Andrew Langat
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Andrew Langat is an experienced content specialist in Leadership, Productivity, Education, Fintech, and Research. He is an avid reader and loves swimming as a hobby. He believes that quality content should be actionable and helpful.