Now more than ever, virtual team leadership skills have become quite the commodity. With Gallup reporting that 54% of respondents believe the shift to remote work will last until the end of 2020 and beyond, we’re predicting an ongoing increase in demand for exceptional virtual leaders.
But what makes someone a great virtual leader? And what are the virtual team leadership skills that will be required, regardless of industry? Those are the questions we’ll be exploring in today’s article.
What makes someone a great virtual leader
For the majority of leaders, 2020 is the first year that they’ve had to manage the performance and support the development of their teams virtually. Because of this, most leaders are starting off on a level playing field, with minimal reference points of what is expected from virtual leadership and virtual teams within the context of their organisations.
But with remote working here to stay for the long-term, strong virtual leadership skills are set to become a key focus from a talent recruitment perspective as well as a company-wide requirement.
In our experience of training leaders in the principles of Virtual Leadership, here are a handful of the key behaviours displayed by a great virtual leader:
- They regularly communicate with all members of their teams
- They ensure that all communication channels are used for a clear purpose
- They lead virtual meetings with high levels of energy while keeping discussions on track
- They support their team members in overcoming obstacles and dips in motivation
- They provide clarity and direction through feedback conversations
- They champion cultural rhythms and rituals and encourage participation
With those key behaviours of great virtual leaders in mind, let’s take a look at some of the top virtual team leadership skills for 2020.
Top virtual team leadership skills to strengthen this year:
#1: Digital Literacy
Yep, this one might seem obvious but we can’t talk about virtual team leadership skills without talking about digital literacy. In a remote working environment it’s absolutely essential that leaders are able to effectively use digital tools for communication, collaboration and project management, among other things.
But it isn’t enough to know how to schedule a Zoom call and turn your microphone off, no, not at all. As a virtual team leader it’s important that you go above and beyond to ensure that digital tools are being used effectively by your team, and that you are championing their use in your own interactions with team members. Essentially, you’ve got to walk the talk while making sure that the digital tools you’re using are helping your people to collaborate and complete work to the highest standard.
While delegation is one of the most important leadership skills traditionally, there are new considerations that need to be made in adapting this skill to a virtual working environment. In a co-located office, leaders would have been able to quickly delegate tasks while pairing up team members that needed to share information and collaborate to get the work done.
In a virtual working environment, delegation requires a heightened standard of communication. From inputting tasks into online task management systems through to organising a virtual meeting to discuss the task requirements, there are many more opportunities for assigned tasks to be misunderstood or for deadlines to be missed when delegation is put off for too long.
For these reasons anyone looking to improve their virtual team leadership skills should definitely consider how they’re approaching delegation and what they can do to improve. This may mean having a conversation with your team members individually to gain a better understanding of the time allocation required to complete certain tasks.
One of the greatest benefits of remote work is the increased autonomy that employees have in their day-to-day work. For the most part, team members are likely to be managing their own schedules and planning out their workweeks in order to meet KPIs and project deadlines. With this in mind, it’s clear to see why a traditional leadership approach based on directing and supervising employees won’t work in a virtual environment.
Taking a coaching approach with virtual team members is one of the best ways to support autonomy while providing quality leadership. By incorporating coaching questions in 1:1 conversations with team members, particularly when they are coming up against roadblocks that are hindering their progress, you’ll be able to offer guidance while also giving the individual the opportunity to co-create the solution. As you can imagine, this approach places virtual leaders in a supporting role and gives team members the confidence to address and solve challenges as they come up. This can lead to heightened levels of motivation and improve the relationship between leaders and their direct reports.
Now that we’ve covered the top virtual team leadership skills, have a think about which area you could strengthen in your own leadership as well as across the wider leadership team within your organisation.
If you want to improve your coaching capability, take a look at our Coaching Mastery program. On the other hand, if you’re keen to explore the principles of leading high performing virtual teams, take a look at our Virtual Leaders program.