With improvements in technology, more workers have shifted to working remotely. The current health crisis has jumpstarted this trend, increasing the number of teams working virtually, as well as the need for virtual leadership. Even as the dust settles, it’s likely that remote teams will stick around, making leadership development training for virtual teams a long-term investment.
Trends in Remote Work
In the last few months, the number of people working remotely has increased dramatically. According to a Gallup poll, 62% of Americans have worked from home, double the numbers seen March. Usage of cloud services and virtual business software have increased dramatically as well. And now that employees have seen what’s possible in remote work, three out of five workers would prefer to continue working remotely as much as possible, even after health restrictions have lifted. Presumably, the increase telecommuting will continue. But leadership training will need to adjust to these new realities of remote work in order to keep virtual teams functioning with the same efficiency.
Leadership Training for Virtual Leaders
Generally, leaders of virtual teams need the same skills as in-person leaders: good communication, authenticity, networking, and other interpersonal skills are important in all types of leadership. However, leaders of virtual teams need may need some help maintaining efficacy. Some of the skills and individual qualities that may have come more naturally in face-to-face interactions may prove more difficult to translate into a virtual environment. Leadership training for virtual teams should focus on applying those skills in their new environment. That being said, this will likely involve content around on the new systems and platforms many organizations are picking up to facilitate remote work.
Effective communication can become more difficult when the methods of communication change. When your team is no longer meeting regularly in person, it’s easy to lose or limit contact with team members, misunderstand employees, and fail to recognize individual achievements.
Frequency and style of communication may vary from team to team, but leadership training should emphasize the importance of setting regular schedules for communication, whether that is through weekly phone calls, daily emails, or scheduled video calls. Predictable communication establishes patterns and work hours for the team, structuring their workday and increasing accountability. Moreover, practicing clear communication will become more important as well. Consider creating custom eLearning activities that challenge leaders to take lengthy content and make it more concise. Short assets around summarizing conversations, email composition – skills often taken for granted in an office setting – may also prove helpful. Clear and concise communication will help team members understand their leaders’ expectations.
Building trust between team members is another common challenge, and it’s only exacerbated by virtual environments. Research by psychologists like Dacher Keltner has found clear connections between trust and touch or physical proximity. Leaders must be able to promote interpersonal connections between people who no longer share a space, but a virtual wave on a video conference platform will hardly suffice.
There are, however, virtual activities that can promote trust between team members. For example, “Take 5” meetings, during which employees can briefly share personal victories, stories, or interests can foster empathy. Leaders should encourage casual interactions between team members and schedule times for teams to connect outside of work-related conversations.
Virtual leadership training should also include training on technology that makes remote work possible. After all, leaders should be well-versed in any technologies their teams use. Typically, an organization will offer systems training for their platform, but it may not align with your specific business processes. The employee training and development team may need to create additional resources to shape company specific processes within those platforms. Simple video tutorials can familiarize leaders with technology systems, and gamified challenges can keep leaders engaged as they test their competence.
With so many employees working remotely, leaders will need to adjust their skills to a new set of circumstances. Communication must be deliberate, regular, and clear. Leaders must be able to establish trust between their team members. Moreover, leaders should be trained on technology systems that make virtual teams possible. But remember that the essentials of leadership don’t change with virtual teams; employees still need leaders with empathy, authenticity, and well-honed interpersonal skills.