Do you employ virtual teams? What actions has the organization taken to ensure that the leaders of these teams have the skills and tools they need to be effective?
Let’s take a look at some of the leadership skills a virtual team leader will need.
Necessary Virtual Leadership Skills
A virtual team leader needs to:
- Be able to utilize technology. The team will need to utilize various forms of technology to communicate and collaborate remotely. This could mean using e-mail, video calling, text messages, IM/chat programs, or, most likely, a combination of all of those and more in any given day. Having a lot of ways to stay in contact and utilizing the very technology that makes remote work possible is critical to success. A virtual leader will not succeed if he or she cannot embrace the technologies that allow the team to be efficient.
- Recognize achievements. Virtual team members often feel like their contributions are overlooked because they’re not there in person to get praise in front of coworkers. Virtual leaders need to be able to find other ways to recognize their efforts.
- Be proactive about staying in contact with the dispersed team. This could take any number of forms, such as setting up weekly catch-up calls or having frequent team meetings. No matter how it is done, the virtual leader needs to be proactive about staying in contact with the entire team and staying abreast of what they’re working on, how projects are going, what obstacles they’re facing, and what they need.
- Have great communication skills. There’s a lot more room for misunderstandings when you don’t have the benefit of tone, facial expressions, and body language to help you decipher what someone means when there’s any ambiguity. That means there’s a higher chance of having miscommunications if the managers and team members in a virtual team are not excellent communicators. Communications must be clear—even more so than they need to be otherwise.
- Be able to show trust and motivate employees. Virtual leaders must show their team that they’re trusted to get the job done. They must be able to motivate employees to perform at their best.
- Set and track goals. When teams are not physically in the same location, the main way that employee performance is judged is by outcome. Specific, measurable goals are crucial, and tracking them frequently (i.e., monitoring progress, not just completion) can help to ensure the team members stay on track and that the team leader is able to identify problems before they become catastrophic.
- Have realistic expectations in terms of working hours and availability. One of the many reasons employees appreciate the ability to work on a virtual team is that it could represent greater flexibility. Virtual leaders should be aware of this and be wary to not set unrealistic expectations. For example, it does not mean that a remote employee is slacking off just because he or she doesn’t respond to a message within a few minutes. It could be that the individual has muted message notifications to be most productive. Having realistic expectations—and communicating those expectations—will help everyone stay happier in their roles.
- Be self-motivated. If a virtual team leader needs a lot of direction, it will be much more difficult to motivate the dispersed team. This person needs to be proactive and needs to plan and act in ways that are intentional.
HR professionals who work for organizations with remote teams can assist in this process by ensuring the leaders of virtual teams are chosen well and are given the right tools and training they need to succeed.