Many leadership functions and practices went virtual as companies shifted to remote work models during the COVID-19 pandemic. Leading a team in the virtual environment requires its own set of unique skills and technological competencies. Given this, studying the skills, techniques and technologies that facilitate effective virtual leadership can help management professionals navigate the future of their roles.
The University of Louisiana at Lafayette’s online Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree program covers contemporary leadership practices and business technologies extensively. Plus, the online design of UL Lafayette’s MBA program gives students first-hand experience in multimodal virtual environments. Equipped with experience, knowledge and modern virtual leadership skills, MBA graduates are prepared to excel in the post-COVID business world.
Why Is Virtual Leadership Training Important?
As the pandemic recedes, some businesses will shift back to office-based work models. Yet, recognizing certain benefits to the employee experience, productivity and overhead cost-reduction, many businesses are likely to maintain remote or hybrid work models after the pandemic. To stay relevant and effective through this transition, leaders must master the unique skills needed to excel in virtual environments.
As with any specialized practice, mastering these unique skills requires continued education and training. In this regard, virtual leadership training is a necessity for today’s business leaders.
How Does Virtual Leadership Differ from In-Person Leadership?
Many of the subtle leadership practices that inspire employee engagement, team cohesion, productivity and positive company culture have traditionally existed within formal and informal in-person interactions. Casual in-office interactions also provide leaders with regular moments to check-in, give and receive feedback, observe employees and address potential problems or conflicts. All of this builds the authentic, trusting relationships that drive collaboration, motivation and performance.
Everything changes in the virtual environment. Calls, video conferences and written communications are initiated and planned, minimizing the potential for informal interactions. This is true for leader-employee interactions as well as collaborative team interactions.
A leader’s body language is also central to their communication and interpersonal skills. Many of leaders’ former activities were traditionally dependent on in-person meetings, presentations and staff training, enriched with physical models and materials, reports and more. Now, virtual communications obviously limit these communication subtleties.
All of this is hampered or altered in the virtual environment. To have the same impact as they can in person, leaders must acquire new skills that facilitate effective virtual leadership. Here are four leadership skills unique to leading remote workers:
- Competence with Remote Technologies
Remote work environments rely on technologies to facilitate collaboration, communication, analytics, business intelligence, information security and most other business function. A great deal of responsibility falls on leadership to help guide their employees through the effective and safe use of integrated remote technologies.
Therefore, leaders must be well versed in all of these technologies, from digital communications platforms to cloud-based collaborative software to enterprise resource planning systems. Of course, leadership must have the technology skills needed to use these systems effectively for their own work.
- Selective Communication Use
Leaders must be careful to use the digital communication medium best suited to each purpose and situation in the virtual environment.
For instance, instant messaging is great for quick, informal communications and momentary check-ins. Email is appropriate for formal or shared communications which need to be easily re-accessed for future reference. Video conferencing can be perfect for face-to-face team meetings and one-on-one meetings, offering some degree of body language communication. A simple phone call might best suit a casual check-in or conversation about a sensitive subject.
- Clarity in Communication
Leaders must always clearly communicate and articulate expectations, goals and overall vision. Generally, much of an employee’s understanding comes from the in-person, unspoken transference of behavioral norms, work expectations and organizational culture.
In the virtual environment, leaders must express these often-unspoken norms and expectations more intentionally, clearly and overtly while being concise, authentic and open to questions and feedback.
- Relationship Building
Building and maintaining the relationships that drive organizational success can be challenging in the virtual environment. Hence, leaders need to prioritize practices that engender relationship-building culture remotely. This includes checking in on employees regularly via all appropriate communication modes as well as encouraging informal conversation and frank discussion.
Leaders should also show empathy, interest and support for employees’ experiences and well-being outside of work. Leaders can incentivize informal relationship-building amidst teams by setting up virtual happy hours or networking events.
Clearly, leaders must develop a host of unique skills to fulfill their roles in the virtual environment. With adequate virtual leadership training, study and experience, professionals can master these skills and maximize managerial effectiveness in post-COVID work models.
Learn more about the University of Louisiana Lafayette’s online Master of Business Administration program.