CMO at Intermedia, a cloud communications company helping businesses connect better through voice, video, chat, contact center and more.
Long before the pandemic, remote work was gaining traction. For both global billion-dollar companies and startups, I believe the transition to hybrid work models has long been a smart business choice. It can save money, widen your talent pool and potentially yield greater productivity. Virtual leadership is new to many because it wasn’t a priority until remote work became more than an option early in 2020. Now, it’s a necessity for many. As the chief marketing officer of a company that offers unified communications solutions, that led me to think about what the right framework is for virtual leadership. While many focus on technology when discussing remote or hybrid work models, the human element of connecting people is equally as important.
Remember That Businesses Are Made Up Of People
Every business is made up of people. As people are inherently social, their need to collaborate is natural. Moreover, that desire to discuss, work together and tackle challenges has long been thought of as ideal in an in-person environment. Technology changes the game here by teaching all companies and leaders that collaboration and interaction aren’t limited to four physical walls. I believe this idea that people are at the center of what matters most in business is the foundation for virtual leadership.
The human element of running a business will always be important. In many cases, it can be a key differentiator for organizations. Leaders focus on delivering value to customers because they know that’s what keeps people coming back and thus ensures business success. That focus doesn’t and shouldn’t change because you’re remote. It evolves, and virtual leaders should realize how critical it is that people feel connected — wherever work might take them. Creating that connection can feel harder nowadays but is possible if leaders facilitate effective conversations and teamwork sessions to build on ideas and plans collectively. Really, what it boils down to is encouraging purposeful communication that fosters connection.
Have A Real Presence
In the context of conversation and collaboration, you can always send emails or messages back and forth to discuss something. It can seem like the easier and quicker choice in many circumstances, but you may lose context when you just send words in an email or a quick question over chat. Sometimes you need to have a greater presence with your team by looking them in the eye, hearing their voice inflections and seeing their expressions. This can not only give you a better indication of what they need to get their jobs done but also give you the opportunity to understand how they’re doing and ask questions based on their non-verbal cues. Your team can benefit from that same type of interaction with you, too. While it may seem like more work in the moment, your personal investment in the human side of the equation can fulfill inherent social needs and lead to a more effective and dedicated team in the long run.
Set the tone. I converse over chat with my team all day long, but when we are bringing everyone together to discuss a program or initiative, I want to use video conferencing so that there’s more engagement and everyone can check in with one another. Some people might not notice it, but a meeting where everyone is just on the phone versus on camera has a different quality to it — one where more gets accomplished, in my opinion.
Invest Energy In Uniting People
In my opinion, leadership is about bringing people together to achieve a specific goal. Maybe that was easier in some cases when we were all in the same room. Virtual leadership requires you to make the conscious decision to be present. It brings about new challenges but also new opportunities, and technology is really the catalyst for making it not only possible but also effective. Beyond offering capabilities for the team to be together virtually, leaders should make sure these times together have the same level of energy and engagement as they did when we were all in one location. As a leader, make sure your team feels heard.
Everybody needs to work a bit harder to stay connected and remain on the same page. But the payoff is worth it. Set the tone for your team. Okay, so a lot of people don’t love being on camera on a video call. That’s normal, but you may feel less self-conscious about it when others participate. Be the first to turn on your camera and you’ll likely be surprised by how quickly others follow suit. I don’t mandate that my team uses their cameras, but I want them to because I believe it’s valuable for them to see each other. I think it adds another layer to communication and relationship building.
Conclusion: Virtual Leadership Tips
So, how should you approach virtual leadership? Thus far, we’ve talked about the human element, presence, connectivity and technology. Here are a few other tips I’d like to offer.
• Check in with team members often and urge other leaders to do the same with their teams. Since the feeling of isolation is an unfortunate byproduct of the pandemic for many (61% of people ages 18–25 reported high levels of loneliness, according to Harvard research), make the time for short check-ins.
• Video conference fatigue can occur, so choose when to use video and when not to. You don’t have to do everything over a video call, especially quick discussions.
• I will conclude by emphasizing empathy. In my experience, leaders who have empathy for their team, customers and partners are more successful, no matter where they are. Empathy is about truly checking in with people and letting them know you’re there for them and that you value them as people, not just employees. A company is made up of people, after all.