How to Lead Virtual Teams [4 Key Traits of Virtual Leadership]

“Dave—it’s been an honor and a privilege working with you these past 12 years, but my family and I will be moving to Florida in the spring so I must regretfully tender my resignation.”

In the business world, when a hardworking, well-respected employee says, “I’m moving,” it can often be viewed as a critical blow. It means involuntarily losing an invaluable and trusted colleague and requires HR to initiate the arduous task of finding a qualified and competent replacement. However, times are changing. Perhaps there is an alternative solution.

Leading a virtual team

“I’m moving” no longer automatically means that corporate has to indefinitely part ways with employees. With the technological advances of this modern world, businesses are more fully equipped to offer customized and flexible remote positions. If you’ve found quality people that you can’t stand to lose, don’t let them go! Geographical distance is no longer an insurmountable barrier to success—or to retaining valuable employees.

Whether the corporate objective is to retain talent or expand their global reach, organizations around the world are rapidly trending towards virtual teams. The ability to draw upon and leverage talent from individuals located across the globe using communication technology to lead from a distance is an exciting opportunity.

According to Upwork’s Future Workforce Report, in a survey of 1,000 hiring managers, 55% agree that remote work among full-time employees is more common now and say they expect up to 38% of their full-time workers to be working remotely in the next decade.

While having remote employees certainly offers distinct advantages, there are also several common challenges that arise when leading and managing virtual teams. Traditional struggles with communication, collaboration, and producing high-quality, timely results can be significantly magnified in a virtual setting. Effective leaders need to quickly, confidently, and competently diagnose issues and take deliberate action to keep project-team relationships, productivity, and outcomes on track. CMOE has identified the following four keys of virtual leadership to help leaders do just that.

  1. Adapt Your Communication

When communicating with remote team members, the casual encounters, body language, and vocal cues that we depend on to help us send and receive accurate messages are gone. In their place are ever-changing communication technologies that leave plenty of room for misunderstandings. As a virtual leader, it is your job to overcome this challenge and find a way to bridge the communication gap created by physical distance. Through the exchange of effective and meaningful information, your team members will be able to build trust, align their actions, plan and execute strategies, and ultimately achieve the team’s desired results.

  1. Coach & Give Feedback

Even though virtual leaders are unable to observe and supervise teams in the way that traditional onsite leaders do, there are still plenty of opportunities for virtual leaders to coach and give feedback to their employees. By investing time into this important responsibility, virtual leaders show their remote employees that they care about their growth and development, which can lead to higher levels of performance, engagement, and motivation.

However, be mindful that offering coaching in a virtual setting leaves plenty of room for misinterpretations, poor follow-through, and lack of accountability. Coaching team members and providing them with useful feedback is an effective and invaluable tool.  When developing and managing remote teams, commit to being dedicated and vigilant, planning and preparing carefully, and acting on your responsibilities to your team members consistently.

  1. Build a Relationship

Building trusting, one-on-one relationships should be a priority for every leader. Unfortunately, leaders of virtual teams don’t have the luxury of regularly connecting with their team members face-to-face. To ensure that team members are satisfied with their jobs (which will, in turn, affect their job performance), leaders need to dedicate time and effort to developing strong relationships with each team member. Your careful attention to this matter will help to ensure all team members are engaged by their work, clearly understand what you expect from them, and know how they can add unique value to the team and organization—even from a distance.

  1. Create a Community

While technology allows teams to work together despite being geographically dispersed, it doesn’t build the sense of community and the feeling of working towards a common purpose that every team should have. Devising a way to help team members feel less isolated and more connected to the group is the responsibility of the leader. An established community and team atmosphere will give all team members a sense of belonging and inclusion, as well as foster opportunities for productive interactions that will contribute to the achievement of team and organizational goals.

Adjusting to the differences of leading in a virtual environment takes practice and patience. However, your commitment to developing the skills mentioned above will result in a more unified and high-performing team experience for all of your team members. To learn about additional strategies for building a high-performance team, contact CMOE.

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About the Author

Kelsi Mackay

Kelsi is a Senior Account Manager and valued team member at CMOE. She received her Bachelor’s degree in Business Management with an emphasis in Organizational Development and Human Resources. She is passionate about personal development and values the opportunity she has to enable others in their own learning and development.