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Leadership in a virtual world

In early 2020 the world was a different place. You could book a flight at the last minute, jump on a plane and be on the other side of the world in 24 hours. No questions asked.

Then, on 11 March, the WHO declared the coronavirus a global pandemic and the world changed. Overnight offices closed and employers around the world told their staff to work from home. Many international businesses, from airlines to management consultants, including FTSE100 and Nasdaq companies, found themselves being run from bedrooms, basements, garages and kitchens.12 months on and the situation remains very fluid. For many, remote working is here to stay with companies including Google and Facebook announcing it as a permanent option for their employees.  Other reports suggest workers are keen to return to the office sooner rather than later, as highlighted by a boss from Britain’s biggest office and retail complex who says that remote working has left many workers feeling fatigued.

But whichever route is adopted – whether it’s 100% remote working or a more hybrid style – the working model has changed significantly, and the virtual office is here to stay. So, with this seismic change in working culture, what challenges and hurdles will leaders face in managing staff virtually and remotely over the coming months and years?

Feeling part of something

One of the most obvious hurdles is how to maintain the feeling of being part of the team. Offices are often reflections of the company’s brand. From murals on walls to decals on windows, even desks and the actual office lay out will tell you a lot about a business. But when staff are forced to work from home with beds as their backgrounds and virtually no face-to-face contact, how easy is it for companies to maintain their unique culture?

As society opens up and small gatherings are allowed it will be important for leaders to look at ways of getting workers back together physically in a safe environment. Organising small group meetings will be extremely important to ensure workers feel part of a team again. Businesses which may have closed offices during the past year to save on rent and rates may find opening smaller satellite offices or offering hot desks in shared office spaces for staff for a few days a week may help in reigniting the culture and making staff feel part of something once again.

Communicating with the workforce

Many businesses owe their success to the strong communication and people skills of their senior leadership team. A connection between management and staff can help staff buy into the brand, increase productivity and improve retention. When employees are disconnected from the business, both in a physical and metaphorical sense, it can be much harder to stay motivated. Creating a set of communication guidelines for remote teams is therefore essential. Planning out a series of guidelines consisting of regularly scheduled calls just to check in, which type of video or communication platform you will use, length of meetings and the outcomes of the meeting will be crucial.

At the end of the day consistent, prompt, and timely communication will help a virtual leader guide their team and create synergy among its members.

Motivating yourself

The biggest challenge for any leader at the moment is probably actually motivating yourself. Waking up and realising you have need to motivate a team that you haven’t seen in person for months is not an easy task. And to remain confident and positive each and every time can be mentally extremely challenging.

When we were all in an office environment having a schedule or plan for our week was very natural for both leaders and employees. We knew when we had to be in and when the weekly sales meeting was. We also knew when our staff worked, where they would be and usually how they were feeling. But working from home has changed all this so it’s important to create a new routine and stick to it – plan in time to speak and listen to employees, make it known when you are free and not free and stick to the plan. And importantly, plan in breaks and make sure employees know to do the same recharge, refocus, and avoid burn out.

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