More often, companies are looking to lower overhead and allow teams to work from home. Gone are the days when everyone was in the office every day of the week. These days, teams are often spread across the state, country, or even the world. Leadership has certainly been changed by this movement. Leading a virtual team is not like leading a team who is around you all week. The game has changed
After reading the Four Hour Work Week by Timothy Ferriss, my eyes were opened up to the possibility of never having a formal office again. In my current position, however, that is impossible but I have since hired several people who do not office in a building. They have home offices.
Recently, I have hired both a new outside salesman, who has only seen our offices once in his life, and an Executive Assistant who has never seen our offices. I have also hired outside work from suppliers in India who will never see our offices. Managing these employees is easy with today’s technology, but leading them, that is a new frontier.
Good Leadership knows no bounds and applies to all who follow you. One of the most important leadership skills is the ability to adapt to each person. Each person on your team will respond to your leadership differently. See Maxwell’s 5 levels of leadership for an in depth discussion of this idea. In addition to each person responding differently, your medium for leadership must be flexible as well. In a virtual world, you must be able to utilize these three keys in order to reach your followers.
Communication – When you don’t run into someone in the hallway every day, it is difficult to keep up and keep tabs. When working with a virtual team, communication can suffer. I have learned that scheduling, at minimum, one phone call per week is essential. Often, as you speak with someone, new ideas form. You may not have much to say prior to the call, but as you catch up with one another, more ideas and thoughts will form. Without this weekly call, this type of thought incubator will not occur.
FaceTime – There is something about meeting face-to-face that solidifies relationships with your followers. If you can’t meet a person face-to-face you should at least try to video chat with them at least monthly. 55% of all our communication is nonverbal. If you’re not meeting face to face with your virtual team, you’re missing more than half of the conversation. This is a mistake many leaders make and it is a deal breaker. You could lose highly qualified people because of lack of face time Without seeing your reactions, people often don’t know how you feel, this can cause grave misunderstandings among your team.
Technology – Learn to utilize apps and web software to increase team collaboration. I have found Text Messages and Online Chat the easiest way to handle what would be a quick pop in at the office. FaceTime and video conferencing software are important for face-to-face meetings. My team uses Teamviewer to access one another’s computers to explain things in a more hands-on manner. We also use apps like Orchestra, Tripit, and Jing. I’ll go into more depth on how my virtual team uses these apps to increase productivity and leadership in a later post.
To date, my salesman has blown away his quotas, my EA has taken more off my plate than expected and frankly made me look better to others than I really am. Leadership, especially as it pertains to virtual teams, can sometimes be mystifying. Using these three keys will help you make the transition from an office leader to a virtual leader.
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