- Dr. Scott Dust is an assistant professor of management at the Farmer School of Business at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, who writes extensively on business leadership.
- Months into the pandemic, the advice to overcommunicate or schedule frequent check-ins is old news for employers leading remote teams — and more meaningful, long-term strategies are needed to help workers feel supported and motivated.
- Leaders shouldn’t pressure employees to share their personal challenges unless they want to, and should record virtual meetings to make them available when it’s convenient for different workers to watch them.
- In new or uncertain environments, employees tend to mimic the behaviors of their leader, he writes.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
A few years ago, just 2.5% of US employees worked from home. When the pandemic forced the closures of workplaces from coast to coast, this number peaked in June at 42%. Although this percentage might have dropped to as low as 24% over the last few months, a recent study estimated that 37% of US jobs can be done from home. An uptick in remote work from here on out is imminent.
For managers now working from home, leading a team virtually presents new challenges. And because the pandemic changed the work environment so drastically and so quickly, our advice for managers is yet to catch up.
The virtual leadership reminders currently floating around the infosphere are straightforward. Leaders should touch-up on their technical skills, focus on building trust, and encourage social cohesion through regular team check-ins. These are accurate and helpful, but virtual work is here to stay and moving quickly. It’s time to go deeper. Below are five overlooked, evidence-based recommendations for leading in today’s virtual work environment.
1. Pay attention to emergent leadership
Ideally, everyone on the team steps up as a leader when their knowledge or skills are needed. However, this tendency to emerge as a leader changes in virtual work environments.
Communication apprehension — anxiety due to anticipated communication with others — is more common in real-time virtual communication. This isn’t the same thing as introversion. In fact, it’s more strongly associated with neuroticism, which means that some of the most critical, perfection-oriented employees aren’t speaking up.
Leaders should nudge these employees to contribute, clear the floor to give them the spotlight, or consider alternative outlets for them to voice their suggestions and concerns.
2. Establish virtual communication norms
Moving to virtual-only work disrupts preexisting face-to-face or hybrid communication norms. Embrace the change by thinking through four questions: What medium? How often? What tone? What level of detail? In new or uncertain environments, employees mimic the behaviors of their leader. Choose wisely.
3. Stop overloading your employees with information
We’re getting comfortable with communication in a remote work environment. Too comfortable. We post or send messages about everything. Just because it’s easier to communicate electronically doesn’t mean it needs to be communicated. Employees are overwhelmed. Be judicious.
4. Use asynchronous video
Employees log more overall hours when working remotely compared to face-to-face. Partly because the days are filled with Zoom meetings that disrupt employees’ flow and deep thinking.
Help your employees be more productive by recording videos with key information that they can watch whenever is convenient for them. They’ll likely watch them during transition time between meetings or when their energy is low and they need a break.
5. Practice balanced monitoring
Over-monitoring employees is common when leading virtually. Leaders tend to overcompensate when they can no longer pick up on subtle signals during face-to-face interaction. Although some degree of monitoring ensures stability in productivity, too much will annoy subordinates and degrade trust.
An eye towards the future
Just like preexisting virtual leadership listicles, these recommendations will soon become outdated and overly-straightforward. The foundations of leadership don’t change in virtual environments, it just makes the need for high-quality leadership more pronounced. What will change, however, is the nature of the virtual work environment. History clearly illustrates that technology changes quickly.
The best virtual leaders will continue to think deeply about what’s new or different as virtual work environments evolve, and how they can go deeper to meet the needs of their team members.
Scott Dust is an assistant professor of management at the Farmer School of Business, Miami University, and the chief research officer at Cloverleaf. His website offers resources for people interested in human capital.