Someone to Watch Over Me: Leadership in the Virtual World
By Gina Abudi
Virtual executives face never-before-seen challenges: Managing individuals who are -- frankly -- located all over the place. Being a leader when those who report to you are not in a central location is not easy.
It requires you to have trust and confidence that those who report to you are actually doing their job. It also requires you to develop processes to better manage virtual employees.
In today's post, we'll look at best practices to provide leadership to virtual employees when you can't be beside them every day.
Best Practice No. 1: At least twice a year get the entire group together to socialize and discuss upcoming projects, what's happening with the business, etc. The goal is to keep a connection between your employees and yourself and keep them connected with the business. Alternate locations if your business has a number of different locations.
Best Practice No. 2: In between getting together, use a collaboration portal in order to share information as to what individuals or teams are working on, problem solve, have discussions, and generally keep in touch with each other. Consider this a "gathering place" for all employees to share information and support each other's efforts.
Best Practice No. 3: Schedule weekly one-on-one phone calls to catch up with your employees on an individual basis. While e-mail is certainly a good way to communicate, a phone call enables for a better conversation, especially when you cannot meet in person regularly. It also helps to keep you connected with the employee and ensure they are getting what they need to do their job. Additionally, encourage the use of video calls (such as through Skype) and provide your employees with cameras as part of their office equipment. You'll see early on and be able to address small issues before they balloon into major problems.
Best Practice No. 4: Provide each employee a mentor, someone who can guide them and provide them support in their role. Since you are not co-located with the employee, having a mentor who is available and in the same location provides the employee someone to meet with should an issue arise or should they have some general questions. This mentor is able to provide the employee guidance you may not since you are not there with him/her.
Best Practice No. 5: Have a company electronic newsletter. An e-newsletter enables those employees working virtually to stay connected with the company and learn what is going on in various parts of the organization. Have various employees contribute to the e-newsletter on a regular basis so they might share what they are doing within the business. Consider social media for the same purpose. For example, you might set up a company group on LinkedIn for employees only.
Ensuring that your virtual employees remain connected with the business enables for:
- Developing stronger teams
- Increasing employee engagement
- Building trust
- Ensuring open communications
- Increasing sharing of knowledge
- Maintaining commitment to the job, to the business and to each other
Those are just a few ideas to get you started in providing leadership to an increasingly virtual world. Often, even in the smallest businesses, employees are working virtually.
In fact, some businesses don't even have an office for people to go to! Use a variety of ways to keep employees connected with the business and you connected with the employees.
Remember that leadership is as much about reading body language and developing a relationship with employees (especially in a virtual environment) as it is about communicating and directing tasks of employees.
Gina Abudi is president of Abudi Consulting Group, LLC, providing strategy around projects, process, people and technology to businesses of all sizes. Gina can be reached via her web site: http://www.GinaAbudi.com.