Remote Work: How to Navigate Virtual Leadership

Leadership during the COVID-19 crisis has taken on a new face. For many, it is the face of confusion and uncertainty. But it doesn’t have to be that way. My team has been virtual from its inception—not because I was so forward thinking, but because I didn’t want to pay for more office space. Because I have been at this for some time now, I’ve picked up a few tips and tricks for effective remote leadership.

  • You need to be SUPER organized.
    • Know your files, know your clients, keep lists, and run reports so you always know the status of all of your clients and employees.
  • Set deadlines.
    • Reasonable deadlines are now your friend. Change your language from “Finish the Smith file,” to “The XYZ on the Smith file needs to be completed by Friday. How do you propose we get there?”
    • Be ready with suggestions and guidelines for how the employee can accomplish what you want them to.
  • Overcommunicate.
    • Email, phone calls, texts, and Instant Messenger are all ways to communicate – and obviously some are easier to document and track than others, so choose wisely. Use the more trackable methods for documentation and the more fleeting methods for encouragement and quick reminders.
      • Remind your team they need to be as available to you as if they were down the hall in a bricks-and-mortar office. But this means you must be just as available to them – leading by example is CRUCIAL during this time of uncertainty.
    • Reiterate even the simplest directions and make sure all of your instructions and expectations are clear and concise. Think about structuring complex tasks step-by-step rather than with one big instruction dump.
  • Institute weekly virtual team meetings. This helps the team stay structured and is a concrete reminder that your employees are still working and are not on personal time.
    • Use Zoom or Skype so everyone can see each other.
    • Keep the meetings focused—have an agenda and stick to it. Gently redirect side discussion off line, and don’t allow complaining or whining.
    • At the same time, a few minutes of catchup at the beginning can go a long way toward maintaining team spirit.
  • Schedule weekly one-on-one meetings by phone with each of your staff.
    • This is the time to invest in your relationships with each of them. In these days of email, text, and Dropbox communication, a personal phone call goes a long way toward re-stablishing the human touch, especially in these days of social distancing.
    • A phone call is also the perfect opportunity to reiterate deadlines, hold team members accountable, answer questions, offer encouragement, and check in on their mental health.
  • Automate where possible.
    • If you don’t have a good team management platform, Toggl, Basecamp, Asana, Skype, Slack, and Microsoft Teams are all great systems to track your team’s hours and keep your virtual communications organized and focused.
  • Emphasize accountability with flexibility. As I have mentioned previously, communication is essential, and so is accountability (for you and them).
    • Clarify your expectations, get the team members’ buy in (have them agree to or even set the time table on projects), and establish milestones so you can track their progress and hold them accountable.
    • These are not “normal” times, though, and we need to acknowledge that. This doesn’t mean anyone, yourself included, gets a free pass, but it does mean you’ll need to be flexible about deadlines and home emergencies. To enable such flexibility, build in greater than usual buffer times to all deadlines.
  • Acknowledge achievements and focus on results.
    • Everyone loves receiving kudos, and now especially every kernel of positivity goes a long way toward rewarding your employees and creating appreciation and loyalty.
    • Reward your employees for exhibiting the behavior you want to see, tell them thank you, and celebrate every success, no matter how big or small.

I’ve discussed many of these leadership tips before—they work well in the real world, too. But given this brave new world of virtual work, adopting tips like these is more important than ever. In the end, be the leader you would follow, and use this opportunity to develop your leadership skills and remind your team why they want to work with you in the first place. Let them know that you are still their leader, and that you, them, and the rest of the team are all in this together.