A new era for managers in the world of virtual working

The abrupt move to virtual working as an outcome of the Covid pandemic has resulted in a shift in the requirements of people managers. Those who have strong leadership skills and trusted relationships with their team members have seen little impact but for those who are less skilled, the shift has exposed and highlighted these development needs. It is a theme we are hearing in many conversations with HR and Talent leaders.

As a species we have evolved to be sociable creatures fed by personal interactions and over time, a lack of human contact takes its toll, especially on extreme extroverts. Coupled with the pressure of an often-increased workload and changing organisational priorities, people can become very task focussed and forget about the human aspect of management. If you are a leader in an organisation, then that is a dangerous place to be.

Therefore, the foundation of effect leadership and one of Connor’s core values of being HUMAN become even more important. But how do we do this in the virtual world?

Put more effort into building relationships

With it being more difficult to interpret nonverbal communication over the virtual space, you must work harder to build and maintain trust. Instead of relying on an unconscious reading of other’s emotions and intentions, you need to have more overt conversations and deepen your understanding of why others feel and behave in the way they do. It is much easier to feel excluded and devalued when working virtually as people have more time to ruminate over issues instead of utilising those informal coaching moments over the coffee machine to overcome challenges. Think about the proportion of time as a manager you are spending on task vs people. What is important to each of your people individually as humans during this time? Where do you need to invest in your relationships?

Communicate effectively

There are less opportunities in the virtual space for informal ad hoc catch ups that work well in a face to face environment, so leaders need to create a new structure and rhythm of communication. There is a need to re-contract with people how and when you are going to keep in touch both on a one to one basis and as a team. We know that ‘video call fatigue’ is a new phenomenon so make it ok to not always be on camera and have a blend of formal and informal updates. There will be a balance of emotional, social and management needs across a team and each person’s needs may be different. Think about each of your team, does your current pattern of communication meet their specific needs & enable them to bring their best self to their role? How often and in what form are you giving them feedback?

Give clarity and vision

When working virtually people are less tolerant of ambiguity in roles, responsibilities, and decision-making authority. As a result of operating in an increasingly VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous) environment, it is key that people understand the changing organisational objectives and critically how success is being measured. This is important so they can directly see how their role links into these to remain motivated and committed as well as performing in their role. If managers do not focus energy in this area, there will be a lack of shared vision and people will work on what they think is important rather than activities that help meet organisational objectives. Think about your team – do they know what is expected of them both in terms of task and behaviours, as individuals and within the team? Have you helped them set boundaries within which they can operate safely so they can work autonomously? Do they know how they contribute to the organisation’s success? How are you managing their performance virtually?

Role model the behaviours you want to see as a virtual leader

If you want your team to respect their boundaries between home and work to remain resilient, model what you want to see from them, respect your own boundaries you have set. Be clear and explicit in your communication and check they understand the key messages. Give regular and constructive feedback to them and encourage them to do the same between each other. Invest time and energy into building your relationship with each member of your team and as a collective. Think about how well you are role modelling what you want to see from your people? What might you want to dial up or down?

Leading people in the virtual space magnifies the importance of these key leadership attributes. How well equipped are your leaders to thrive in managing their people virtually?

To find out how we can support the development of your managers, click here for more information.


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