Becoming a strong virtual leader during COVID-19: 4 top tips

  • Publish Date : 29 May, 2020
  • Category : Coffee Tips
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By Joe Doyle, Group Marketing Director at Kyocera Document Solutions UK

COVID-19 is a humanitarian tragedy that continues to disrupt millions of lives. Although an oft-used statement, we are clearly operating in ‘unprecedented times’ where working virtually has become a requirement for most, if not all, office-based businesses.

Over the past few weeks, you’ve probably seen a lot of top tips on how to stay secure and work more efficiently while working from home. However, what has been talked about less frequently are the best practices for building and maintaining strong leadership in a virtual world. Some may have practice of doing this already, but many leaders are just starting to get to grips with this new way of working.

As such, this article will offer some tips and tricks around the attributes needed to be a strong virtual leader over the coming months. The economy might gradually be reopening, but it will be a fair while before every worker has returned to the office.

These actions aren’t the only steps you can take, but they are arguably some of the most important.

  1. Be flexible

First and foremost, leaders need to be flexible and respect the home-life challenges that have likely been sprung upon staff over the last few weeks and months.  Many employees may now be sharing their workspace with their family or roommates, while others may now have to juggle work with the role of teacher or caregiver. At the start of lockdown this might have been manageable, but the next challenge is for leaders to maintain this flexibility in the longer term.

It will be important for leaders to understand the personal circumstances of their employees in a way they might not have before. Although this can be tough – particularly if employees are based across different time zones – being more accommodating of employee requirements and any difficulties they are experiencing will ensure that your business stays productive.

More importantly, showing this increase empathy will mean that staff are more likely to have the time and tools to take care of their own mental health, again providing a long-term boost to productivity.

  • Don’t forget about appreciation and feedback

The difference between a good and a great leader is those that don’t just notice consistent hard work, but also recognise and reward it. In an absence of a physical office environment and an increased strain on such things as the cash flow of a business, it is easy to see how this can get bumped to the bottom of a leader’s agenda.

However, it is critical to continue the recognition of hard work while leading virtually, even for small acts of success. Whether it is just a quick call, chat message or an email, regardless of how you do it, this will go further than you think in motivating employees and boosting their morale. I’ve seen really nice examples recently which have included things like sending ‘thank you’ postcards or even small gifts such as chocolates through the post.

The same goes for underperforming staff – ensuring that you stay in regular contact and provide them with constructive feedback is likely to lead to more small wins, which in turn could lead to bigger successes in the long term.

  • Avoid micromanaging: place your trust in your employees

Alongside a rise in remote working comes the need for a higher degree of trust in employees. More specifically, it requires leaders to foster an environment where they have faith in their employees to continue to execute their role to the best of their abilities, even when the traditional “supervision” aspect of the workplace is no longer there.

This means avoiding micromanaging your workforce, as tempting as it might be. Even in a virtual environment, employees expect to be trusted and provided with the autonomy to complete their work. This means, for example, ensuring that managers do not constantly keep checking on the productivity of their team members.

In fact, if leaders and managers are on constant edge about what their employees are doing, it can lead to leaders losing sight of their customers and the wider goals of the business.

  • Maintain a connection with your staff

Finally, and arguably most importantly, is to maintain a social connection with your staff.

For many, working virtually was a novelty or a once-a-week occurrence before the pandemic. This means they might not be used to the increased use of technology to interact with colleagues as opposed to physical human interaction. Whether it is talking to colleagues at the coffee machine or going for lunch, these are actually important parts of the working day and can hugely impact performance and employee productivity. Without them, many will feel isolated and virtually distant.

This may take a little creativity, but there are ways. For example, by establishing a weekly ‘virtual’ coffee morning or afternoon ‘happy hour’, this can help recreate some of the non-work-related discussions that often occur within the workplace and give employees a sense of normality and the boost that they need.

COVID-19 is an opportunity to step up

The COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent rise in remote working has ripped up all the playbooks for virtual leadership. The current situation requires new behaviours, new mindsets and a new modus operandi for leaders. It is more important than ever before for virtual leaders to not only make sure that they are clearly defining objectives, but also to show empathy for employees’ well-being and personal circumstances, during what has been a bizarre and anxious period for many. By following these steps, leaders will have the tools to keep their teams safe, motivated and productive for the foreseeable future.

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