Virtual Leadership: Remote Working Best Practices

The new virtual work world has created new work rules, which in turn should cause virtual leaders to pivot. The days of having a private, face-to-face, distraction-free conversation in the privacy of a manager’s office are minimized or even over for some. Now many leaders see their people through a computer screen, and only if the camera is on. You could say virtual leaders have lost their peripheral vision.

What does that mean for a leader? It means that a virtual leader can’t see what’s going on in the shadows. Virtual work calls for the leader to shine a spotlight in more dark spaces. Yes, there’s plenty going on in the shadows of the people you may be talking with on Zoom that’s affecting their mindset, attention, focus, and engagement.

Virtual leaders, whether of their staff or teams, need to adopt new leadership skills, because the demands and pulls on people look different than when they worked in the office. People are more stressed out, burned out, pulled away, and working in ad-hoc home offices. Before virtual work, employees were already complaining about death-by-meeting. Just when they thought it couldn’t get worse, it did. Many say they’d trade a virtual meeting for an office meeting any day.

Virtual leaders have a greater responsibility than ever before to run productive and meaningful meetings as well as lead people through the distractions. Below are some of the best practices of the best virtual leaders.

  1. Check in on people through a call, email, text, or card, having nothing to do with work. This helps to compensate for the hallway and water cooler talk where people connected beyond the scope of work.
  2. Call a virtual meeting, only when it’s the best choice of communication, feedback, dissemination of information, or problem solving. Our work culture has gotten lazy in thinking through how to best communicate, and they readily adopt a “let’s call a meeting and get everyone together”.
  3. Clearly state up front the meeting objectives and the decisions that need to be made before adjourning.
  4. Invite only those who contribute in some way to the meeting’s objective. Others who need to know the decision can be informed later by other means.
  5. Distribute a meeting agenda beforehand, so all attendees can prepare and focus on the objectives when they sign on.
  6. Ask attendees if there are any issues or distractions that may come up during the virtual meeting. If so, give them permission to leave the meeting at their discretion. This shines the spotlight in the dark places that distract attendees and shows empathy and support as a leader.
  7. Give attendees permission to drop visually, if connectivity bandwidth becomes faulty.
  8. Manage the meeting to the designated schedule.
  9. Invite people to engage in the conversation. People are more apt to speak up in a face-to-face meeting and tend to be more reserved in virtual settings. Ask specific people what they think.
  10. Ask how the meeting could have been improved before adjourning. The best question: “What could we have done more or less of to make it a more effective meeting?”

Many of these virtual leader best practices are powerful even outside of the remote work environment. However, the new normal requires leaders to show more empathy and respect for people’s distractions and time. The best remote leaders also ask their employees what they need more or less of to be successful in their jobs and working in their home environments.


About the Author: Sandra Dillon is a professional life coach with an extensive background in leadership and business consulting. She has a passion to help people be the hero of their own life stories. She administers assessments, designs, and facilitates workshops, and coaches individuals, teams, and businesses. You can learn more about Sandra or engage her as your coach by reaching out to her at coach.sandra.dillon@gmail.com or by visiting her website at www.shinecrossings.com

6 Tips in Leading a Remote Team Via Virtual Meetings

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COVID-19 has forced individuals and teams into a new structure of working—remote. Some have already mastered the art of virtual operations, while many others haven’t yet. Even those experts in scheduling, navigating, and sharing documents on Microsoft Teams, Zoom, and WebEx, are now part of teams where members are less experienced at maneuvering in this virtual world.

Virtual meetings have become a practical tool to continue the work by those healthy enough to do so while keeping them safe. Frequent video meetings can be used to help everyone feel included, aligned, and moving toward their goals. Leading a successful virtual team meeting during these unprecedented times is an important skill and somewhat different than leading an in-person meeting in normal times.

Leaders who are leading a remote team via video call meetings should consider the following:

  1. Invest time learning the virtual meeting technology so you waste less team time learning the mechanics on the job. You will also become a resource for other team members. Practice with other family members at home to gain proficiency.
  2. Schedule time to connect with other team members before the start of the agenda. Have everyone share one funny or positive event. Let everyone know they are welcome to join at any time during the first 15 minutes which will be more social and a time to check-in.
  3. Now more than ever it’s necessary to create an agenda and issue it prior to the meeting so the group is clear on what will be discussed and how they can effectively prepare.
  4. Plan virtual meetings that are shorter and more interactive and save information sharing for email and text.
  5. Encourage use of the video component of the meeting so everyone can see faces and make it feel more like a face-to-face meeting. Studies show that how we communicate is 7% words, 38% tone of voice, and 55% body language. Video allows us to more clearly understand the message.
  6. Review and eliminate non-value add meetings. Many meetings have ceased to bring the value they once did. They served their purpose and now might be the right time to retire them. Turning a routine meeting into a virtual meeting can sometimes give you the perspective on its true value.

Some studies forecast that after COVID-19 runs its course, more people will be working remotely than ever before. Develop your skills now, and you will be in a better position to lead your remote team members well.


About the Author: Sandra Dillon is a professional coach with an extensive background in leadership and business consulting. She administers DISC® and Myers-Briggs/MBTI® testing, designs and facilitates workshops, and coaches both individuals and teams. She has a passion to help people be the best versions of themselves. You can learn more about Sandra or engage her as your coach by reaching out to her at coach.sandra.dillon@gmail.com or by visiting her website at www.shinecrossings.com

Why Innovative Businesses Offer Coaching for All Professionals

Coaching Has Power

Competition drives businesses to innovative—but innovation isn’t just for the products and services they market. Innovation also includes how companies get the product to market. With “people operations” being a large cost to the bottom line, businesses are looking for ways to reduce pay or get more productivity from their employees. With change comes opportunities as well as challenges. With a changing mix of generational work preferences and soft skills, business leadership should be asking how the increase in remote working, competition for talent, and managerial coaching will affect their profitability in the future.

Remote Working

In more recent history, the open-floor plan with cubicles and few closed-door offices exploded throughout corporate America, touted by consultants as the next best thing to sliced bread as far as office design went. C-Suite took their bait on the selling points of innovation and productivity. How that concept passed any reasonableness test still baffles me today, but it’s easily explained as a cost reduction exercise in rent per employee under the disguise of collaboration. Open floors drove people to mediate their circumstances by either working from their home office or donning headphones to block noise and distracting hallway conversations. I would argue that employee collaboration took a step back, as technology allowed employees to work more remotely and independently.

Some employees who enjoy the freedom of working from a home office express feel less connected from their co-workers. Without face-to-face engagement, relationship bonds can weaken, and in many cases, remote employees never forge a relationship with new employees. Remote staff have limited opportunities for casual conversations in the break room while grabbing a cup of coffee or in the conference room before a meeting. Connection is built in small interactions over time and keeps the team accountable to each other.

Generational Work Preferences

Technology has enabled people to isolate themselves while working remotely. Even when a boss requires an employee to work in a cubicle, email and SharePoint allow one to communicate without a verbal conversation. Need to learn something new? YouTube probably has an instructional video.

Effective communication requires one to use all parts: words, tone of voice, and body language. Did you know that words comprised only 7% of the message? How much is lost in translation when one primarily uses email and other forms of word-based technology to convey messages.

A teacher recently shared that with every incoming 4th grade class, the students resist more and more when asked to work in groups. They beg to do the assignment by themselves. What happened to the days when the teacher announced a group project, and the kids responded by raising their hands and pleading who they could work with. Are soft skills under attack and underdeveloped based on the technology advances?

Managerial Coaching

Technology has also shifted the responsibilities of supervisors by pushing more administrative duties onto their plates. Managers had to make room for these tasks, and in some cases, even added work assignments to the mix for the sake of increased productivity. What would you think was prioritized out of their day? If you answered, “time coaching their team and helping their direct reports be successful,” you’d be correct. Managers would like to spend 25% of their time coaching, yet many have no time left over other than to make sure the work gets done.

A Professional Coach Is One Solution

How will businesses respond to the changing work climate? They can certainly restructure work and put coaching at the forefront of a manager’s responsibilities. Given the prolonged impact of technology, some managers have never developed the skill of coaching or perhaps need a refresher. A professional coach can help a manager learn to be a better coach for his or her team.

A second option is to make business and leadership coaching available as an investment for all professional employees. In the past, coaching has been reserved for top executives, but the benefits of coaching can be leveraged at any level so long as someone wants to be coached. Many employees like the confidentiality afforded in a coaching relationship and feel less vulnerable asking for help from a coach as opposed to their direct manager.

Coaching Can Be Justified

Companies offer tuition reimbursement, training, and other educational options as a benefit to attract talent. Many also budget for personnel development. How much does your company spend per person on employee education and training? Coaching can be a value-add to this portfolio. Personalized coaching is a win-win and can be a company differentiator in attracting top talent, because it sends the message that we value you and want to invest in you if you are willing to invest in yourself.


About the Author: Sandra Dillon is a professional coach with an extensive background in leadership and business coaching. She administers DISC® and Myers-Briggs/MBTI® testing, designs and facilitates workshops, and coaches both individuals and teams. She has a passion to help people be the best versions of themselves. You can learn more about Sandra or engage her as your coach by reaching out to her at coach.sandra.dillon@gmail.com or by visiting her website at www.shinecrossings.com

 

 

The Backlashes Leaders Should Be Aware of with Flexible Working?

 

mikayla-mallek-3iT3dnmblGE-unsplashWorkplace environments and their cultures continue to evolve as globalization, technology advancements, and the footprint of the Millennials continue to widen and influence work structure, processes, and the office design. How are these events changing the way companies internally do business? What are the potential backlashes from moving fast into the future? How can leaders keep their teams cohesive, productive, and moving in one direction?

Korn Ferry (2017) issued a series of reports on talent recruitment and what employees are demanding when they select an employer. In 2016, company culture (employee focus and inclusiveness) and career progression were top considerations for new talent as compared to just five years before when benefits and a company’s reputation were top contenders. By 2022, talent acquisition professionals believe company culture will remain high and flexible working (remote, cloud offices) will be the number one consideration. Millennial preferences are influencing work design based on their numbers. In 2015, Millennials accounted for ~ 30% of the working population with forecasts estimating their growth to more than 50% by 2025 (Woods, 2016).

Will companies have a hill to climb in maintaining a company culture with a reputation of being inclusive and employee-focused while integrating cloud offices, remote working, and flexible working schedules? At one end of the continuum you have the full team, each with an office or cubical, who works together between 8 am – 5 pm. On the other end of the spectrum, the office is virtual, with employees working remotely through cloud based connection and occasionally meeting in groups at temporary facilities or informal settings. How far down this continuum will businesses move to accommodate their workforce preferences? Can a virtual company realistically maintain an inclusive culture?

Most people would agree that greater work flexibility is inevitable, because it will be demanded and technology can enable virtual communication. Despite employees’ favor in having more work-life balance, what are some of its potential backlashes that leaders should be aware of and prepared to mitigate? Direct costs may be a factor? Although savings can come from reducing the office footprint, there will likely be increased costs in Cyber security, technology hardware/software, and temporary facilities. What side of the balance sheet those costs land on will depend on the company, but leaders should also be identifying and evaluating the not-so-obvious costs?

What about productivity? Can job responsibilities be redesign in a way that allows for remote access without sacrificing productivity? Some companies may benefit on the bottom line from salaried employees who will voluntarily give back a portion of their 2-3 hours of daily commute time, as they feel more refreshed and focused at the home office. However, do all employees have the discipline to work remotely? Some employees, whose jobs can be performed remotely, still do best in a structured environment away from the home. They may have a difficult time staying focused and making the transition back and forth between work and personal responsibilities. These are all questions and issues employers will have to wrestle with and decide how to accommodate without sacrificing productivity.

working from home sign

I believe a high-risk backlash is the erosion of organizational cohesiveness and having employees feel they are part of the team. Lack of face-to-face interaction can result in employees feeling alienated, lonely, and disconnected from their colleagues. Although video conferencing and social media can bring team members together, they cannot substitute for the natural relationship building that is co-constructed in conversation shared over a cup of coffee, lunch, or a hallway chat. These naturally occurring interactions make people feel valued, affirmed, and more accountable to the team. These unplanned or casual interactions provide opportunities to form personal bonds, mentor, discuss impromptu business ideas, and consider creative solutions. Strong co-worker relationships create a shared sense of purpose that goes beyond performing for a paycheck.

Another potential backlash is the concern, anxiety, and wasted energy that employees have about their performance and future opportunities when they work remotely. Working in an office environment allows employees to receive daily spoken and unspoken feedback on how they are contributing and presenting themselves. With employees fearing “out of sight, out of mind,” they wonder what implication that remote and flexible working will have on their performance appraisal, future promotions, and general opportunities.

Communication may be another area that becomes more challenging in a working environment where employees routinely call in, video conference, or read an email summary.People have always struggled with accurately giving and receiving communication. Future work styles may put additional stress on the frequency and accuracy of messaging.

Burley-Allen (1995) has broken down communication into three messaging parts: the words (7%), tone of voice (38%), and facial/body expressions (55%). Content and intent can easily be lost in translation through a conference call or email.  Do you remember a personal texting incident where you initiated a hailstorm that left you baffled and thinking, “That’s not what I meant?” The fact that we all probably have at least one story along those lines is not surprising, when you consider that 7% of communication is held in the words and leaves the remaining 93% up for interpretation. Whoever designed and launched Emojis was a godsend to the texting community. At least now the receiver can infer some “tone of voice” and “facial expression.”

Changing work structure and processes will naturally change co-worker relationships.  Change is inevitable, so how can a company and its employees navigate this change well? As is usually the case, there is no silver bullet or one thing that companies should focus on. Success is usually built by doing several things well, and I believe companies inherently have the knowledge to set a vision for their future, create goals to get there, understand and overcome obstacles, and hold themselves accountable. Sometimes leadership needs a partner. Coaches are change experts, and I believe organizational and leadership coaches will be called to work more frequently beside leaders to help them move their teams from where they stand to where they want to be.

References

Burley-Allen, M. (1995). Listening: The forgotten skill: A self-teaching guide (2nd ed.).  New York, NY: John Wiley & Sons, Inc. ISBN: 9780471015871.

Korn Ferry Institute. (2017). The talent forecast, part 1: Adapting today’s candidate priorities for tomorrow’s organizational success. Retrieved from  http://www.kornferry.com/the-talent-forecast/the-talent-forecast

Woods, K. (2016). Organizational ambidexterity and the multi-generational workforce. Journal of Organizational Culture, Communications and Conflict, 20(1), 95-111.


HE21118Davis_07-medAbout the Author: Sandra Dillon is a professional coach, consultant, and mentor with an extensive background in business development, leadership, and ministry which provides her with the experience, relational skills, and proven processes to move individuals, couples, and leaders to higher levels of personal awareness, effectiveness, and goal achievement.  She coaches in a variety of areas including life purpose and plans, business, finances, and premarital/marriage.