Leading in a virtual world

After two years of the COVID pandemic and a virtual work environment, employees are hungry to connect with their leaders and teammates, and are at or approaching burnout. 

In the virtual environment, meetings are often scheduled back-to-back, with little time to reflect and get work done.  In result, real connections and a sense of community are harder to build and sustain.  People feel alone and unfulfilled and leaders struggle with how to sustain their cultures.  In addition to the mental, emotional and physical toll of the pandemic, the rapid change has made it challenging to focus and align teams. Expectations and priorities are often vague or poorly articulated.  Frustration often mounts and voluntary turnover rates are skyrocketing as employees look for alternatives to provide more meaning and fulfillment in their work experience.  This is a leadership challenge of great importance.

What can leaders do?

In the pre-pandemic world, effective leaders ‘led by walking around’ and connected face to face to fully appreciate team member concerns and challenges.  Priorities were adjusted as required to ensure focus and alignment.  In today’s virtual world, smart leaders connect as often as possible with not only their direct reports, but levels below direct reports.  This requirement is not going away and must be accomplished on the phone, one-on-one virtual check-ins, and virtual team meetings and sensing sessions.  

Leaders must be creative. In the virtual world, it is more important than ever to be clear about the company’s mission, it’s purpose, expectations, shared goals, and priorities.

These concepts cannot be over communicated, both in writing and verbally.  If everything is important, nothing is important.  Leaders are expected to align and focus their teams on what is important and why.  The why, or purpose, behind every mission and task is critical to foster initiative and creativity.  This is often the magic that ignites passion and performance during tough times.

Smart leaders embrace the imperative that leaders are responsible for defining, growing, protecting, and nurturing their cultures. 

This was true before the pandemic and remains true now.  Therefore, this starts with leaders embracing and ‘walking the talk’ with their espoused values and supporting behaviors.  Leaders are watched 24/7, even in the virtual world.  When leaders at any level of a company are not aligned with enterprise values, team members will conclude that the values are not important, and trust will be seriously eroded.  Frustration will mount.

In conclusion, leaders have an enormous impact on company performance and retention during the virtual reality we are all embracing.  The circumstances have changed, but the leadership imperatives of knowing your people, being clear about what you are asking people to do and why, adjusting priorities and expectations to align your team, and focusing on growing and nurturing your culture have never been more important.  We all have no alternative but to be creative to succeed in the virtual world.  Stay tuned for more on the tools you could be using.