5 ‘virtual leadership’ tips and tricks for startup founders and team leaders

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, businesses have had to adapt swiftly to the new reality of remote work. Since it seems that remote work is here to stay, the need for virtual management and leadership has emerged. Virtual leadership is a form of leadership in which teams are managed remotely. Like traditional leadership roles, virtual leaders focus on encouraging workers and helping teams accomplish their goals. Thus, virtual leaders need to have specific skills to create consistent and efficient communication, transparency, and accountability with the group online. 

We have identified 5 essential tips and tricks for virtual leaders which will result in more efficient workflow and improved team spirit.

  1. Establish team goals & guidelines

When you collaborate with your team, it’s vital to create a framework of mutual expectations, rules and goals and stick to them. Body language and social cues, which can be easily grasped in the office setting, are challenging to transmit or perceive not seeing the person face-to-face. To reach the desired outcomes and avoid miscommunication on the way because of the online setting, here are some tips:

  • Always have an agenda Successful leaders always have a clear idea of the topic, goals, and action items for the meetings. Share your agenda points with the team before the meeting, so everyone is on the same page.
  • Set expectations How should people participate in a meeting? Are they active listeners, speakers or both? Do they have to prepare anything? Whatever you decide, let your team know, so they come prepared.
  • Check the temperature How is your message getting across? Are there questions? Take time to get the idea of your team’s reaction. Since you don’t have the opportunity of face-to-face contact, you should check in more regularly than you would in person.

2. Utilize the right technology

Virtual leaders use the right communication tools, meaning that they match the medium with the message. These are some recommendations of appropriate messages for each medium:

  •     Instant messages Programmes like Slack, Teams Chat and Google Chat are popular for quick communication needs, like checking a project status, asking questions, or coordinating schedules. There are also a number of European startups out there providing similar tools, in case you want to support a fellow team.
  •     Email If you need to share some formal instructions, files or updates with one person or a group of people, email is a good choice.
  •     Video Video is your optimal choice to create and keep a face-to-face connection. Many things are easier to explain face-to-face instead of composing lengthy emails.
  •     Phone Conflicts, sensitive conversations, as well as urgent matters, are optimal over the phone.

3. Foster team relationships 

Building strong relationships is one of the essential things you can do as a virtual leader. Stronger connections will improve culture, collaboration, and engagement levels in your organization. How can you boost team connections when you aren’t even working in the same building? Well, even virtually, you can encourage socializing and give people the same opportunities to build relationships as done offline. One example is to organize a recurring time slot for your team to join a video call to chat with each other. It means no agendas and no work talk. Try a 30-minute happy hour one evening.

4. Support your team

Virtual leaders need to understand that working remotely can be lonely for team members, and not everyone shares the energy and excitement of working alone at home. As a virtual leader, it is crucial to know how team members are doing emotionally, i.e. asking them how their weekend was or what their current concerns are.

Another type of support is showing that despite the distance, their leader and the team members are there to support if needed. If before it was easy to walk by the desk and ask how things are going, there have to be other ways to show that you’re there for them. These are some examples:

  •     Establish virtual office hours The idea is to introduce a set time every week or so where your attention is 100% on your employees.
  •     Share your availability Let your team know of specific time slots when you are available for them during the week. 
  •     Schedule weekly one-on-one calls To keep connected and trace the performance of the team members, weekly 30-45-minute calls are a must. The topics of the calls should include the current projects and their professional growth goals and plans. 

5. Make transparency your friend

Sharing openly status updates, including inconveniences, failures, and errors is vital for both leaders and employees to maintain credibility and to achieve common aims and goals. The team members have to feel together in the face of adversity instead of trying to figure things out on their own. Here the stance of the leader becomes paramount: it depends on their reaction and degree of empathy if workers share unfavourable information in the future.