SUCCEEDING AS A LEADER IN A VIRTUAL WORKSPACE
I have recently been asked on my social media pages several questions about how leadership in the virtual workspace can work. With no physical engagement with your people or your team, how do the dynamics of communication have to change for you to still achieve your goals? In the face of the global crisis, physical contact and face-to-face meetings are unadvisable. Many teams have thus turned to technology – using various collaboration tools such as Zoom, Google Hangouts and Slack.
Remote working is not a novel idea. According to Global Workspace Analytics, the number of people who work from home has increased by 140% since 2005. Technology advancement has also created new jobs that support full-time working from home, an area that is expanding multiple times faster than more traditional areas of work. And despite the fact that remote working is not a novel idea and has been tested by some companies who have practised the culture full time, many who have recently made a 360-degree transition are still encountering major challenges. Millions of people report that they work remotely around the world. Owl Labs, in their Global State of Remote Work indicated that Africa and Australia in 2018 had the most hybrid or fully remote companies with 59% and 60% respectively. Globally, 52% of workers work from home at least once every week (Owl Labs, 2018). And although many companies around the world have embraced the work from anywhere movement, many others do not know enough about how remote work would impact their employees, their teams, and their organizations to enable it.
Upwork, a global freelancing platform mentions that by 2028, 73% of all departments will have remote workers. So, the world being plunged into this state of emergency may be an even better time to restructure for the future. Upwork goes on to state that millennials and Gen Z workers make up only 38% of the workforce, but in 2028, they’ll amount to 58%. Because of that, almost three-quarters of companies will employ some remote workers, while 33% of workers will be fully remote.
There is no doubt that the introduction of easy-to-use technology collaboration and communication tools have made it much simpler to navigate these disturbing times. One cannot imagine the huge gaps in the economic system had these systems not been in place. But for many managers and leaders, getting on a Zoom or Slack call is only a small fraction of the evolving leadership responsibilities they have to adjust to. Team management is all about communication and sadly, many leaders have not acquired the toolsets and tips to run this successfully.
In this time, leaders should be asking themselves what soft skills and resources do they need to sail the ship of their companies to victory. Hard skills and technology, I will argue, are in abundance, although not entirely all sufficient. The basic necessities of needed by one company to survive in these times may differ from another company based on several factors. For nay business, group or firm one things is common; leadership – and any decision made by a leader will be very crucial to the success of any enterprise.
The first most important step in finding a solution to any problem is to find out what the challenge is. The current global situation was more or less unexpected. As a leader, I know you may never have dreamt of the day where your entire work force or a fraction of it, be it large or small, will have to work from home for weeks. This change all by itself may have posed a big threat or risk to the business you are managing. What do you do in the face of uncertainty? The answer is simple; you communicate to your team! It is expected of you to lead through valleys and mountains no matter what the situation is. And whether you have an idea of what your short-term and long-term plans should be, some form of communication is necessary. Everyone else just like you will be feeling the anxiety that the uncertainty brings. You are human so communicate your discomforts and worries with a promise to find a solution.
What exactly may be making working remotely challenging for you and your team? We have established that any effort to achieve what verbal face-to-face communication does for a team is a good one. But does the use of all these innovations work with your entire team? Are they comfortable? For teams of young aged members, video conferencing tools are no new discovery to be uncomfortable with. But what of the adults who did not grow up on this technology? If you are managing an older aged team, what do you do? While some of your members may find it difficult to simply find their way around technology communication solutions, others may simple be uncomfortable and unable to connect with others through a screen. As a leader, how do you communicate with confidence and authenticity through a phone or a tablet? How do you inspire confidence in your team in the absence of your presence?
Communication is about 55% non-verbal, Psychology Today writes. The second communication obstacle would thus be communicating effectively if one is unable to merge body language and verbal statements to truly interpret what the speaker is saying. The fact is, it is harder to read over video, the appropriate affect, tone, pacing, and facial expressions that we rely on for effective communication in person. These signals may even be more herculean when dealing in a group setting.
Succeeding as a leader in a virtual workspace is possible and will be made easier with understanding and practising the four tips below:
- Gain Clarity
Filter out the noise by gaining clarity. Call each team member and ask how they are coping? Is there anything you could possibly do to make working in these times easier? As a group, can there be some new habits and responsibilities assigned to create a new normal? Through these discussions, re-evaluate each person’s strengths and weaknesses. It may become clear to you that certain responsibilities may need to be reassigned, and some teammates may need retraining through virtual workshops. Remember that no one was prepared for this. So take this opportunity to build for the now and for the future possibilities. Pay attention to new habits you may be developing as well as those your teammates may develop. Every detail is crucial in determining how you can win at leading your team in a virtual workspace.
- Communicate to connect
“Communication – the human connection – is the key to personal and career success” – Paul J. Meyer. As a leader in the position of influence, a basic requirement needed to establish your influence is to be liked and connected to your audience; your staff, colleagues and clients. If you want to become a great leader, it is of absolute necessity that you connect with your staff and clients at a very deep level. Connectivity requires the presence of trust, vulnerability and rawness. The necessity to be clear and grounded in your identity cannot and be undermined. Connectivity is a step-in building rapport, which is defined as total responsiveness on the side of both parties during an engagement. Remember that you can have successful communication even miles apart. A few tips to take note of on the matter of body language would be to establish a firm position even when you are sitting. Do well to avoid fidgeting. Have a nice warm smile on your face when speaking and listening. Match the movements of the other party. Do not focus on the distance. Rather, focus on the message. Focus also not on hearing what your team has to say. But take the time to listen to each concern, each idea or each contribution.
- Realign with your company goals
Find opportunities to align, engage, and inspire your teams around a purpose. You can revisit some of the plans and goals you had set out to achieve together. You will not only feel united as a team, you will be motivated and drawn to achieving something beyond yourselves. “One way to accomplish this is to regularly set aside time for team members to highlight and share wins delivered either to customers, each other, or to the business itself. If well-crafted, you can tie the “bright spot” sharing to the company’s vision, mission, or values, reiterating the importance or the organization’s purpose and the essential role that everyone plays in achieving it.” – Harvard Business Review
- Communicate to influence
We have all agreed that we need at least one person to enable us influence, therefore we must remember that to achieve the pinnacle of influence we must penetrate mind spaces intangibly. We must create engagement with our teams where we can easily touch connect with them lead by giving them true value. As a leader, your team will look up to you. Your discipline is to implement change and tow that line. So, our ability to coach, guide, give feedback and our teams to acquire the needed skills through complementary engagement will help us build a new company culture for the future.
As we lead our people from our safe spaces, wherever that may be for each of us, remember that you can still win if you are open and willing to gain the skills to pivot these times. All the best!
Are you ready for TRANSFORMATION?
Dzigbordi K. Dosoo: The H.E.L.P. Coach
Dzigbordi K. Dosoo is a Personal Impact, Professional Growth and Influence Expert specializing in Humanness, Entrepreneurship, Leadership and Power – H.E.L.P.
A career spanning over two decades, she has established herself as a Certified High Performance Coach, Speaker, Author, Wellness Expert and award-winning Entrepreneur with a clientele ranging from C-Suite Executives, Senior Management, Practitioners and Sales Leaders spanning 3 continents.
She is the Founder of Dzigbordi K. Dosoo (DKD) Holdings; a premier lifestyle business group with brand subsidiaries that include Dzigbordi Consulting Group& Allure Africa.
She is one of the most decorated female entrepreneurs in Ghana having being named “CIMG Marketing Woman of the Year” in 2009; “Top 10 most respected CEOs in Ghana, 2012; Global Heart of Leadership Award and, Women Rising “100 Most Influential Ghanaian Women”, 2017. She has also been featured on CNN.
She can be reached on firstname.lastname@example.org and @dzigbordi across all social media platforms.