3 Tips for Effective Virtual Leadership

By MBO Partners | June 22, 2023

Virtual team

Key Points

Many onsite management skills translate to virtual teams. Some, however, may not be easily translatable.

Conflict resolution, constructive feedback, and team appreciation can be particularly challenging when working with a virtual team.

Mastering these three skill areas in a virtual setting can lead to excellent outcomes.

Team management has some tenets that are independent of the physical location of members. Whether onsite or distributed across several time zones, it’s important to establish clear roles, expectations, and norms, communicate frequently, celebrate successes, and create opportunities for social interaction and fun. What differs is the way a manager goes about accomplishing this.

Many onsite management skills translate to virtual teams. For example, email is ubiquitous, and even in the same office members tend to use platforms like Slack or Microsoft Teams for quick chats. Using the right technologies, meetings can be run as effectively on screen as in a room.

Some management skills, however, may not be easily translatable. These three can be particularly challenging when working with a virtual team.

Conflict Resolution

It can be tempting to ignore or downplay team member conflicts, perhaps hoping they will fizzle out on their own. It’s a virtual workplace, the thought may go, so the issue won’t get much oxygen. While this may be the case, it’s more likely to either fester or grow, lingering on through bad feelings and gossip.

There are two strategies to put into play that focus on possible team conflicts. First, you can go a long way toward preventing team conflicts by building trust, rapport, and respect among members. Second, hone your own mediation skills by taking courses or finding a mentor to coach you. Being confident and comfortable about your conflict resolution abilities will be a positive support in a virtual environment.

Constructive Feedback

We may call it constructive, but most workers immediately think “negative” and steel themselves for the worst. Meeting in person offers opportunities to mitigate at least some of this reaction, for example, meeting in a place that is comfortable and casual rather than in an office with a desk between you. Meeting virtually doesn’t offer similar opportunities. Delivering feedback constructively on-screen centers on your conversation and, to some extent, body language and facial expression.

Throughout your conversation, keep your attitude positive and upbeat, which will be reflected in your facial expression and other mannerisms. Set the stage for your feedback by making it clear that you support the worker. Sincerely offer appreciation for characteristics, skills, or achievements that have been beneficial. Rather than immediately switching gears to the feedback, have a relevant conversation. Ask questions—“What did you think of the results of this?” “Are you satisfied with the outcome of your effort on that?”—and listen to them in a neutral manner. When delivering your feedback, be clear and sincere. Encourage constructive response and a mutual commitment for a solution.

Team Member Appreciation

Conflict resolution and constructive feedback can be challenging because they deal with potentially negative behaviors. Expressing appreciation in a virtual environment has its own challenges. Being separated from each other, there aren’t opportunities for spontaneity like bringing doughnuts in the morning or ordering pizza for a team lunch. You may not have the chance to offer compliments in the moment as you would in person.

Special occasions can take place virtually. For example, set an online meeting or create a space in your chat platform where you and the team can get together, say every Friday, to do something together, like trivia questions, “ask me anything” sessions, or just have a chat about life in general. Add a bit of logistics and have something special sent to each team member prior to a special meeting—this could be food or something fun and memorable. To show appreciation to specific workers, create a “recognition board” or a hashtag (e.g., #jobwelldone) where team members can “tell” on each other for producing great results. Or conduct an awards event to recognize team members in various categories.

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