We may be a year into a pandemic yet, leading in a virtual environment is still a struggle many leaders face. Many of us have adjusted to a new way of living and working by now, yet, managing others in a world that is still undergoing tremendous change adds another layer of complexity.

The roller coaster of emotions stemming from events happening around the globe, plus people’s personal affairs, often which you know nothing about, can sometimes feel like walking on eggshells.

There is much to manage and, if you’re not self-managing, it’s like the blind leading the blind. It’s been a theme I’ve noticed recently with my clients bringing topics similar to those a year ago.

How do I ensure employee engagement stays high?

How do I ensure my employees are being productive in a remote environment?

We have so many meetings, everyone’s calendars are full, my team is tired, how do I stay connected to them without overwhelming them with another meeting?

The questions may sound a little different, but the tone and underlying ask are the same. With the best of intentions, leaders want to be there for their team. Ensure relationships are being strengthened and overall, prioritize well-being and not get lost in the overwhelm of work and life in today’s climate.

Research shows even as vaccines begin to roll out, despite the many changes that have been driven by COVID, the biggest one that will remain is allowing employees to work remotely part-time. A close runner-up is providing flexibility to employees when they work.

The skills that will be increasingly important to develop in a virtual environment have less to do with managing productivity and performance and everything to do with how you cultivate your employee relationships.

If you can focus on those skills (interpersonal or soft skills), the performance and productivity will follow with less effort. That doesn’t mean it’s not important, it means you’re prioritizing connection and employee relationship which, will inevitably allow you to better understand performance and productivity behaviours. 

Here are 3 ways to help you do just that – focus on developing soft skills & continue to develop your employee relationships while leading in a virtual environment:

  1. Create opportunities to build connection- by now, we know how over it, people are from the Zoom meetings or whichever virtual platform/web conferencing tool you use. This doesn’t take away, however, from the importance of building connection with others. Technology has been a saviour in so many ways over the past year and also created a love-hate relationship. The opportunity here is, there are far more ways to connect with others than ever before that allow you to build connections and develop relationships. The key is being strategic on which tools serve which purposes and when to use them. 

Face time, for example, is better suited for more sensitive discussions OR when being intentional on simply connecting for social purposes. Consider the platform you use and for what reasons. An added tip is, to help manage overuse of all this wonderful technology and prevent burnout, put time constraints on the use of your platforms. You can’t force people to not send a Slack message at 10 pm, but you can widely communicate etiquette and expectations around when people are expected to use such platforms including email!

Virtual fireside chats are another opportunity to connect with others. You can hold these monthly focusing on a different topic (formal or informal) and choose a different leader to host them depending on the size of your organization. Employees can consider holding these also, as a way to connect with peers and colleagues from other teams they may not be as familiar with!

2. Empower & exercise an entrepreneurial spirit – where can you create opportunities for employees to contribute and be part of larger organizational goals? People may be “Zoomed out,” but they also love growing! With the changing needs and demands of business to stay innovative, leverage your employees and empower them to contribute. Ask for their input and offer space for creativity, ideation and collaboration. This is also an opportunity to foster employee recognition!

3. Compassion & Empathy – likely two significant qualities and skills to develop in this climate we’re living in. As emotions continue to be high and many of us are juggling the pressures of both work and home life, empathizing with others and demonstrating compassion is an understatement. Both will be vital as you work on building connections with others.

We’ve gone through tremendous change over the past year, yet you are resilient. We are resilient. Show yourself compassion for doing the best you can with what you know and what you have. Your team doesn’t expect you to have or know all the answers. They just want to be supported, heard and cared for. Work on developing self-compassion so you can extend compassion to others and connect with others in more meaningful ways to help you empathize with others.

In this digital age we’re living in, virtual work environments are here to stay for the long run. As leaders, the skills that will matter most are those that can’t be replaced by technology and instead, be the very human skills that will always be in demand.

Focus on mastering those.

Big love,

Lisa

I’d love to hear from you in the comments!

What skills have helped you lead in a virtual environment?

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