COVID has dramatically the increased the need for leaders at all levels in organisations to be able to engage their people well using a range of virtual tools & platforms. In practice, that’s the easy bit.

Like bees, we as human beings we need & crave relationships, connection, networks & human contact – we’re driven to be part of a tribe, a colony or community.

Leadership is fundamentally a human-human relationship. It’s routinely described as a collection of actions that help people to be aligned, engaged and to perform but at a very basic level it’s a human contact sport, played at the level of actions & behaviours, emotions & feeling and values & beliefs.

In my experience leadership is often transacted around tasks, with facts & information moving back & forth as part of problem-solving discussions & management-level activity. For years we’ve all got away with this level of transacting, with face-to-face contact doing just enough to maintain relationships & create connections.

Now, the COVID-enforced move to virtual working is eroding our ability to informally connect & engage with others in person & this has a huge implication for all leaders in relation to employees’ clarity of purpose, engagement, & wellbeing. I believe that the role of leader, now more than ever, is to regularly & deliberately work with deep self & social awareness, to engage in rich conversations about how their people feel, exploring what they need & how they can be at their best.

The digital tools can help or be a burden. If they’re used just to discuss tasks & share information they’re unlikely to step beyond being a basic & transactional tool with the risk that employees quickly become mentally tired & disengaged. I guess we’ve all been Zoomed out at some stage over the last few months, and have been part of virtual meetings & workshops that have done little to engage the heart alongside the head.

They do however provide a great opportunity if deliberately used to create & sustain powerful leadership & team relationships. Used well they offer the possibility to flexibly & regularly engage people and there’s scope to lift their use into the transformational. Here’s a few tips about how to lead your people well in a virtual world:

  • Focus on relationships & engagement that build & sustain groups of people around a common purpose
  • Be crystal clear on your purpose for every session & interaction
  • Allow more time to enable the same quality of outcomes as you would hope to achieve in face to face interactions
  • Plan short sessions (1.5hrs is an ideal maximum) & use breaks to maintain energy & interest
  • Operate with a ‘camera on’ policy for all participants – you wouldn’t attend a F2F meeting with a bag on your head (would you?)
  • Contract with colleagues on engagement & expected behaviours
  • Be flexible and considerate to the challenges of their personal circumstances
  • Plan to be as interactive as possible
  • Invite individuals to contribute their ideas & perspectives
  • Use interactive virtual whiteboard platforms that allow genuine interaction & real work to be done
  • Train participants to use the tools well
  • Blend large & breakout group sessions to deliver key concepts, gain alignment and share feedback with breakout groups to do develop detailed thinking, ideas, plan & ownership
  • Allow time for social rituals particularly in smaller group settings
  • Evaluate the impact of your meeting/workshops – measure whether you’ve achieved what you’ve intended

To reiterate, leadership is a relationship that requires awareness, skill, commitment & an investment in others.

If you’d like to explore how to develop your ability to lead your people well in a virtual world or to lead your organisation effectively as a leadership team do please get in touch. I’d love to help.