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How to be a great virtual leader 

March 26, 2020 — Written by Tom Skiba PhD

COVID-19 has shut down your office. Fortunately for you and your team, you can still work from home—but the way you’ll be working looks very different. 

With the watercooler, face-to-face meetings, and casual walk-bys gone for now, leaders need to be extra deliberate in the way they manage their teams.

Here are five scientifically-backed tips to help your team thrive in its new virtual reality. 

Give folks time to get in the groove 

Moving from co-located, face-to-face work to working via screen is a big adjustment, even when the work itself is the same. Your people may be caring for a sick loved one, shouldering new childcare responsibilities while schools are closed, or working in a shared environment that makes it harder to focus.

Since everyone’s situation is different, your job is to be flexible, allowing people to work asynchronously and adjusting expectations as needed. It’s okay if not everyone is as productive virtually as they were in the office, especially not right away.

Become a virtual meeting pro — fast 

When all your meetings are virtual, facilitating them effectively is a must. Make the most of meeting time with this easy checklist: 

Do: 1) Send out an agenda and objectives in advance, 2) Default to video, not just audio , 3) Assign a facilitator and note-taker for each meeting, rotating each time, 4) Start with something light, 5) Make sure everyone gets a chance to speak, 6) Share a meeting summary afterwards.

Don’t: 1) Allow multitasking or multiple screens, 2) Require individual status updates, which can drag on too long. Instead, use written updates, Slack, or a project management tool to track tasks, 3) Let meetings drag on. It’s okay to end early, 4) Be afraid to get personal. Sharing details about your personal life will normalize others’ sharing about theirs, which helps the team feel more connected. 

Set new workplace norms 

A new work environment means setting new expectations. What hours are people expected to be available? How quickly should they respond to messages or email? How should people report progress on projects and track inputs from other teams?

The answers may seem obvious to you, but being clear about working norms can reduce anxiety and help everyone adjust to their new normal faster. 

Prioritize rituals and recognition 

Morale may be lower everywhere thanks to COVID-19, but you can help your team feel connected and supported in times of crisis. 

Try a fun new ritual, like a virtual watercooler each morning or bringing pets to calls. A little connection goes a long way in these isolating times.

Recognition is even more important, too. Let people know they’re appreciated —for their work and for just being themselves—and celebrate shared wins wherever possible. 

Re-evaluate regularly 

Every team’s needs are different, and even the same team’s needs will differ over time as the COVID-19 crisis changes their reality.

Check in with your team members individually and ask what they’re struggling with. Do they need more clarity or flexibility, new communication channels, or ideas for working with other teams?

Keep adjusting (and re-adjusting) your processes as you find what works best for your people. Your willingness to make things work in these difficult times will build strong bonds to last you well beyond this crisis. 

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