4 Advantages to Leading Virtually (that aren’t possible when you are at the office)
Whether we like it or not, the home office concept is part of the “next normal”. As a leader, you may struggle more than your direct reports with working from home.
My clients have been suffering from not being able to “feel the team”. There can be a lot of uncertainty about engagement when you can’t overhear what people are talking about at their desks and in the corridors. And, there are some clear advantages when working virtually.
Here are ideas to make the best of the situation when you and your team are working from home.
1. Time to think strategically
The time saved on commuting to the office is so easily squandered the moment we open our email.
Discipline yourself to use the former commuting time to determine your strategic priorities for the day before you open your laptop in the morning.
Ask yourself three questions:
- What are my top priorities today?
- What relationship could benefit from my attention today?
- What am I grateful for?
You will start your day with positivity and focus. Your team will thank you for it – a less stressed boss is a better boss!
2. A chance to build intimacy
It is common knowledge among great leaders that trust is the foundation for collaboration and results. Working with many engineers, actuaries, and other highly logical people, I have found one trust model that seems to be most “sticky”; the Trust Equation, developed by Charles H Green, David Maister, Rob Galford in their book The Trusted Advisor. It asserts that trust is built by creating credibility, reliability, and intimacy and is drastically reduced by self-orientation.
The “ah-ha moment” that my clients usually have with this model is that intimacy is not only an essential part of building trust, but we can and should create intimacy in the business context. Intimacy is often defined by how it sounds: “In-To-Me-See”. Knowing more about someone and letting them know more about who you are.
We have the unique opportunity to learn more about the people in our team, (build intimacy) as we suddenly are invited into their homes via our video cameras.
Instead of considering interruptions by pets and kids to be a nuisance, build on them. Ask about them. Share stories about what people see and hear behind you. Take the “excuse” to talk about something other than the task at hand.
These opportunities help you know your people better and understand their motivation and frame of reference. This information not only builds trust but greases the wheels of collaboration, as it helps you know more about what this person thinks, values, and likes, and therefore how they tick.
3. Anonymous contributions in team meetings.
If you use a tool, like Zoom, which allows for “annotation” on the slides that you are showing, this gives you a chance to get real, honest answers to questions like;
- What do our people need from us now?
- What is your biggest concern?
- What feedback do you have?
People can type directly on the screen, and no one, not even the host, knows who writes what.
The slide annotation feature creates a kind of safety and anonymity that is very hard to replicate when physically together in a meeting room.
4. See everyone’s faces and reactions simultaneously – gauge engagement.
Many virtual meeting tools allow you to have a “gallery view” where you can see all the faces of every person on the call. Gallery view gives you a chance to check the reactions of everyone at a glance at any time, without them knowing! If you are in a meeting room, it would be way too obvious if you craned your neck to check every facial expression in the room. Moreover, you wouldn’t be able to do it fast enough to catch the micro-expressions that people usually cannot hide.
Micro-expressions are involuntary facial expressions that only last a short moment and are driven by the amygdala. They communicate the 7 universal basic emotions, disgust, anger, fear, sadness, happiness, contempt, and surprise. Unlike body language or hand gestures, these expressions are the same for every human, no matter their culture.
Being able to see micro-expressions is a considerable advantage when breaking important news or if there is conflict or tension in the team.
Let people know beforehand that you will be expecting them to have their cameras on. That way people won’t have to scramble to brush their hair and put on a shirt when they see the cameras are on.
Don’t just leave the camera on passively – pay attention and keep an eye on facial expressions.
Ask people to make sure their full face is visible on the screen. Don’t settle for the “head-rise” effect where you just see the top of their head, or worse, a frame absent a person altogether! Ask them to adjust the lighting so their face is not in shadow.
Ask people to leave the microphones on (unless there is actually disruptive noise in the background). Those small sighs, chuckles, yawns, and gasps can give you a lot of information about the level of engagement in the room. Microphones switched on will also help people resist the temptation to type/multi-task below the camera’s watchful eye.
My clients tell me at the start of the pandemic, people usually had their cameras on. Now people typically have their cameras off. Don’t settle for the lack of information; make it the norm that people use cameras and microphones on all team meetings.
After all, you would never attempt to lead an in-person meeting using a blindfold or earplugs!
So don’t settle for cameras off, people out of view or microphones permanently on mute.
Many of my client organizations are extending the period of home office. Time to accept this modern reality and reap the advantages for great leadership!
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