What does it mean to be a leader? In short, a leader is someone who inspires, guides, and coaches others to achieve their goals.

To take that question further, what does it mean to be a virtual leader? Well, it’s not as different as you might think!

A significant component of being a successful leader centers around your interpersonal relationships. While connectivity is often associated with face-to-face interactions, you can accomplish this as a long-distance leader through an adjusted approach.

1. Communicating as a Virtual Leader  

When you’re leading remote teams, you lose that face-to-face interaction. This means your tone, instruction, and feedback can become lost in translation if you’re not careful.

To avoid this, be clear and concise. Provide enough detail and direction to avoid being ambiguous and eliminate any confusion.

Use the appropriate cadence when communicating with employees. Too much communication can come across overbearing and untrustworthy, and too little you risk decreasing productivity and employee engagement.

As you already know being a leader, your calendar can fill up fast. Make sure you dedicate time and set up structured meetings with individuals and teams. The structure will allow everyone to fall into a routine, and it won’t feel like you’re micromanaging them with random check-ins.

It’s just as important to schedule weekly one-on-one meetings with employees to make sure you’re getting that necessary time together to discuss projects, build connections, and continue supporting their development journey. By offering availability, your employees will feel that you value the relationship.

When you lead a virtual team, it’s quite possible not every individual resides in the same time zone. To maximize productivity, make sure there are a few hours of overlap for all employees on your team. This allows everyone to get that sense of team even when they are dispersed.

Use the appropriate channels for your communication and set expectations on how your various communication channels are to be used. Discuss when it’s appropriate to use instant message, email, and webcam meetings. Understand when a meeting is necessary versus a quick announcement. No one likes attending hour-long meetings when the question could be addressed more efficiently in an email.

Encourage collaboration! It can be easy for remote team members to become withdrawn from the group and push through tasks alone. You can promote teamwork by collaborating yourself. Leading by example is a great way to get your fellow team members onboard.

Our Work… But Virtual guide series includes tons of strategies on communicating with teams virtually, whether it’s balancing accountability and trust, keeping up an engaging culture, coaching, and more. Click here to access all seven guides!

2. Developing Your Emotional Intelligence 

A leader with high emotional intelligence develops stronger relationships with their employees and empowers their team to the highest degree.

Building strong relationships is one of the most important things you can do as a virtual leader. Stronger connections will improve culture, collaboration, and engagement levels in your organization.

Leaders who continually develop their emotional intelligence are better equipped to overcome challenging situations and inspire those around them to become the best versions of themselves.

Emotional intelligence is comprised of four major components: self-awareness, social awareness, self-management, and relationship management. All components are equally as important and can benefit both leaders and team members.

To gain a deeper understanding of how to develop emotional intelligence, view our free handbook: 

3. Leading With Empathy 

As we mentioned above, communication has its hurdles in a virtual environment. We lose that ability to read someone’s intent through their body language, facial expression, and tone.

This means that when you conversate with your team, be sure to pay extra attention to verbal and non-verbal cues. When having conversations, encourage the use of a webcam to see the other person’s facial expression and build that connection.

If one of your employees is having a hard time adjusting to a remote setting, or has challenges with time management, take the time to listen and understand how you can help. While the responsibility falls on the individual to perform at their job, you can set them up for success by providing resources to improve on soft skills.

Another great way to support your employee’s growth and development is by encouraging them to establish connections outside of your relationship.

Try creating a mentoring program within your organization by pairing up newer employees with more tenured individuals. By encouraging the mentor-mentee relationship, your employees can grow and develop in new ways.

In today’s workplaces, whether virtual, in-person, or a hybrid of the two, leading with empathy can significantly impact employees’ mental health. To ensure your organization places high value on the mental health of all employees, check out our free ebook:

4. Improving Organization With Online Tools

If you want to be an effective virtual leader, you must prioritize organization. With a variety of meetings and metrics to keep up with, it can be easy to get caught up in the never-ending to-do list.

The first thing you must do as a leader is set realistic expectations for yourself and your team.

You can do this by creating a schedule to track progress. Make sure everyone on your team understands the plan, and where to find the schedule. This will provide a sense of transparency among team members. When it comes time to delegate tasks, you have visibility to see who has time on their hands for an additional project.

Maximize your tools. Use the tools you already have! Whether that be a communication channel, document sharing site, or project management tool, use these tools to your advantage. But this requires digital literacy – according to the American Library Association, digital literacy can be defined as “the ability to use information and communication technologies to find, evaluate, create, and communicate information, requiring both cognitive and technical skills.”

Make sure you and the members of your team understand how to use the tools. You don’t want this to become another hurdle, so take some time for specific tools training if you need it.

Whether you’re new to leading remote teams or still searching to find the right balance, you’ll be heading in the right direction if you focus on these essential skills.

To learn more best practices and innovative strategies for leading virtual teams, check out our Work… But Virtual guide series!