Virtual Leadership: How to Lead Virtual Employees

If you rarely see your team face-to-face and need to improve your virtual leadership skills here are six ways to get started.

There are various characteristics and leadership styles of effective business leaders. Some of them include: creativity, honesty, communication, confidence, inspiration, and a sense of humor. Effective leaders also use their body language, voice, and the sheer weight of their presence to leverage these things their benefit.

However, if you take your business virtual, or manage virtual assistants and remote employees, many of the characteristics that shape you as a leader would be lost due to a simple lack of physical presence.

Perhaps you manage a global business, or multiple locations? If so, you may find that traditional leadership tools and traits don’t translate easily across a virtual workforce. So, when you find yourself leading a virtual team with nothing more than an email address and occasional video conference, how can you maintain your effectiveness?


How to Lead in a Virtual Business World

Even in today’s digital world, many business people believe it is nearly impossible to exhibit effective leadership with the sole use of popular web-based project management software such as Basecamp, Asana, Workzone, and other team management tools.

While online project management tools help to streamline projects and accountability, they should not replace you, the leader. But, when this happens outsourcing becomes a nightmare and virtual teams cannot be managed.

So, if you rarely see your team face-to-face and need to improve your virtual leadership skills here are several ways to get started:


  1. Be approachable.

    If your team was located on a single office floor, your management style would be apparent. You would do things (and deal with people) in a particular way. None of this should go away just because you are managing a team via your laptop instead of an office floor. You can (and should) still be yourself. Remain open, approachable and conversational. Allow employees to feel free to share their opinions and ideas with you.

  2. Emphasize communication.

    Communication is critical in the workplace. Offline management would demand it. Online team management demands it even more because you don’t have the luxury of your team members’ physical presence. As writer Michelle LaBrosse, of Computer World, explains, managers should focus on “managing results, and not activity”. LaBrosse suggests there are general best practices  such as scheduling regular ways to communicate with your virtual team – the kind that saves time and not kill time. Ultimately, once you establish protocol for communication, teams work with just as much (if not more) efficiency than normal teams would.

  3. Offer virtual training.

    Training is an important aspect of team development. Meanwhile, most job skills can be taught online. Use video conferencing tools such as GotoMeeting to host online meetings and create a fixed training schedule for team members.

  4. Provide proactive support.

    There are two types of virtual managers: one who assigns a task and expects performance; and another who assigns a task, along with a host of supporting documentation (i.e., help files, videos, and even audio instructions). Which of these types of managers best describes you? Often, good managers don’t wait for individual team members to come and ask for a document to help them work better. These managers are in proactive mode and create self-help tools (i.e., files, flowcharts, visuals, mind-maps, and charts.) before anyone asks for it. Every leader should attempt to be that type of manager.

  5. Get out of the way.

    After you do your part, get out of the way and let your team do their magic. Doing your part entails training, teaching, mentorship, support, and spending time with your employees. This may also include documenting processes (i.e., write out every step of every task and record it on screencasts) or investing in documents, books, or training courses. Once you’ve put in the work, don’t handhold your team members. Force them to find solutions to problems on their own.

  6. Take a page from the MLM playbook.

    You may not be selling soap and vitamins or asking people if they are interested in “opportunities”, but like Robert T. Kiyosaki says (and we concur), MLM opportunities are the best MBA school alternatives for learning about business, ever. MLM, which stands for multi-level marketing, is great business training ground. For instance, generally when a new team member has a problem, their up-line member(s) go out and put in the work so their down-line members benefit. The new member, meanwhile, observes and learns. They also realize, deep down, their success would be incomplete without their respective up-line members leading by example. Simply put, successful network marketers do a lot to help their teams get off the ground and you should too.

Dipti Parmar is a digital marketing wiz is associated with E2M Solutions. She’s been journeying through the world of digital marketing for 6 years and is a blogger and networker. She’s also a movie buff and loves taking long walks by the seashore. Connect with @dipTparmar on Twitter.


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