You are here

With more and more employees working from home, leaders now have the additional challenging of heading a team they may rarely see face to face. Here's how to overcome those difficulties.

A virtual leader has to be able to develop trust and communication in the team 

Surveys have shown that many professionals would accept lower pay if they could work from home, and the number of telecommuters in the US and Canada is growing as a response to rising gas prices, rising infrastructure costs, and the desire to wear PJs while you work.

Team dynamics

  • In virtual leadership, a team is physically distanced from itself, and meets mainly through the internet, or phone. 
  • Sometimes virtual teams are a branch of a larger organization, and sometimes the team is the entire business staff.

Challenges unique to virtual leadership

  • Practical - includes time zones, technological breakdown and communication strategies.
  • Personal - includes trust-building, diversity, and work-life balance.

TRUST is the biggest problem, and the biggest obstacle to traditional-thinking. In normal social situations, we trust people based on how similar we are to them. In virtual environments, the way we trust changes. Not only can you not see the person in front of you (cutting off a chance to get to know them personally), but they could potentially come from a wildly different background.

Steps to overcome this challenge

  • Essentially, everyone has to meet together on a big Skype party, introduce themselves, communicate enthusiasm, and have fun. This sounds cheesy, but it’s incredibly important to build the foundation for trust.
  • Just communicate regularly, and hand in your work on time.

The ideal teams — that had high initial team-building, and high final-stage trustworthiness — were positive in the face of stress, had realistic expectations, and were more social. The ideal virtual teams really were ideal teams.

To succeed in building trust in a virtual environment, focus on initial team-building, then prove your trustworthiness through actions and regular communication. Both are important: if you drop off the face of the planet but still hand in your work, no one’s going to trust you. Same thing if you talk about getting your work done, but never actually hand stuff in.

Photo: George Doyle/Thinkstock