Developing Leadership Skills for the Virtual Workplace
The shift to virtual workplaces has challenged management in many ways. While the qualities and attributes of an effective manager remain largely unchanged, IT managers must utilize a new set of skills and tools to effectively manage employees in a virtual workplace.
As remote work becomes the new norm, managers must learn new skills to meet the demands of the evolving workforce landscape. This is especially true with the absence of regular face-to-face interactions. Other challenges are prevalent in a virtual workplace, particularly when it comes to enabling real-time collaboration and regular engagement with employees.
This presents an opportunity both for leaders and their employees to upskill in new areas, including soft skills and digital upskilling.
For Suneet Dua, chief growth officer at PwC, effective communication is a critical aspect of building and maintaining trust with the remote workforce. “This is especially true in the wake of the pandemic as employees have placed increased levels of trust in their employers, with 80% of employees saying they trust their company the same or more now than before the pandemic,” he says.
From Dua’s perspective, it is a business imperative to engage with employees, listen to their feedback and take action to remove barriers and resolve negative trends. “In today’s digital world, there are numerous opportunities to gather employee feedback and encourage two-way communication,” he says.
Nicolas Hopman, global vice president of transformation and acceleration services at Red Hat, agrees, but notes in the current workplace landscape, ensuring a team is aligned and working together can be challenging. “Communicating is a major factor in ensuring one’s team is clear on the goals, objectives, and their individual responsibilities to support the business,” he says. “We live in a time of much confusion and well executed communication management will ensure teams have the clarity they need to be highly effective, regardless of whether they are virtual or in-person.”
Digital Tools for Workplace Automation and Management
As more and more organizations shift to remote work, digital tools focused on workplace automation and workforce management will be the most important for generating value. Workplace automation platforms can offer an effective way to streamline processes and allow employees to spend more time maximizing business value and less time on administrative tasks.
However, Dua points out that for organizations to successfully adopt automation, they will need digital training programs to teach employees how to use the tools, embed digital automation into their daily tasks. He explained PwC went through this internal “citizen led” digital transformation journey and created a digital upskilling platform to address the need for digital upskilling at scale.
Digital workforce management platforms can also be an effective way for managers to engage with their employees by transforming mass communications into meaningful one-on-one interactions and experiences. “These tools allow you to tailor your messages to specific audiences within your organization and ultimately increase engagement and productivity,” Dua says. “They are also great for collecting and analyzing employee data so you know when, where and how to communicate with your employees.”
With these insights, IT managers can personalize communications for specific audiences, roles, and functions within their organization. “With the trend to remote working over the past couple years, we have had an opportunity to look at how we work and collaborate with new urgency,” Hopman says. “Finding new tools that support making a distributed team feel connected and align on common goals has been a major focus.”
He says virtual meeting spaces, whiteboards, collaboration methods, and frameworks for facilitating discussions and capturing outcomes will benefit individuals across the organization, even as teams go back to a more blended virtual and physical workplace.
Online Management Training Programs
Hopman explains that many organizations have also invested in online management training programs that managers should leverage to develop their leadership and management skills.
“I think it’s important that IT managers don’t assume tech tools replace the need of personal touch with your team and organization,” he adds. “Focus the use of tools in support of streamlining and optimizing your efforts and ensure you don’t replace all interaction points with automation or impersonal workflows.”
At the end of the day, the most important thing for managers is to ensure they are creating an environment for the organization to execute. “Whatever you do, you want to increase productivity and enable people to produce demonstrable results,” Hopman says.
One approach to do this is by focusing on measurable objectives and key performance indicators (KPIs) which the team and individuals are responsible for. He also recommended managers develop workplace systems and tools to support them in executing these measurable outcomes.
“The focus should be on providing the team and organization with the necessary tools to execute their roles, versus focusing on where and how they work,” Hopman says.
Dua predicts that soft skills, including team building and talent management, will become more relevant than ever. “It is critical for managers to learn digital communication skills with a focus on employee engagement, to motivate and lead disparate teams,” he says. “Managers must also learn how to build and maintain trust in a digital world.”
While building trust with someone you’ve never met in person is a complex challenge, from Dua’s perspective it is one that managers must address as the future of work continues to evolve.
Hopman points out that from his experience, folks are actually more comfortable with remote work than was expected. With that in mind, he feels the challenge in the near future is creating the right blend of virtual and physical workplace.
“I don’t think it is a company policy or level to decide,” he says. “I think it will be key for managers to have the tools and flexibility to determine the best work environment for their teams and organizations, which probably won’t be a one-size-fits-all solution.”