Deep Dive: A Virtual Leadership Masterclass

Written by Dr Ryne Sherman Monday 09 November 2020
Adopt these five proven traits to overcome remote working challenges!
Laptop against a bright purple light

In response to the current Covid-19 crisis, many companies across the UK have had to adopt remote working policies and transform into virtual workplaces. While remote working is a crucial asset to companies during adverse times, challenges arise for leaders when communicating with employees, maintaining and monitoring productivity, and supporting new and existing employees. Strong virtual leadership is the key to overcoming these challenges.

Hogan’s science-based assessments, such as the Hogan Personality Inventory, are backed up by over 30 years of validated research, and have identified five personality traits associated with effective virtual leadership.

1. Adjustment

A sudden shift to remote work (such as the circuit-breakers across the UK that left many businesses pivoting after only just returning to work) can leave employees feeling displaced and fearful for their future. An effective leader should be able to face these changes head-on, mitigate this uncertainty and lead their team remotely without compromising on engagement or staff morale.

Leaders scoring highly on adjustment will remain calm and level-headed during stressful periods. The adjustment scale measures an individual's stress-tolerance, optimism and composure in the face of change. These leaders will motivate their team to keep working, reduce panic and adapt to the new changes around them – flexibility is key here.

Unfortunately, the risk of showing up as an absentee leader increases during remote work, which is why adjustment is important. Leaders should not take remote working as an opportunity to provide less leadership; rather, a successful virtual leader should be an agile role model for their team, proactive in addressing uncertainty and providing clear direction.

2.  Interpersonal sensitivity

Remote work can be a lonely time, especially for those who rely on support and interaction from their co-workers, such as new hires. These employees may feel isolated and less comfortable seeking out help and guidance from their team members when there is virtual distance in place.

Interpersonal sensitivity encompasses tact, communication style & relationship-maintenance skill. Leaders scoring highly here are diplomatic, warm, friendly and tuned into their emotional intelligence and tend to avoid conflict with employees; being a strong communicator and an accessible source of support and guidance is critical when leading a remote team.

An effective virtual leader should take time to phone and check in with employees daily, without micromanaging or pressuring them about deadlines. Being approachable and available to listen to employees’ questions and concerns makes remote work feel less ‘lonely’ and overwhelming – especially for new hires who require additional support.

3. Ambition

The virtual workplace can be demotivating for employees, with some lacking direction in their day-to-day activities. This can lead to chaos as workdays become less defined and productivity becomes harder to oversee. For workers lacking agency, leaders will need to allocate time and energy into re-defining activities, goals and deadlines.

Leaders scoring highly on ambition are well-equipped to sustain a productive team during a crisis; ambition measures an individual’s competitive drive, perceived energy and goal-orientation. These leaders are highly self-confident, exuding high energy and drive to employees.

During remote work, companies will find it challenging to measure productivity using traditional metrics – like hours spent in the office – and will instead look more closely at results. An ambitious leader’s competitive, goal-oriented nature will help to foster a more results-driven virtual workplace, and their confident and proactive approach will inspire workers to play their part and remain productive. Clarity in communication and setting clear expectations is vital here.

4. Inquisitive

With remote work came new approaches to daily activities and processes; team meetings became video calls, quick questions became instant messages. The inquisitive scale measures a leader’s idea-orientation and openness to new ideas, including new tools and technology.

Leaders scoring highly on this scale are imaginative, interested in new technology and curious about inventive ways to solve problems. An inquisitive leader’s creative thinking, although not without its faults, will be a major asset to a remote team as new methods of communicating and working become necessary, and work migrates online and to the cloud.

It is important that leaders act quickly when transitioning to the remote workplace. An effective virtual leader should be an early adopter, reacting immediately to the switch and welcoming the technologies that make daily life easier for employees.

5. Altruistic

Business aside, a pandemic is a scary time, and many employees may be feeling uneasy or fearful while working remotely due to the events taking place in the world. An effective virtual leader should be empathetic, even in lieu of face-to-face interaction, and mindful of their employees’ wellbeing and capacity to work remotely.

Altruism measures an individual’s desire to help others and contribute to society. Leaders scoring highly here will make their team’s wellbeing a priority, supporting those in need and acting as a unifying force for employees during adverse times. As not every employee is in the same boat in terms of personal situations and home-working set-ups, being mindful of each employee’s personality, health and personal circumstances is crucial during remote work and will guide your virtual leadership decisions.

For many companies dealing with the current Covid-19 crisis remote work is inevitable, and the best way to ensure a smooth transition to a virtual workplace is to have an effective virtual leader at the helm. Decades of research on effective leadership tell us that the best candidates to lead a remote workforce are well-adjusted, ambitious, open to new technology, strong communicators, and deeply compassionate when it comes to supporting vulnerable employees.

If you’re looking for more techniques to help you manage a virtual team right now, take a look at these articles:

This article was written by Dr Ryne Sherman, chief science officer at Hogan Assessments. Hogan Assessments is the global leader in providing research-based consulting and assessment solutions. Based on decades of research, Hogan helps businesses reduce turnover and increase productivity by hiring the right people, developing key talent, and evaluating leadership potential. Hogan's assessments are available in 57 countries and 46 languages and are used by more than 70% of the Fortune 500. Visit here for more information.

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