What kind of leader are you or how do you lead yourself in virtual environments? I ask you this question and not simply what kind of leader you are because at this point and after years of tsunamis of theories and talks about coaching and leadership, surely you have already identified with the charismatic leader, the authoritarian, the democratic, the inspiring ...
But suddenly, a global pandemic arrives that does not seem to end and if it does it will be after a technological sprint and having turned our work environments into virtual environments. With this new board and new rules, we are forced to redefine our leadership style, both with our teams and with ourselves.
Perhaps redefining is not the exact word but ADAPT, adapt to the new digital ecosystem, and adapt those factors of our leadership that gave us identities such as social skills, empathy, teamwork or ways of providing feedback.
An interesting bibliographic review carried out among universities in different countries (Contreras & Baykal, 2020) shows how teleworking can offer numerous advantages both in terms of the well-being of employees and their productivity, but only if effective e-leadership is present. On the contrary, moving to remote work can involve numerous risks. These changes include both the adaptation of structures, trying to make them less hierarchical, and fostering trust and quality personal relationships among team members as well as a genuine interest in people's well-being.
When examining this research, I thought how applicable this is not only for leading teams but also for self-leadership, especially in self-employed workers or in those who start a new project alone. Training our cognitive flexibility, prioritizing our well-being, and maintaining contact with other people in our sector will be decisive both for the telework experience and for quality and success.
Leading remotely poses numerous challenges, but here I show you 3 of the ones that we have been able to observe the most in recent months both in fieldwork and research:
1. Maintain team spirits and productivity.
2. Manage uncertainty.
3. Successfully management of new hires
Obviously, the technological factor and digital skills have played a key role in adapting to teleworking, but in my experience with greater or lesser effort and with the necessary support and motivation, even the profiles with less prior exposure to technology have finished adapting.
It is therefore not surprising that we put the greatest focus on people. In the era of technology and precisely due to the automation of processes, some think that a wave of dehumanization of work will come, but it is precisely this automation that gives greater importance to personal skills and social relationships. Skills such as emotional intelligence, creativity, collaboration, and of course identity and purpose have become essential both in telecommuting and in the job market.
Emotional intelligence is a differential variable when it comes to recognizing both how we feel and the state of mind of our team, which will allow us not only to be more empathetic leaders but also better communicators since people tend to prefer to listen to those who listen to us to those who show a coherent communication with how we feel, this makes us feel validated. A study carried out with 138 managers from 66 different organizations showed the relationship between the emotional intelligence of leaders and the creativity of their teams (Rego & Sousa, 2007), a skill that for any company has become one of its main assets thanks to the need for constant innovation.
How do I do it in a virtual environment? There are multiple ways to develop emotional intelligence, from the labelling of emotions and their regulation (in this blog you will find a fantastic explanatory article written by Amanda Blanco about it), to the planning of informal meetings in small groups or there are even organizations that implement their own "mood thermometer" to be aware of the team's mood.
Collaboration is another of the capacities that we must train in the online environment, not only because feeling part of a team's work gives us a greater identity and affinity with the organization but because, like emotional intelligence, it stimulates innovation and creativity. The University of Ludn, in Sweden, published in 2019 a study on the organizational climate and the promotion of creativity and innovation of employees, showing how environments that favor a space for entrepreneurship and in which challenges are shared are capable to foster these skills.
How do I do it in a virtual environment? The ease of convening meetings and being connected has made many people feel like they are on a constant journey from one call by zoom, teams ... to another, with an endless list of tasks and with high feelings of guilt or inefficiency in their breaks. . An alternative is to respect these breaks, to promote behaviours on the part of the leader at the end of the workday that encourages the team to enjoy other tasks or areas of their life, thus allowing ideas to emerge in moments of “unfocus”.
Finally, and concerning the purpose and identity, perhaps this is the most difficult part to adapt to the online environment, especially in cases of new incorporations or in times of high tension and uncertainty, but it is precisely that identity and purpose one of the variables that it correlates more significantly with the commitment and satisfaction of people in their jobs (even at the same level as salary and flexible hours). Therefore it is also one of the fields that have most attracted neuroscientists to research.
How do I do it in a virtual environment? Some of the ideas are the construction of the team objective and even the construction of the dynamics and the work organization that will be followed. A dynamic aimed at achieving objectives but above all COHERENT with the expressed values. For this, we can look for workspaces without sharing documents, where we can simply see each other, get to know each other, and share how we feel most comfortable working and how we each want to develop our talent during this project.
Just a few weeks ago at Sinews, we gave a group training to leaders of Everis, an organization as digital as it is people-centred, about Neuro-leadership in Virtual Environments and these needs for “reskilling” and adapting to our social relationships, to promote feedback personal and fostering group identity and purpose came to light.
Even in this training, which was online, we were able to observe that elements such as participation, emotional involvement, and looking beyond our ego were the best antidote to combat the impossibility of conducting these workshops in person.