Virtual Leadership: How to Be Up for the Challenge

Ivo Matser

During the annual international IEDC HR Forum that was held on November 19 this year, I have been moderating a session about Virtual Leadership. I was joined at the panel by  Ms. Lucija Živa Sajevec, CEO, AMZS (Slovenian Automobile Association), Slovenia, Ms.Mojca Vidmar Berus, Director of Corporate Performance, Krka, Slovenia, Ms.Medeja Lončar, President of the Managers' Association of Slovenia, CEO Slovenia and Croatia, Siemens and Mr. Gazmend Haxhia, President of A.S.G. Group, Albania.

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We have discussed a lot of aspects of virtual leadership and I think the one hour session was too short for everything that we could still discuss.

I would like to share with you the main conclusions of our session, sharing our experiences of virtual leadership during the COVID-19 crisis.

First of all, virtual leadership is not something new. There are many international and multinational companies with a global scope and reach that have been working in different and from different time zones. However, the reason to deploy remote, virtual work and virtual leadership in this case is to cross the distance, space and time. This current crisis made us all a part of an experiment. The reason for applying virtual leadership and remote work practices are totally different this time, while the scale has increased dramatically. It also means that organizations where people were not prepared for that, have to adapt to the new reality.

There are 5 main conclusions that we reached with my fellow panelists that I’m sure might help you in getting the best out of the situation:

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1. Pay attention to people in individual relationships and individual communication.

It is really important that managers avoid going from “zoom” to “zoom” meetings with groups or teams and do not take enough time for one-on-one chats.

2. Importance of horizontal and informal communication.

In a digital organization the communication follows the hierarchy. The vertical communication and meetings are obvious. But, this is only one side of the communication. Efficiency, speed and productivity are based on a horizontal communication and informal communication channels across the organization. While this is happening “spontaneously“ when people meet physically, this is not that easy to achieve in a digital environment. So, be aware that it is important to organize horizontal and informal communication.

3. Care for people.

The pressure that people are put on can be very high; working remotely and having to take care of their families at the same time can be very stressful. It is important to adress this issue and to pay attention to it. Separating private life from work has become more difficult than ever before. Maybe it is the time to find ways to support better the integration of it and allow people to use official work time also for private matters.

4. Show trust and respect to people.

As a leader and a manager, do not be afraid to trust your people, if you do not see them working. In this situation it is better to focus more on results and outcomes than on being busy. Trust is really important. However, talking too much about it might evoke an opposite reaction from people, as they might start suspecting that something is wrong. Especially in business cultures where egos, power and strong top down systems are in place, this may be a challenge for managers, who may not have a natural habit of trust and respect for others.

5. Devote time and provide space for fun.

A virtual Friday afternoon event with drinks and (homemade) snack might not replace an informal meeting people are used to, but it is worth doing it. It is very much appreciated and people love to share what is going on in their lives with others. You may even consider to include family members.

To summarize, the keywords these days are personal relationships, trust and care.

Last but not least, it is worth mentioning that the IEDC-Bled School of Management is the place for leadership development. Our vision of leadership and leadership development is based on talent development, trust and respect, appreciation and sustainable achievements. These are needed today more than ever for a sustainable future-proof recovery from the COVID-19 and (upcoming) economic crisis. We would gladly welcome your and your team in any of our programs. We invested heavily in our own top-class platform for hybrid education. The best feature of it is that it is being customized for our clients, for you, giving you a choice of attending the program virtually or in-class or both simultaneously.

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Dr. Nenad Filipović, Director of Executive Education, IEDC


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