Interpersonal Skills Matter for Virtual Leadership

Nobody would argue with the idea that truly successful leaders must have excellent interpersonal skills. But in a technology-dependent virtual world, this key attribute is often overlooked in favor of technical expertise.

Yet effective interpersonal skills may be even more important when you’re the leader of a virtual team.

Research shows that leaders with “geographically scattered teams need a much broader skill set than those with traditional, co-located teams.”

It’s easy for a virtual team to feel disconnected and isolated. When you have physical distance and time zones between you, you can’t lean on a coworker’s door jamb to exchange a few words about your weekend or gather at the water cooler to brainstorm with colleagues when you’re stuck. And when you do communicate with your virtual team members, you have to rely more on technology to get your point across; facial expression, eye contact, and body language usually can’t be observed.

But virtual leaders who have a strong virtual presence can make communication more tangible.

We define the concept of “virtual presence” as mindfulness of how you convey the nonverbal aspects of your professional image in a virtual environment. This means being able to use technology effectively to make your thoughts, feelings, and needs clearly known to your team through communication, tone of voice, and interpersonal skills. Understanding how to communicate warmth, trust, and enthusiasm through email, phone calls, messaging, and video conferencing is imperative. And, in turn, these are the tools that allow you to  interpret your team’s state of mind.

Here are some things you can do to establish your virtual presence and improve your interpersonal skills:

  • Establish both informal and formal communication methods so your whole team feels connected. Tune into when and how you use messaging, email, intranet, and conference calls. Have you set clear expectations for how your team should use these tools? Do the tools optimize workflow and rapport?
Virtual Team CommunicationGroup threads are a simple, informal way to keep virtual teams connected and having fun. Long live the GIF!
  • Disseminate all necessary information quickly and clearly. Effective project management and collaboration platforms are critical for seamless and efficient virtual workflow.
  • Model the behavior you expect from your team.
    • Do what you say you will, when you say you will.
    • Be timely with your email or messaging responses.
    • Come prepared and on time to virtual meetings.
    • Give the gift of attention – avoid multitasking during virtual meetings or phone calls with individual team members.
    • Participate fully – project enthusiasm and interest in what your team is doing.
  • Create a two-way dialogue so everyone feels comfortable with constructive feedback.
  • Monitor your tone of voice carefully. Remember, you don’t have the benefit of visual cues. Research shows that people may be able to tune into your voice tone and emotional intent more clearly during virtual conversations.
  • Choose your words thoughtfully.
  • Listen with insight.
  • Communicate honestly, clearly, consistently, and frequently. 

Leading your virtual team well is about using interpersonal skills that go beyond technology in order to make the team connection both visible and tangible. Remember, you’re dealing with human beings. Pay attention to the people behind the tools and you’re well on your way…

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