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Learning to Lead in a Virtual World

The good news is that for most property managers, virtual meetings are commonplace. Phones, email, and videoconferencing are all standard tools. In this changing environment, virtual work has become not only the norm, but the mandate. As a result, team leaders must navigate the nuances of productivity and engagement against a different set of parameters.

Free virtual leadership webinars

As you’ll hear in Form Your Virtual Team and Lead Your Virtual Team, two free, on-demand courses offered by IREM, the essential problem is a basic one of effective communication: Face-to-face meetings, now a thing of the past, are the most impactful, and the loss of visual clues such as body language in the case of audio-only conversations, or tones of voice diminish that communication. These courses provide tips for effective transition to, and management of, a fully virtual team.

Given the loss of clues present when we’re all in one room, working virtually demands communication that’s clear and precise. Conceivably this can come down to formalizing roles and responsibilities that were simply assumed before. When in doubt, over-communicate.

In virtual team meetings, the courses stress it’s essential to consider each team member's environment. This includes their physical location and time zones. In cases where there are widespread time differences, stagger the meeting times so no one person feels they’re alone, or singled out.

A matter of trust

Newly formulated teams may need to build trust among participants to be successful, particularly in a virtual environment; communicating well and often is your most powerful tool. To further build trust, get together in small-group platforms and encourage conversation among participants. Set the standard for being forthcoming in your meetings, set an agenda, and stick to it.

If you promise that the meeting will end by a certain time, stay within that timeframe. Remember, shorter is always better, and 90 minutes is the longest your meetings should run. Even though we can’t be together, it’s important to be present, so put time aside for one-on-one conversations.

To state the obvious, technology figures heavily in a virtual setting. Choose the wrong technology for the task at hand and frustration can build while trust diminishes. Make sure everyone has access to the proper tools and, as the group leader, log in early to ensure functionality is just that--functional. Also keep in mind there might be licensing issues with a premium program, and off-the-shelf applications may allow only so many attendees. Again, here is where communication is paramount, so no one feels left behind.

Controlling conflict

Conflicts are inevitable, and they’re often the result of poor communication somewhere along the line. Making matters more challenging, they’re harder to keep in check in a virtual environment. The Leadership course recommends what it calls the “Three Cs of Conflict Management”:

  • Cause - defining its origin in a non-judgmental way;
  • Collaboration - bringing people together to resolve the issue; and
  • Compromise - bringing calm and reason to the situation so conflicting parties might better see each other’s point of view.

Even in the absence of direct conflict, disengagement is a constant threat in a virtual environment. In addition to one-on-one meetings, show clear and genuine support. Praise goes a long way, as do teachable moments when necessary. Don’t be shy about using the tools at your disposal and sending a congratulatory email or video.Good managers give and receive constructive criticism, so be an active listener. The recommended ratio of critique-to-praise is one-to-five: For each correction, give five positives.

Learning to lead from a distance takes time and practice. Even if you’ve already been doing some form of remote leadership, brushing up on best practices can only serve your team--and yourself--well. And now is clearly the time.


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