1.4.11 – Your New Year’s Resolution: Be a Virtual Leader

Have you made any New Year’s resolutions?  Here’s one to add to your list: be a virtual leader.  In today’s world you have to be.  You might be a teleworker, remote worker, mobile worker, or a true road warrior spending all your time going from customer to customer.  Or, you could be in a traditional office environment just working from home a few days a week.  Or maybe you’re in an office and lead and manage people that are working virtually.  If so, think about how you can do it better.

I work out of a home office 90 percent of the time for a company on the other side of the country.  My travel schedule has become lighter and lighter (thank you bad economy and company cost cutting initiatives!).  My interactions with other team members, managers, and colleagues are increasingly virtual.  I have the opportunity to work with fellow employees all over the globe, whether it is on the phone, through web conferencing, or high-end telepresence systems.  There is no normal 8 to 5 schedule.  My schedule revolves around the US and global times zones of the people I have to work with at a given time.  For the vast majority of the people I work with, I have never had the opportunity to shake their hand in person.  The relationships are built through email, instant messaging, desktop sharing, wikis, and social media. The challenge is how to better use all of these tools to cultivate and build better relationships without getting wrapped into an isolated technological cocoon. 

In short, don’t let geography negatively impact you as a leader or team member.  I fully believe you can add more value to your organization, be more connected and have stronger relationships because you are operating in a virtual environment.  But let’s face it; this is easier said than done.  Here are some things to help you in 2011:

Spend less time managing your inbox.  I’m usually not one for conspiracy theories but I often feel that email is a secret plot to make us all information slaves (remember, email was created by the CIA).  In today’s workplace, I believe email has actually made us less productive because it has become the primary means of communication for most people.  Don’t get me wrong.  Email is a great tool when used properly.  But, if you want to hold a conversation, then pick up the phone or adjust your web cam.  Think and take the time to use the other tools at your disposal to communicate before you hit the send button.    

Experiment more.  It’s hard to keep up with all the new apps and tools coming out.  Even if you stay on top of things and start using something new, it could quickly be replaced in the next month.  It can be frustrating and time consuming.  However, not trying to learn something new or experiment is a worse option.  Taking the time to experiment with new communication mediums or new ideas, fully knowing the majority won’t pan out, is the key to learning.

Leverage collaborative technologies to build relationships, not just run meetings.  You may use a lot of desktop sharing applications , web or video conferencing to get work done.  Why can’t you use the same methods for building relationships?  Working virtually can make us a bit impersonal, but it doesn’t have to be that way.  

Have fun.  I have always believed that you have to enjoy what you do.  Leading virtually can make you more productive and improve your work/life balance among other things.  There’s no reason why you can’t have fun too.  The virtual environment allows you to try new things and discover new ways of collaborating and interacting.  It can be an exciting place to work.

What’s your plan this new year?  In future posts I’ll expand more on some of these ideas.  I tend to be agnostic when it comes to technology since we all face similar challenges regardless of the tools we use. It shouldn’t matter if you are leveraging the latest technology or just leading the next conference call.  It is the “softer” aspects that make us better leaders. 

Happy New Year! 

-Jason

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