Summary: The Virtual Leader By Takako Hirata
Summary: The Virtual Leader By Takako Hirata

Summary: The Virtual Leader By Takako Hirata

Trust in the Remote Workplace

Trust has three interrelated components. The first is our sense of expectation: when we trust someone, we have some level of knowledge of their abilities and the ways they normally behave. The second is belief: in addition to knowing their abilities, when we trust someone, we also have confidence that the person will behave in a manner consistent with our knowledge of them. The third is reciprocation: in trusting someone, we also believe that, in return, they have corresponding beliefs and knowledge about us.

  • Host a meeting with your team and ask each member to write down a definition of trust. Have everyone share their written definitions. Discuss their definitions and see if your team can then work together to write a common definition. Then pin it somewhere visible like in a Slack channel.
  • Remove any mechanisms at work that monitor whether an employee is online or working. Trust is something that should be assumed to be there, and each time the team meets or surpasses expectations, that trust is built upon. Employers violate their employees’ trust when they use software that tracks their screens or keyboards.
  • Recognition is one of the strongest motivators at work and helps ensure that leaders and employees are paying attention to their colleagues’ results and execution. Host a “snaps” session every two weeks where you collect anonymous compliments or statements of gratitude from teammates about other people in the organization. In the larger team meeting, read out these anonymous snaps that praise or give thanks.
  • Periodically in a group chat, ask how others’ energy levels are, on a scale of zero to 100 percent. Foster a culture that allows people to report zero, if they wish. This exercise is meant to show that we are all human. None of us can always be at high energy or in a good mood, and we all have varying levels of focus and energy at different hours. This allows teammates to trust that even if they are feeling down, they can make up for their lack of energy later.


Mental Health in the Remote Workplace

Managing the world of remote work may seem challenging, but remember that being a remote leader is no different from being an in-person leader—you’re just as responsible for your employees’ success. There are many activities that can help bring coworkers together while improving their mental and physical health.

  • Consider a mental health “pulse oximeter”—an anonymous survey sent out monthly to all employees asking them to indicate how they would rate their current state of mental health. Have someone oversee this initiative and dashboard, and then share insights with the wider community. Being honest about these feelings can help encourage trust and solidarity in the office.
  • Ask, “How are you, really?” This sounds simple, but it really does work. It can help you pave the way for an honest conversation about how someone is doing in their home life as well as their work life and encourage you to think of solutions to their problems.
  • Secure subscriptions to online exercises and wellness classes to boost activity and encourage staff members to stay active. You might provide a fitness budget whereby employees can be reimbursed for some dollar amount each month for physical or mental health expenses, such as a meditation app subscription.
  • Encourage team members to communicate and make informal connections when managers and other leaders are not present. This might mean an informal metric that tracks the number of organic, one-on-one digital meetings between employees.
  • Establish one-on-one check-ins between manager and employees where the only rule is to talk about anything that’s not work related. This will help recreate casual chats and small talk that would naturally occur in an office environment.


The Meeting

If meetings have a predefined purpose, they can be anything a leader wants them to be. They can be a place of spontaneity where team members brainstorm together, learn together, and build together. Team members can even work online together, as if they were in the same team room; in such situations, close proximity and a live channel between team members can actually help them complete many of their tasks and solve communication problems.

Here are some alternatives to the same old drab virtual meetings:

  • Quick stand-ups: All attendees must stand up and have a quick round-robin meeting where each person reports on what they’re working on for the day or week, the issues or problems that they’re working through, and any other updates that the other team members need to know. The goal is to have each teammate present a status update on their individual workstreams and to have the meeting be short enough so that everybody can feel comfortable standing the whole time (hence the name).
  • Online workshops: We’ve all attended workshops. Moving them online is much easier than you might think. The point of a workshop is to have everyone learn together, and with software today like Google Jamboard, there are numerous ways to have someone lead a collaborative learning session in a fun and visually engaging way. Workshops help spice things up once in a while and offer a chance for you, as a leader, to off-load some duties to other teammates who can share their insights or learning and lead a conversation.
  • Online brainstorming sessions: In these sessions, the sole goal is divergent thinking. The team chooses one topic, and everybody tries to list out ideas without fear of judgment. These sessions are usually rapid-fire to ensure that people don’t have to think too hard and filter themselves, and team members contribute one after another in quick succession. Brainstorming always includes a visual element, and a virtual whiteboard so we can visualize our ideas in real time.
  • Online coworking sessions: The coworking session is the anti-meeting. Here, remote team members voluntarily log on to a “meeting” where they can work alongside their coworkers. The idea is to replicate the feeling of the office. There is no set agenda and you’re not discussing specific topics, but you’re each working on your specific tasks and can occasionally turn on your audio or video to have a quick informal chat, ask questions, or discuss a problem.


On Minimizing Distractions

It’s almost as if the pandemic has led to a reconsideration of focus or, more accurately, just how hard it is to really focus. Working from home includes a bevy of distractions both digital and otherwise. It’s not just notifications but also children, pets, partners, doormen, packages, poor internet connection . . . the list goes on and on.

Yet many people won’t be going back to an office now, hybrid or otherwise. And buying a Silen pod for the home isn’t a feasible option either—they run into tens of thousands of dollars each and actually take up quite a lot of space. If workers want to be able to focus in their home, they have to learn how to create their own pods through discipline, rituals, and planning.

  • If your company can afford it, create an employee fund that will allow your team members to invest in equipment to create a dedicated workspace at home.
  • Provide your employees with the means to separate their work and home lives. Your team members must have the flexibility to turn off when they wish. Set some basic rules to make this clear. For example, you might establish that you will contact them after 6 PM only when a task is urgent.
  • While not all companies will be comfortable, do encourage your team members to pursue projects on their own and even other interests if these fit into their schedules. This will help them think deeper about what they’re spending their time on and what really matters to them.
  • During team meetings, have everyone quickly report their energy level. This can be fun hearing a range of answers. Some may report 100 percent, while others may report 10 percent. The point is for everyone to be honest here so that their expectations for one another’s work are set appropriately.
  • If it’s crunch time for a select team of people working hard on a deadline, consider ordering lunch to their addresses so they won’t have to worry about cooking. This not only saves them time but also can be a pleasant surprise.