Remote work has changed everything, making it vital for team leaders to learn the dos and don’ts of virtual leadership and do it fast.

In its Remote Work Statistics and Trends in 2024, Forbes reports that as of 2023, 12.7% of full-time employees work from home and 28.2% work a hybrid model. Additionally, according to Upwork, an estimated 22% of the workforce (32.6 million Americans) will be working remotely by 2025. While office work might not disappear completely, it’s clear that more and more companies will start embracing the benefits of remote and hybrid workforces.

There are various leadership styles that virtual leaders can adopt Photo Credit-Sigmund-Unsplash
There are various leadership styles that virtual leaders can adopt Photo Credit-Sigmund-Unsplash

Leaders have been required to adapt to teams with limited face-to-face interactions in office spaces, which can make it a trickier for things like achieving a sense of community to be possible. Virtual leadership requires excellent communication. But a good virtual leader also needs to be engaging and flexible, while also knowing how to remain an approachable and empathic authority figure.

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What is Virtual Leadership?

Virtual leadership involves managing full work teams in a remote format. This means that team leaders will often have to deal with different time zones and locations, and the specific needs of colleagues that must stay motivated and feel like part of a team while working from different corners around the country or the world. Relying on technology, virtual leaders need to find ways to not just connect, but delegate, brainstorm, motivate, and create a safe and inclusive work culture while inspiring loyalty and trust.

Managing Skills for Hybrid Workplaces

Seven Primary Leadership Styles

1Autocratic: Leaders who embrace this style tend to make all decisions with little input. It’s not a great approach in general but failing to consider your team’s input in a virtual or hybrid format can make you seem unapproachable and affect not just communication, but trust. Considering your team and their thoughts will also mean that everyone will feel more comfortable when you do have to make one of those on-the-spot decisions as a team leader.

2Authoritative: These are confident leaders who aren’t afraid to set expectations high while making sure they are engaging with team members. Opinions matter and are considered by authoritative leaders. They also take time to explain not just their choices but where they hope to get with them. This style is great for virtual leaders starting with a new team that still needs to learn the ropes.

3Pacesetting: This style works best in the short term. Like when there’s a big deadline in the horizon and things need to get done fast and well. These leaders set a fast pace and a high bar, which can be counterproductive in the long run and cause team burnout. If you embrace this style, make sure you’re making time for your team to rest and let off steam before you jump back full speed. You also need to make sure you are checking in on your team and listening to their needs.

4Democratic: Leaders who favor this style are interested in hearing from their team. They like to brainstorm and seek opinions before a final decision is made, especially if their work will be directly affected by a change or shift in activities. This type of leadership can promote teamwork and trust, as well as inspiring your team to be more open and creative with problem-solving and new ideas. As you can probably imagine, these are invaluable assets when everyone is working remotely.

Leadership styles that play against us

5Coaching: An open-door policy is helpful whether we are working in person or remotely and leaders who adopt a “coaching style” are all about this. When it comes to virtual leadership, it’s never a bad idea to make sure that team members and colleagues know that they can come to you with opinions, ideas, and their own personal concerns. These leaders also know what the strengths and weaknesses are within their teams and can give people that little nudge in the right direction they sometimes need to believe in themselves.

6Affiliative: An affiliative leadership style can help build stronger bonds and create a sense of community between you and the rest of your team. It’s a style that focuses on people and their needs, paying attention not just to their professional input, but to their personal and emotional concerns. It’s important to know when it’s best to embrace this style when it comes to virtual leadership, as learning to listen to your team members will become a key part of your success.

7Laissez-faire: When you trust your team knows what they are doing, you can sometimes relax and let them take the wheel. This style works best if you can monitor everyone’s performances and make sure you are staying involved by offering feedback and staying in touch. You don’t want them to mistake trust with carelessness so it’s vital that you check in and set clear goals together.

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At this point in time, virtual leadership is key. Photo Credit-Kelly Sikkema-Unsplash
At this point in time, virtual leadership is key. Photo Credit-Kelly Sikkema-Unsplash

5 Do’s of Virtual Leadership

1Be transparent and understanding: Make sure your team knows what is expected of everyone and try to keep them in the loop, especially when decisions affect them directly. Listen to them and consider things like whether they have kids and other responsibilities that could require flexibility when it comes to deadlines and schedules. Allow some wiggle room if your goals are being met.

2Build a community: Virtual leaders need to help create the kind of camaraderie that happens naturally in an office space where people share common spaces like kitchens and meeting rooms. A sense of community will foster happier and more involved team members who will feel like they are a part of something.

3Embrace the technology: The shift into remote and hybrid work formats has left us with all kinds of apps, sites, and simple add-ons that make it easier for a remote team to stay connected. Do your research, test which apps work best for you and your team, learn new things (and make them learn new things with you).

4Manage expectations: Set clear expectations so everyone in your team knows what is expected of them and there are no surprises. Listen to them, be realistic and avoid burning them out with too much work in little time. Also remember to celebrate achievements when these expectations are met or surpassed.

5Trust your team: If there’s good communication, clear goals and expectations, and transparency, you should be able to trust your team in the same way they trust you. Being able to delegate is a big part of succeeding, not just in virtual leadership, but as a leader in business (and life) in general.

Aline Cerdan Verástegui

Aline Cerdan Verástegui

Mexico City-born freelance writer, translator, ghostwriter, editor and Red Shoe Movement contributor with a love of live music and graphic novels. Has collaborated with Yahoo!, Blouin Artinfo, Yahoo! en Español, Savvy Heels, Morelia International Film Festival (FICM) among others.

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