Post COVID Skills that Every Leader will Need

Expert Insight

Since Spring 2020, the business world has changed. Instead of working with colleagues in offices, we spent lockdown working from home, trying to get things done, for some from dining room tables, and for others with children ‘doing school’ nearby. As we transition into the new post lockdown world, there are new skills that every leader needs to guide their teams through the turbulent waters ahead.

Virtual leadership is key. I explore this in detail in my book ‘Virtual Leadership: Practical strategies for getting the best out of Virtual Work and Virtual Teams’. This starts with developing our own awareness of our virtual skills, our strengths and weaknesses, our communications preferences, our leadership mindset and more, and then using these to build common ground and rapport with our team members, tapping into their skills, strengths and preferences too.

During lockdown, we could only meet with and work with others via technology. We became used to video calls and learned how important it is for them to be engaging and effective. Unfortunately, most video meetings were not! They were often deadly dull, leaving everyone ‘zoomed out’ and drained of energy. A key post COVID skill is to be able to lead virtual meetings with purpose and clarity, drawing people in through interaction and stories. You’ll also need to know how to lead work effectively in-between virtual meetings, using collaboration technology, so that people can work asynchronously (at different times) together.

As people move back into the office while others stay at home, being able to lead a hybrid team becomes key. This means balancing the needs of those still working from home, or another place away from the office, with those who are physically present in the office. It’s critical here to create a level playing field so that everyone can do their job effectively. This might mean, for example, choosing to run a hybrid team meeting purely virtually. Why would you do that? Well a hybrid team meeting tends to give an advantage to those in the room. They can glance around and notice the body language of others in the room. They can pick up on the nuances and dynamics of conversation, which others who are remote are likely to miss out on. People in the room are highly likely to fall into side conversations with those sitting with them and, at coffee time, share informal chats which dispersed team members will be excluded from. Ensuring that everyone joins from their desk means that there really is a level playing field, at least for the duration of the meeting.

During COVID lockdowns, waving at the end of video calls and reacting positively to each other’s pets and children became the norm. Build on this new level of connection and empathy by bringing a human touch to your leadership too. Effective virtual teams have a high level of trust and rapport between individual team members. By showing empathy and encouraging connection, you’ll model how you’d like your team members to be with each other and, as your team follows your lead, you’ll notice deeper relationships and heightened trust, leading to action.

As a leader, your presence is vital to your team. Ensure that your virtual presence is clear and is what you intend. How do you come across in the virtual world? Think of three words to sum up how you want to appear consistently. Presence expert Jacqui Harper uses these words: professional, confident and warm, to ensure that she is consistent, and she always is. What would your three words be?

What do you need to do to ensure that remote team members can see you clearly and feel that you are approachable? Perhaps now is a good time to invest in good lighting for your virtual set up as well as a good camera, and to learn how to make the most of it? How you sound is important too, so be careful to articulate your voice even more clearly than before. If you speak quickly, try slowing down a little so that everyone can follow clearly. Consider the emotional impact of your leadership presence as well.

Keeping people in touch when dispersed is a very important part of being a virtual leader. It helps to set up and agree how you will communicate as a team: what you will do, as well as when and how often. Creating such group norms will help everyone to know what’s happening when and, by being involved in the process, know that their input matters and that their preferences have been considered.

Dr Penny Pullan, virtual leadership expert at Making Projects Work Ltd, and the author of Virtual Leadership: Practical strategies for getting the best out of virtual work and virtual teams, available for £19.99