My monthly tip for virtual leaders: how can you be present when everyone is in their home-office?

Be present in a virtual and home-office setting

As in previous months, I want to share a tip for effective virtual leadership. I believe it is even more relevant during the current times of the pandemic in which a lot of teams are not just spread across different company’s sites but even isolated in their home-offices. 
The core of this blog was originally part of last year’s summer reading, embedded in one of seven competencies I have described then (see here).
Discussions I am having with virtual leaders at the moment show that their people in home-offices are longing for connection and wish more presence of their leaders.
Hence, I thought it could be helpful to share the ‘old’ content adjusted to the current situation. So let’s briefly reflect what presence would mean in this context.
Con-TACT: How to be present for everyone in a home-office environment?

What does presence mean in a home-office context?

Talking with members of such virtual teams longing for presence of their leader, they consider a leader’s presence as visibility, in whatever form, and availability.
Obviously, in the old context of face-to-face meetings, presence means to be physically in a meeting or location and mentally engaged. And you express your presence through your body posture, how you move in the room or where you sit etc. It lies in the nature of human beings that we need to feel a connection to our leaders in order to build trust and loyalty to their leadership.
In a virtual context, presence ranges from your live interactive (synchronous) situations to those offline (asynchronous) circumstances where you have no immediate interaction with the members of your team but you are still in touch.
In a home-office setting –as in any virtual situation– the physical appearance is no longer possible, of course, and things work differently. Therefore, leaders need to show presence in other ways for people to still feel connected with them.

So, how can you be present in your home-office context?

Underpinning this are first and foremost your mental models which drive your thinking and behaviour when you interact with others offline or online on virtual platforms.

Asynchronous presence

Let me first share some ideas for showing presence offline (asynchronous situations) in a virtual context.

  • Actively engage in the use of the internal ‘social media’ platform of your organisation (assuming one exists). Post news about the organisation, the projects or your activities.

 If no internal social media platform is available, set-up a What’sApp-group for your team to share social news and non-confidential (!!) news or ‘gossip’.
  • Alternatively, set up Team Space/ Share Point for your team members in home-office to share and connect asynchronously. Post information here that is relevant for the team and news from you.
  • Accessing a wider part of the organisation, you could be a regular publisher of news in the organisation’s intranet which would also create more visibility for your virtual team.
Here are two questions as food for thought:
  1. How often do you access these platforms, post some news about the business, about your circumstances or things happening in the organisation and the wider team? Does your level of activity give you an equivalent presence compared with your local organisation?
  2. How much do you share your thoughts and ideas and things happening in your life on these platforms? How well do people know you as a person and how can you maintain that through what you share on these platforms?

Maybe you think that this is wasting your time as you have already a full agenda and more important things to do. Yet, I’m sure you would normally spend a couple of minutes a day at the coffee machine in your local context, connecting with your local team members and just have a short chat about anything but work. Consider the interaction on these social media platforms as a virtual representation of the coffee corner or your team’s notice board. Take the same amount of time to just have a short chat or post a short note to connect with the rest of your team. And just observe what’s going to happen.

Live online presence

I would also like to share some ideas for your live interactions in your home-office context. The main driver for these is related to my personal experience with the mindset we have when joining online meetings.
With what mindset do you join an online meeting? Do you dial into a meeting? Do you login to a virtual connection, sitting in front of your computer? Or do you join a meeting mentally entering a meeting room? Can you already recognise a difference here?
Most people believe that you cannot create the same rapport, meaning the quality of connection and interaction, in a virtual setting compared to what is possible in a face-to-face meeting. I decidedly challenge this perspective and invite you to think differently with the following ideas:

  • When you participate in a virtual meeting imagine to join the other’s entering a virtual meeting room instead of logging into the respective software on your computer.
  • When you have discussions, possibly even challenging ones, consider the combination of video and audio in order to maximise the connection with the other person/people participating to include facial expression in the exchange in order to recognise emotions easier.
  • Don’t let yourself be distracted by things around you whilst joining a virtual meeting. Neither emails, nor phone calls or people entering your physical room will help you be present in the virtual meeting.
  • When you are in charge of the meeting, make sure it is as engaging as possible for those who were invited to participate.

I could keep on writing for hours …

These are just a few things to consider when you need to make sure your people, who are distributed over several home-offices, still need to feel that you are present and ‘there for them’. Some may seem obvious, some not so much, but I am convinced and know from experience that they all work.
There are many more ideas to share on how you can develop or strengthen your asynchronous and synchronous presence for your team members. And I could write books about them.

So, if you’re interested in a more in-depth conversation about your particular challenge, please . Or feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section below.
Thank you very much for your interest.

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