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Virtual Work From a Different Perspective

Saturday night, I went to a baseball game with some college friends. One of them has risen to the point in his organization where he has roughly 100 people reporting to him, most of them deeply involved in data analysis.

He was fortunate that his group was hiring throughout last year while working remotely, adding 20-25 workers, but that resulted in a problem I hadn't considered: How does a leader meaningfully connect with staff - especially new staff - in a virtual environment?

As he said, no matter the tone, your boss asking for a one-on-one meeting - virtually or in-person - can induce a level of anxiety in even the most seasoned employee. For those in his department just out of college, the stress of that kind of meeting request must be off the charts.

Now that his group is working their way back into the office, he feels almost like he’s tip-toing around his workforce, to the point of wearing jeans and a polo shirt – “non threatening clothes,” as he said – around the office to keep things casual.

I have always thought of the issues around a remote or hybrid work model through the eyes of the employee. How does a younger worker get noticed? Get promoted? Become indispensable? I had never considered the human side of things from a manager’s perspective.

To be an effective leader, you must know not only your purpose, but who you’re leading as well. To get the best out of a team, you may have to treat one member with kid gloves while another may only respond to tough love. A leader must learn those styles and then mesh them with their own, authentic personality. In the best of times, that’s a difficult proposition.

I should say that my friend is smart, capable, and – despite his obvious fault in choosing friends – a great person. He will figure out a way to connect with his staff, especially now that they’re spending more and more time together in the office.

For those remaining remote, though, I wonder how this process will go from a manager’s point of view. Through knocking knees and nervous laughter, what steps will a quality leader need to take to connect with the very people he or she is leading? Will it even matter? Or will the power imbalance overwhelm the best of intentions? Only time will tell.

Photo by Chris Montgomery on Unsplash