This Is How You Lead a Virtual Team Without Coming Across Like a Looming Sci-Fi Overlord

Nobody likes the boss staring at them on a screen..

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In the 2005 film, “V for Vendetta,” High Chancellor Adam Sutler dictates via video, “Tonight, we must remain steadfast. We must remain determined. But most of all, we must remain united. …Justice will be swift, it will be righteous, and it will be without mercy.” Inspired?

Looking up at the slightly pixilated, firm face of Sutler towering down from the screen, probably not. Yet, the future is video. Recent studies show that 4 million U.S. employees, or 2.9 percent of the total U.S. workforce, work from home at least half of the time, up from 1.8 million in 2005. That’s a 115 percent increase in telecommuting since 2005. And increasingly, video is used for business calls in lieu of voice alone because it provides a more personal and impactful way to communicate. Video is no longer a “nice to have,” but a necessity in order to manage remote teams.

Related: The Tricks and Secrets to Mastering a Remote Workforce

So how do leaders lead, inspire and manage in this channel without coming across like a futuristic dictator portrayed in popular dystopian films and literature? Take Big Brother in “1984” or even Emperor Palpatine in “Star Wars.” These pop-culture examples might lead you to believe that one can’t virtually lead without coming across as a sci-fi overlord. But good leadership does exist in the age of video, and if done right, can not only inspire, but further empower teams by breaking down traditional communication barriers.

The do’s and don’ts of leadership in the age of video.

Effective communication is vital for a mobile workforce where office “water cooler” talk simply no longer exists. This means that all communication happens virtually, but with so many applications and technologies in today’s marketplace, users are continuing to battle with a fractured user experience, creating a major hurdle for leaders to overcome and inspire their teams. So, without further ado, here are some top do’s and don’ts of leadership in the age of video.

Do focus on the user.

The key to leading remote teams is focusing on the individual user and simplifying the experience. One way to do this is reducing the number of collaboration tools. While this might seem counterintuitive, reducing the number of tools and platforms can optimize data retention, collaboration efficiency and ultimately improve the user experience, meeting retention and training initiatives.

Related: We Acquired a Company With Remote Employees. Here's What We Learned.

Don't be big brother.

Lead with trust rather than fear. Micro-managers may feel a pang of discomfort from not being able to look over their remote team’s physical shoulders and may be tempted to resort to other forms of surveillance to keep them on track. This is both uncomfortable and demotivating for remote teams. The futuristic dictators portrayed in pop culture keep a close eye and ear on their subjects, ultimately disincentivizing communication as whole. Technology should be used to empower employees to communicate more effectively and efficiently, not to track or monitor performance. Trust is paramount.

Do prioritize security and privacy.

On the other hand, ensuring security and privacy from external risk is equally as important. Yet, there’s a visible clash between security and collaboration in video conferencing. Organizations that put security first and collaboration second will see users ignore security guidelines and leverage the technology of their choice — leaving organizations more at risk. Managing the balance between guest access to meetings and ensuring security will mean the difference between success and failure with collaboration.

Don't dismiss the details.

Notice how most sci-fi overlords are shrouded in shadow? When using video, lighting and camera positioning are huge. Lighting from the back or below can produce shadows that may look more evil than inspiring. Camera angles from below can come off as talking down to teams and typically don’t produce the best of views. On the technical side, if you’re using a new technology, make sure the latest version is installed and test it before joining the meeting. Avoid audio issues by testing your microphone and finding a quiet room. If background noise is unavoidable, be sure to mute your microphone when you’re not speaking. All the little things count.

Related: This Company Hosts Virtual Dance Parties to Help Its 170 Remote Employees Feel Connected

Do continue people-centric interactions.

Video meetings can be awkward without the presence of physical human beings in the room. But they shouldn’t be. Treat your virtual meetings like any in-person interaction, which means being present, focused, engaged and personal. Try to maintain the same rapport you would have as chatting with someone in the breakroom over coffee. Avoid the urge to check emails or multitask. Maintain good eye contact while speaking and listening to other participants and ask questions. Don’t let appearances fall to the wayside. Just as its important to look presentable at the office, apply the same standards to video chat.

Leading via video boils down to trust and the ability to communicate. It’s not just about getting a message through, it’s about fostering an environment where all parties can be heard and exchange information safely and reliably. We are reaching a point where video will be a necessity for all leaders, and if done right, will be a tool associated with collaboration and inspiration rather than anxiety and fear.

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