What is Virtual Presence?
The art of influencing others virtually using techniques to impart succinct messaging combined with understanding and empathy.
“When you show deep empathy towards others, their defensive energy goes down and positive energy replaces it. This is when you can get more creative in problem-solving.” – Stephen Covey
Leadership presence is the ability of a leader to use the force of his or her character to influence the individual or team.
The virtual space just gives us an additional challenge. However, it’s fundamental not to lose sight of the basics: even when communicating via Zoom or Teams, there is still a need to inspire, to give confidence and hope. You will need to continue to build trust, demonstrate a duty of care, reward success, show a genuine interest in your teams which will require an enduring requirement to inspire your people; to be ‘present’ in their day-to-day lives.
So, when will this pandemic end, what could be next?
Maybe this is the new ‘norm` and working from home (WFH) is the new way of life. If so, how are we able to engage with our teams and ensure their psychological welfare or well-being? Are we going to rely on innate qualities of resilience in this ever-increasingly fast-paced society? Do we, as leaders, have a true picture of what is going on with employees, both personally and professionally? Can we still interact virtually to demonstrate empathy and alleviate stress levels when needed?
The solution could be Virtual Presence, using proven methods to influence others and truly understand their thought process whilst still being aware of all the factors affecting behaviours when WFH or geographically displaced.
As humans, social interaction with others is essential to our health and well-being. It is a tool in which we learn from an early age, such as the ability to emulate others and follow basic instruction. The culture we desire is one of collaboration, inclusivity, common goals, coupled with camaraderie and belonging. Therefore, the feeling of isolation, lack of engagement or not being able to have light-hearted conversation with another person can be daunting. We cannot rely on resilience alone; we must communicate the human factor through these difficult times: this is true leadership.
Leading through a pandemic and at reach is difficult. Lockdowns have taken a toll on many people, across all sectors and backgrounds of society. Even those who appear strong and well-balanced may be suffering, often in silence.
The consequences of mental health and the effects on society as a whole needs close monitoring and a possible reboot and reenergising when the time is right.
Virtual presence is about the ability to empathise and understand others, whilst still delivering efficient and productive meetings. Who wants to be in numerous virtual meetings every single day? They are time consuming, and can upset the daily routine of those involved, leading to a lack of productivity both in the home and work itself. This imbalance can have severe detrimental effects on team members, so a nuanced approach is required, ensuring that employees are adapting to new surroundings and being at home for long periods of time. The over-worked, stressed, lonely way of living isn’t right, so as Leaders let’s change it right now! Here are a few guidelines to help leaders have “Presence” when delivering virtually, a 3-step reminder you may want use as a template:
Step 1 – Set the conditions from the start: structure the meeting and be inclusive.
“Virtual presence” can be defined as an illusion of presence that is created by artificial devices, such as computer displays, headphones, etc.
When delivering virtually, team members will dial in and join the meeting at slightly different times. Firstly, be mindful not everyone is tech savvy or may be experiencing tech issues, but try to use these vital spare minutes to be informal, encourage general chat and ask leading questions, “How’s your day been? What have you been up? Family ok?” Try to gauge the response and welcome everyone to the meeting.
Secondly, once you want to start, even if people are late, acknowledge this fact, “Where are we, just waiting on…. who will join us shortly. If everyone is content, let’s begin on the main topic of the day”. Make everyone aware of any administration points, permissions and use of mute button for example, then outline the agenda of the meeting. Set out the “what” i.e., what needs to be achieved as this is the vision, and let others work-through the “how” it should be done and the processes, as usually the team members will be the ones delivering.
This whole process should be less formal than face-to-face meetings, to relax the team, and should be as interactive as possible, with questions and debate encouraged amongst the team. Working in isolation is flawed! Be honest, who enjoys being on receive for a whole session?
There may be background noise of children or other household members, which is perfectly natural; if not too boisterous, acknowledge who or what it is and carry on, others are in a similar position. Be inclusive to those sometimes reticent to contribute in group discussions, everyone should be heard and introverts may just hold nuggets of golden information.
“In teamwork, silence isn’t golden, it’s deadly.” – Mark Sanborn
Step 2: Over Communicate – Messaging – Prioritise
What do we mean by “over communicating”? No, not more virtual meetings but structured ones that underline the vision so that, by doing so, everyone understand the overall intent of the organisation. Get everyone talking about the vision and it will become embedded in everything they do. During times of crisis such as a pandemic, it’s essential to reinforce the messaging and prioritise workloads: surely not everything is urgent.
Communicate more regularly but less formally, ask for a simple progress report (this can be verbal) and ask if help is needed. You may also ask: “Are there any sticking points?” or “Do you need me to get involved”?
Use different methods to communicate, and don’t forget the importance of a 1-to-1 call: it’s personal and may be the opportunity for individuals to open up if struggling with workloads or suffering in isolation.
Also, why does a virtual meeting have to be set in hour-long sessions? It doesn’t. Just communicate, get the message across and prioritise what is important to that team. Yes, “that team”, as who wants to be sat in numerous meetings listening to discussions that do not concern or affect their outputs, it’s not efficient. Keep the conversation on schedule enabling completion of tasks, recharging the batteries or essential family time.
Step 3: Clarity – Feedback – active listening
Get clarity by going back over your checklist, ensuring everything is covered off and arrive at decisions collaboratively.
Make sure everyone has your intent and understands their role to play: this avoids stress for all concerned, negating that lost feeling.
Be authentic and give permission for honest feedback: no edited versions, but answer concisely.
Leaders may have to get back to the team with answers to in-depth questions – but do NOT waffle!
Actively listen and lean slightly forward intently, observe engagement if people contribute and invite individuals to comment. If still reluctant, then follow up later to personally check all is well.
Highly motivated Individuals are equally at risk: self-induced pressure can be overwhelming, especially with other factors, such as work space and freedom of movement due to current restrictions.
“The most important thing in communication is to hear what isn’t being said.” – Peter F. Drucker
Set the conditions, be personable showing empathy, communicate regularly but informally. Keep to the script by reiterating key messages and prioritise accordingly, be clear in your intent, allow constructive honest feedback and most importantly listen to employees concerns. This is the number one complaint in disassociated employees’ grievances. Remember you are the team leader 24/7, not just at work. Be that leader that team members can approach and trust, getting first-hand feedback, so you can assess the overall vision ensuring the psychological well-being of your team.