The world of work is changing before our eyes: Skype, Slack, webinars, instant messaging, freelancing websites, remote options, flex work policies, etc. With this change in how employees communicate and engage with their work, there needs to be an appropriate response from leadership. Virtual Leadership: Practical Strategies for Getting the Best Out of Virtual Work and Virtual Teams was written to help guide that response from leadership. The book introduces readers to the unique challenges of the changing new world of work and the kind of leadership philosophy needed to become a success.
What is Virtual Leadership About?
For most of human history, work was local and controlled. You traveled to an employer’s location to complete the job. But entering the 21st century, this “reality” of work is undergoing a revolution. Workers are now able to work for any willing and tech-capable employer around the globe. They can work for multiple employers and they can complete that work even while wearing pajamas.
This unprecedented change means that business owners will need to adapt their concept of leadership. Previously, in the “old way of work” when work was local and controlled, many employers adopted a “control and command” type leadership. Under this leadership, employers maintained strong control over the work process. This won’t work in a work environment where many employees can work anytime or for any employer they choose. Virtual Leadership suggests that it’s time to shift to a facilitation leadership model. Under a facilitation model, employers facilitate, rather than control. The requirements of work are still set by leadership, but there is a lot of flexibility and variability for workers to meet those requirements.
This technology-fueled world of work isn’t a walk in the park, however. As the book quickly points out, technology is not a cure-all. It is a tool that enables work to be done. Technology presents its own opportunity costs with time (and money) needed to acquire and adapt the technology for your workforce, a sharp increase in written communication (more email), and communication gaps. That’s why virtual leadership isn’t just a change in leadership approach. It’s a change in how leaders and employees work with technology altogether. Only the employers and employees who are proactive with technology will be able to survive in a world of work dominated by this approach.
Author Dr. Penny Pullan began her journey into virtual leadership shortly after the security lockdown of global flights following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. She needed to find a way to continue working with her global clients. Virtual work was her solution. In addition to serving as an advisor and consultant on virtual leadership and risk management, Dr. Pullan is the founder of Making Projects Work Ltd, a certified professional facilitator, speaker, and a chartered engineer.
What Was Best About Virtual Leadership?
The best part of Virtual Leadership is the book’s user-friendly approach to the concepts of “virtual leadership” and “virtual work”. Pullan focuses on both the large-scale picture (facilitative leadership model) and the tiny details (how to deal with conflict on a conference call, for example) that are a part of leadership. Her examples of working with organizations like the Anglican Bishops for Climate Justice, demonstrate how leaders need to understand both the “big picture” and the tiny details in order to facilitate virtual leadership.
What Could Have Been Done Differently?
Virtual Leadership is a great basic introduction to the skills and tools required for an effective leadership role. The focus, however, is primarily on issues that frontline managers and workers face (choosing a webinar, selecting a communication tool to connect with your workers). It is not an extensive guide to establishing remote work from scratch. It also isn’t a comprehensive guide to the potential risks and liabilities of remote work, either.
Essentially, if you have the tools for remote workers, this book will help you make better use of them. If not, you may need some additional resources to get started.
Why Read Virtual Leadership?
Virtual Leadership is a user-friendly guide to the brand of leadershipp described in the title and the tools to make that kind of leadership effective. For leaders, Pullan demonstrates why virtual leadership involves looking at the “big picture” (how technology will fit into your objectives and values) and the tiny details (like ensuring meeting participants can interact). Her examples from previous clients demonstrate how an understanding of the nuances can dramatically improve communication
For workers and self-employed individuals, Pullan discusses several issues that might be of interest. Her discussion on webinars and meetings might prove especially beneficial. Pullan shows why balancing attention to details and a focus on the big picture are key to utilizing technology while working.
This article, “The Future of Work Requires Virtual Leadership Skills” was first published on Small Business Trends