Updated: Sep 8
Work as we knew it shifted dramatically in the wake of the global pandemic. The traditional office was disrupted as remote work surged from 6% to 50% of complete workdays in the spring of 2020 in the United States. Fast forward to early 2023, and the landscape has settled at around 28%, as revealed by Harvard Business Review. This fluctuation marks a pivotal moment in the evolving business environment, with opportunities and challenges for B2B enterprises.
How are companies adapting to new hybrid work models?
When remote and hybrid work environments are becoming the norm, leadership, and culture-building are becoming increasingly important. In this insightful interview, host Brian Gorman sits down with Ron Ross, the owner of Advanced Air Solutions, a healthcare consulting firm, to discuss the complexity of establishing a virtual culture and the critical leadership traits required for success.
"Are you making decisions on your own, or are you really inclusive of people? Are you slowing down enough to do that? So, part of the way we can know whether we are aligned is having that feedback loop and whether, you know, it's us or having someone that we trust to get that feedback on. Here's the culture I want to build. Here's the culture that exists now."
We have to start by acknowledging the profound shifts happening in the world of work, especially with the surge in remote work due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Ron Ross highlights the importance of culture in this changing landscape, emphasizing that creating and maintaining culture in a virtual environment is a challenge that requires intentionality.
Ron emphasizes that effective virtual leadership begins with connecting with oneself. Leaders must be in a good mental and emotional state to lead effectively. This self-awareness is akin to an athlete's warm-up routine before a performance, ensuring that leaders are grounded and capable of handling the emotional dynamics of their teams.
Building and maintaining connections with team members are vital aspects of successful virtual leadership. Ron suggests that leaders need to create an environment that fosters trust, honesty, and empathy. This involves recognizing that people may have various emotional states and past experiences that influence their reactions. Leaders should take time to genuinely connect with team members, going beyond superficial conversations and checking in on their well-being.
Listening serves as a fundamental pillar in fostering trust among virtual teams. It underscores the significance of leaders attentively tuning into their team members, paying close attention to their team members not just to their spoken words but also to the unspoken ones. Through fostering a trustworthy environment, team members are given the freedom to voice their ideas, recommendations, and worries without apprehension of criticism or negative consequences.
"You have to be honest with yourself about the culture that you wish to create versus the culture that you're actually creating."
Defining and aligning the culture of a virtual team with leadership intent is critical. In the "Culture Virtually" episode, Ron explains that the culture should mirror the leader's personality and communication style, as well as the goals of the organization. Leaders must be self-aware and honest about the culture they want to create and ensure that it aligns with their leadership style.
For virtual cultures to thrive, leaders must foster inclusivity and trust at all organizational levels. Team members should feel comfortable sharing their ideas, feedback, and concerns. Additionally, leaders must trust their team members to make decisions and collaborate effectively. Trust and openness should permeate the entire organization.
“Leadership is those choices that you make. If you have the leader as your responsibility, whether it's because you're an influencer or by title, there are certain things that are required. And I think the connection is one of them, really being able to communicate well, being able to coach, to just name a few. But the connection is a kind of foundation for a lot of the things that I just mentioned.”
Leadership extends to micro-level cultures within teams and departments. Leaders should ensure that these micro-cultures align with the broader organizational culture. This requires constant communication, feedback, and alignment between leadership and team members to maintain consistency and trust.
Lastly, Ron discusses the concept of leadership apprenticeship. Leaders should always be on the lookout for team members with leadership potential and delegate tasks and responsibilities accordingly. Encouraging team members to come forward with ideas, even if they're not perfect, fosters a culture of innovation and ownership.
In conclusion, building and maintaining a virtual culture is an ongoing process that requires self-awareness, empathy, active listening, and trust. Effective virtual leaders create an environment where team members feel valued, heard, and empowered to contribute to the organization's success. By embracing these principles, organizations can navigate the challenges of the virtual work landscape and build cultures that inspire and thrive.
Listen to the full conversation here
Have you explored other insightful episodes of Qonversations? Here are some of our recommendations:
Episode 038: “Leadership Integrity”
Episode 029: “Optimizing Virtual Leadership”
Episode 016: “Courageous leadership”