Avoid the 4 Pitfalls of Virtual Leadership and Unleash Your Team’s Productivity

Compiled from the gatekeeper’s insights and comments….


What’s covered in this article:

  • WFH leaders run into four leadership pitfalls all too often
  • Know how to avoid them for better business performance in 2021
  • Learn the 4 big things that your employees must overcome to be productive
  • Learn how to help your employees overcome them


As we start year two of the pandemic, it seems as though aspects of remote work are here to stay. Many leaders intend on managing their teams from home even when it is safe to return to the office.

No matter how well your business did in 2020, you can kick things into high gear in 2021 while leading from home. Doing that starts with avoiding the common pitfalls that many managers have run into in the working-from-home era and learning how to help your employees overcome energy and morale drain.

1. Understating the importance of maintaining relationships

When you’re moving from an in-office culture to a fully distributed one, it’s a massive sea change. Far too often, remote leaders forget that many employees miss the human interaction at the office. Unfortunately, they fail to devise new ways to replicate these team-building opportunities in work-from-home environments — which hurts morale.

“There’s a loss of camaraderie and interaction among employees who truly enjoyed the daily interaction with teammates,” says Bob McQuade, vice president of human resources at the University of Notre Dame.

According to a recent survey of the gatekeepers, he’s right. Our research revealed that nearly 70% of teams are missing aspects of the workplace when they’re stuck at home. At the same time, more than 55% say their employees are battling feelings of isolation.

“Team members miss the daily in-person connection,” says Joe Hartsig, EVP and chief merchandising officer at Bed Bath and Beyond and president at Harmon Stores.

Gryphon Investors has implemented new communications practices to foster greater employee connection since the pandemic began “We have weekly all-firm Zoom’s for all employees to keep them informed,” says Dell Larcen, a partner at Gryphon. “We also established functional pod groups, so employees have a forum to provide support to one another or get together for the occasional quarantini (Zoom happy hour).”

Keep in mind that a lack of team-building can have a tremendous impact on your business beyond mere camaraderie. Studies have found that distributed workforces slow down collaboration and stifle creativity, for example.

Add it all up, and it’s critical for you to devise new ways to keep your employees connected, even when they’re physically apart. Be creative and innovative and your employees and business results will prosper.

2. Failing to be empathetic to each employee’s work-from-home situation

This one is huge. Too many leaders treat all of their employees the same and fail to be respectful of each individual’s unique circumstances. There’s a difference between being single and having a huge house to yourself and being married with kids crammed into a two-bedroom apartment, different issues and different concerns.

“It’s particularly hard for employees with young children,” says Carlos Cata, a managing partner at Caldwell. “These individuals have more stress and more hardship.”

And your single employee may be dealing with a sense of isolation which can lead to serious burnout or other mental health issues.

Kids or not, it’s important to remember not everyone has a dedicated home office; our survey found that 62.5% of employees are distracted in their home working environments. Still, common sense tells us that working from home when your kids are there — as is the case for 64.3% of employees, according to our survey — is harder than when they’re somewhere else.

The best leaders recognize that each employee has unique circumstances and are empathetic, understanding, and adjust their expectations accordingly.

3. Overloading your team with Zoom calls

“Zoom fatigue” — or the phenomenon of being exhausted from an overload of virtual communication — it’s a big problem. According to the gatekeepers, 52% of organizations are struggling with too many video calls.

On one hand, you absolutely need to have Zoom calls to keep the team connected and informed. On the other, you need to give employees their space.

Suffice it to say it’s a difficult balancing act — and one that probably can’t be copied from one company to the next, since every business is unique.

Even if you think you have achieved the perfect balance of Zoom meetings, it’s important to take a step back and assess the lay of the land. The easiest way to determine whether your employees are getting crushed by Zoom fatigue is by asking them directly.

Nigel Hurst, Executive Vice President, HEI Resorts and Hotels did just that. “At first, the team met with the camera on, then with Zoom fatigue we decided we wanted all “camera off” meetings. Recently, we settled into occasional Teams meetings with the camera on to establish a greater social connection.”

4. Not trusting your team enough to do their jobs

When organizations were forced to rapidly transition to remote work, not all managers were prepared. As these executives struggled to adapt to leading from home, many of them put undue stress on their direct reports — making their transitions to working from home more difficult, too. As a recent Harvard Business Review article reveals, one of the biggest pitfalls leaders make when working from home is failing to trust their employees to do the jobs they were hired to do.

Research shows that managers who cannot “see” their direct reports sometimes struggle to trust that their employees are indeed working. When such doubts creep in, managers can start to develop an unreasonable expectation that those team members be available at all times, ultimately disrupting their work-home balance and causing more job stress.

If you find yourself looking over your employees’ virtual shoulders too often, take a step back and give them more room. Studies have found that autonomy is the key ingredient in employee happiness — which is directly correlated with productivity, retention, and profitability.

Remember, you hired your employees and retained them for a specific reason: you believe they are capable of getting the job done. Put in place regular employee reporting mechanisms and don’t skip regular one on one meetings. One on one zoom meetings can be the best employee productivity boosters.

Last year has been hard on all of us. As leaders, it is critical that we do everything we can to make our teams feel connected, respected, and inspired.

Avoid these four pitfalls and watch the digital floodgates open as your team becomes more connected and more productive than ever before.

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