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Crisis in the home office? Now is the time for virtual leadership!
Executive Education / 27 March, 2020
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Head of Competence Center
Dr. Michael Fliegner has been Manager Executive Education; Leadership, Strategy & Innovation at the Frankfurt School since 2013 and in this function is responsible for the design and management of talent development programmes and qualification projects.

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Living on chips rather than healthy vegetables. Wearing a shirt and tie with your pyjama bottoms. Top to-do item: get up in the morning! During the early days of the rapidly spreading teleworking phenomenon, home-office jokes were even more popular than jokes about coronavirus, the actual cause of the current situation. Since then, the jokes have tapered off, whereas working from home has gained traction. Employees are still expected to perform, despite the change in circumstances. But in times of crisis, priorities also change – sometimes dramatically. Something needed urgently yesterday is suddenly cancelled today. In its place, a host of new to-dos spring up, along with new questions and uncertainties. Customers need more – but different – support. Colleagues need help. And gradually, people also start to harbour the unpleasant suspicion that the current awfulness could impact their own jobs and families. This evolving situation is placing more stress than ever on managers, not least because the rules of the game have changed. Today, virtual leadership is called for – leadership able to handle questions like: How do we collaborate in these new conditions? What are our top priorities? And how do our businesses stay stable and dependable when we’re all working from home?

Virtual leadership means excelling in new circumstances

To allow people to work together productively and successfully even without direct contact, collaboration requires a new game plan. When projects can no longer be managed by manager-led meetings in an office, agreed outcomes and deadlines must be defined even more clearly than usual. Similarly, to enable teams to share information just as fully and effectively as they previously did in meetings, it’s essential to choose the right collaborative technology platform. But the number of available platforms is vast – and once again, managers must choose quickly so that employees can familiarise themselves with the new communication channels and develop routines for engaging with and using the new techniques involved.

Many projects were already complex, requiring project teams to take multiple interdependent factors into account. But in times of crisis, developments accelerate at breathtaking speeds – while at the same time, the consequences of decisions become much more difficult to predict. Attempts to impose order on this chaos are doomed to failure. Instead, the most sought-after skill is the willingness and ability to make quick, well-grounded decisions even when certainty is declining, time is short, and problems are proliferating.

Building trust in a virtual world

One of the normal side-effects of times like these is an absolutely elemental but also life-saving emotion: fear. Anyone who stays totally relaxed in the face of such a serious threat is also likely to underestimate the dangers and put themselves – and others – at risk by their behaviour. Creating a trustworthy, confidence-inspiring virtual framework in which people can discuss their anxieties and future-related fears is certainly not easy – and yet this is precisely what you need to do if teams are to feel better afterwards and continue to work more or less efficiently.

Crises are times when people depend on good leadership. So congratulations to those managers who are capable of giving themselves and their teams clear goals and well-defined frames of reference in their new, virtual working environments!