Virtual leadership and employee engagement during COVID-19

The unprecedented COVID-19 global pandemic has created a significant disruption in how we live, shop, interact, and the way we work. Organizations have had to reorganize work. There is a movement of labor from on-site to a virtual environment. Thus, leading a virtual team has become a critical skill for an organization to succeed during the ongoing pandemic and continue operating in the present economy.

A highly skilled, engaged, and committed workforce is a competitive advantage critical to an organization’s global business survival (Holt, 1993; Macleod & Brady, 2008). Accordingly, work engagement is associated with positive performance outcomes. Previous studies have indicated a relationship between having social support and work engagement (Orgambidez‐Ramos & Almeida, 2017, Nasurdin, Ling & Khan, 2018). Employees working from home face diverse challenges related to work, such as family pressures, stress, and battle with technical and system issues concerning work.

An effective leader must build and support collaboration among team members. In the virtual world, objectivity, trust, empathy, listening, and continuous communication are vital. Team members need to feel safe and trust their leader to enable the free exchange of information without any iota of fear (Bergmann, 2019; Colquitt et al., 2002; Helmond, 2020). Past findings have shown that transformational leadership works perfectly in a virtual environment; because the style focuses on empowering and motivating employees to perform. Creating an emotional bond with the subordinates and learning to understand individual team members’ competency and needs. Thus, enabling the leader to appreciate individual skills and capacity while acknowledging or accommodating various perspectives and engaging each team member in solving problems (Kirkman et al. 2004).

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Building a good relationship and an environment of trust is an essential ingredient while engaging in the virtual workspace in comparison to a face-to-face environment where leaders can physically observe team members’ performance, provide guidance, and share information. The virtual space brings a leader’s abilities to test. It can give room to suspicion and misconception and eliminate leadership control in a traditional work environment. After all, individuals have control over their time, schedules, and settings. Hence, leaders need to trust their employees to deliver on agreed goals without being controlling.

Therefore, leaders must trust their employees to deliver on agreed goals without being controlling and show compassion. There is a connection between private communication and trust. When employees feel a leader’s kindness, a lasting relationship builds over time, not eliminating disputes that can occasionally come up. (Ahn, Lee & Yun (2018).

Employees’ behaviors and organizational performance are dependent on the leadership influence. Leaders have the responsibility for setting the strategic direction for their organizations and teams. Globalization of markets, evolving technology, and unique situations like the ongoing pandemic force businesses to respond to survive as technology and systems change the face of work. Given that leaders are accountable for performance outcomes, there is a need to align leadership style with the new realities. Also, be influential while adapting to team dynamics, diverse workforce, organizational systems, and virtual leadership (Al-Ani, Horspool& Bligh (2011).

Embassey, is a doctoral student of Organizational Leadership at the Alliant International University, San Diego, California US.

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