I continue to read articles that alternately predict either the rise of the virtual workplace (citing trends of increased telecommuting and remote working) or the demise of the virtual workplace (citing companies like IBM who recalled design teams back to physical offices to increase collaboration). These articles often portray an either/or question: Should organizations rely on virtual workplaces or physical workplaces? The truth is most global and multi-state organizations know that this is a both/and reality. Leaders have to skillfully manage people in both face-to-face and virtual interactions.
In the past year, I've been writing and speaking about twelve brain-based learning principles that increase engagement and retention in the virtual classroom. These same twelve principles can support leaders who manage remote teams with the highest levels of innovation, collaboration, and productivity. It's a new world for leaders who must capitalize on technology to increase interpersonal effectiveness and reap the benefits of the digital workplace.
Here are two examples of brain-based principles that virtual leaders can leverage to transcend the perceived disadvantages of working virtually:
No Pain - No Gain
This brain-based principle describes the need to get people out of their comfort zones if they are going to learn anything. Remember the Goldilocks Rule: Too much failure shuts down learning. Too little failure bores people. Just the right amount of failure increases curiosity, challenge and learning. In the virtual classroom, our participants need to be stretched by relevant issues and cases so that they develop.
The same principle applied to the virtual workplace can guide virtual leaders to delegate challenging assignments and tasks so that their employees have the opportunity to fail safely. As a manager of a remote team, you have to be willing to assign a task and let go so that your team can experience the challenge of tackling that tough problem and arriving at a successful resolution. That's how a great leader develops an excellent team.
Sleep On It
This brain-based principle describes the need to literally "sleep" on new information. Our brains use slow-wave sleep to move information from the hippocampus (where short-term memory resides) to the neocortex (where long-term memory is stored). Participants in the virtual classroom benefit from reviewing job aids and reinforcement materials right before they go to sleep at night.
The same principle applied to the virtual workplace suggests that virtual leaders should facilitate problem solving or collaboration meetings in stages. In the first virtual meeting, provide background information, define the problem, and establish the intended goals our outcomes. Ask team members to think it over ("sleep on it") as they consolidate this information into long-term memory. In the next virtual meeting, you can brainstorm options with the team, striving for multiple possible options, leveraging creative or generative thinking. Have everyone "sleep" on these options. In the third virtual meeting, leverage evaluative thinking by narrowing alternatives, and making decisions. "Sleeping on it" between well-planned virtual meetings can increase focus, creativity and efficiency.
Join us in April as we focus on developing effective virtual teams in our 60-minute webinar, Leading High-Impact Virtual Teams, on Thursday, April 19, 1:00 pm ET / 10:00 am PT.