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Leading Teams in the Digital Age: Where Most Get it Wrong

Leading a team in the digital age is no easy feat. With so many different ways to communicate and collaborate, it's more important than ever to be able to navigate the virtual landscape. This article will help you understand what digital leadership means, the different digital leadership styles, and how you can overcome the challenges that come with managing a hybrid team.

Digital Leadership Meaning

The definition of leadership has evolved. Essentially, digital leadership means using a company's digital assets to achieve business goals. However, effective leadership means more than the tools that we use. Nowadays, an ideal digital leader should have a people-first approach and must slowly let go of the old way of leadership.

Previously, in the industrial age, leadership styles are mostly autocratic. The leader provides instructions and the employees follow them. If the employees don't follow, they are either coerced or punished. However, since the world has evolved from the industrial age to the information age, this type of leadership is not only outdated, it can also be harmful.

How to be a Leader in the Digital Age

What leadership style works best when leading in the digital age? There is no right or wrong. The key is to choose the style that is authentic to you. Plus, you have to consider how your leadership styles affect your team’s morale and performance.

But if you’re looking for the digital leadership styles that you can emulate, here are the three styles to get you started:

Influence-based Leadership

Influence-based leadership requires leading with the right mindset – being open and receptive – as well as understanding how best to communicate your thoughts and ideas. Although it may seem difficult at first, leading by influence becomes easier over time as team members become more aware of what makes them feel engaged and empowered on their job.

In addition, leading through influence takes into account different types of employees from introverts versus extroverts to those who prefer asynchronous communication versus face-to-face interactions. As a result, this type of leader knows how best to empower their employees.

Leading as a Coach

Another leadership type that is good for the digital age is the coach. A coach is a leader who focuses on encouraging and motivating their team to become better individuals. This is not to say that they're always trying to be positive. They provide praise and give feedback in the right place and at the right time. They know when to pause or when to keep on pushing.

The Democratic Leader

Lastly, a leadership style that works best with leading in the digital age is democratic leadership. This type of leadership gives employees a voice and allows them to have a say in making decisions. As teams become more dispersed, it is important to use communication tools that allow for a two-way dialogue.

This means effectively brainstorming on how to start a project or solve a new problem. Instead of immediately providing the solution, you invite the team to consider all possible options. This also creates accountability as a team. So, when something is a success, everyone gets the credit. In the event of a failure, there's no finger-pointing.

💡If you want to learn more leadership styles that are best for leading remote and hybrid teams, read The Best Leadership Style for Virtual Teams & their Hybrid Counterparts.

Balancing Virtual and In-Person Social Interaction

Once you’ve chosen your unique style as a leader, the next challenge of leading in the digital age is balancing virtual and in-person social interaction. According to Buffer's State of Remote Work Report in 2020, one of the struggles that people have when working remotely is loneliness.

Depending on how your company and team are set up, it can be tricky to meet in person. But there's always a way to bring teams closer together.

I've been working remotely for 11 years. And out of that 11 years, I lead a fully-remote marketing team for six years.

Here's my strategy to make sure that people have fun and engaging virtual and social interactions:

Consider location when hiring even if you're a fully remote team.

I had a team of eight from two main countries: Ukraine and the Philippines. Our content team was in the Philippines and our ads team was in Ukraine. While we were a remote-first team, I would consider the location of people when hiring. That way, team members who are in the Philippines can have an optional hybrid setup wherein we could meet for coffee or work in a co-working space once a week. We would also organize fun team buildings per quarter, such as renting an Airbnb.

With the BeLive Team in Ukraine, 2019

Have two types of team building: virtual and in person.

During year-end meetings, we would gather everyone in Zoom and play virtual team games. A few days later, teammates who are in the same area would meet in person. This ensured that everyone had enough interaction and bonding moments with each other.

That’s why it’s important to use tools that facilitate in-person meetings. Using a Slack app like Where makes it easy to coordinate meetings for remote and hybrid teams.

Include random encounters virtually.

One thing that is missing when working remotely is those random watercooler interactions. Luckily, there are tools to facilitate these random encounters. Donut, a Slack app, randomly pairs two people to have a virtual coffee and discuss non-work-related stuff.

Where Leaders Struggle When Managing Hybrid Teams

Most of the struggle that comes when leading hybrid teams is around mindset and not necessarily the tools and the tactics.

Team Purpose and Culture

Purpose defines what is important to the team, while culture establishes who they are in their actions. If your company has a strong company culture in the physical office space, it needs to be carried out in the digital space as well. For example, if creativity is an important part of your culture, you have to find ways on how to manifest this virtually. Perhaps you might need to add a touch of whimsy in your next Zoom call by using fun virtual backgrounds.

Team Self-Assessment

Team self-assessment is the process of understanding the team's strengths and weaknesses and making changes depending on these assessments. Team members need opportunities to evaluate their own skills and abilities, set goals for themselves, and then discuss how they can achieve success together. It’s important that team leaders provide an environment where employees feel comfortable getting and offering feedback.

Day-to-Day Leadership Behaviors

Lastly, it's critical to keep in mind that leading a hybrid team is a skill. The more you practice, the more you get better at it. And the way to get better is to set daily actions.  What's your routine as a leader? Do you dive in right to work? Or do you check in with your team first? Once you have your daily routine set, you may need to review it every quarter to see how it’s affecting your team.

💡Want to get inspired by remote leaders around the world and learn more about their daily work routine? Make sure to read our Accomplished Peeps series.

The Future of Work Starts Today

The digital world is changing the way we work. It’s challenging to lead teams in this new environment, but it also presents us with opportunities for creativity and collaboration that are unparalleled. As long as you lead with trust and an open mind, you'll be leading a happy and healthy team that's ready to take on any challenge.