How can leaders stay connected with staff working virtually?

As the pandemic continues to define when, where and how we work today, employees are craving communications and connections with their colleagues and their leaders as never before. They are hungry, too, for the clarity and context that only leaders can provide when communicating and interacting personally with their staff. 

For leaders everywhere this year, sustaining effective communications and connections with employees may be your single most important job as a leader. Here are five proven ways you can do it well in a virtual workplace environment.

Be Intentional

These are times that demand consistently clear thinking by leaders regarding the purpose of employee communications. I encourage the leaders I work with to think through their WhyHow, and What each time they communicate. 

For example, are you planning to report on business developments in this communication? Or will you be working through issues and need to facilitate problem-solving and brainstorming? Or do you need to schedule a time for everyone to check-in and talk with each other about how they are doing and what they are struggling with during this ongoing pandemic? 

When you are clear about your Why, it becomes very easy to choose How you will communicate and What you will focus on each time.  

When you are working and leading virtually, you will also need to be intentional about the technology and platforms you choose—especially if you want to create space for sharing and interaction or facilitate breakouts for small group conversations within a larger online discussion.

When you clarify your purpose at the outset, effective communications can follow whether you are together in the same room or connecting virtually through an online platform.

Be Structured (But not too much)

Strike the right balance between structured and unstructured time in your communications and interactions with employees. Doing so enables you to give team members the time and space they need to process key messages and figure out the questions they want to ask.

You can also invite questions before and after meetings to give team members different ways of engaging in the conversation. 

Everyone processes information differently and at different rates, so plan accordingly and allow time for questions and conversation. When you do, you will be enabling team members to perceive they are seen and heard, that their questions and concerns matter, and they are part of a larger whole.

Be Present

More than anything, employees right now need their leaders to BE there—fully present, connected, and in the moment—each time they connect with employees.

For example, when you schedule time with employees, make it a priority to free yourself from distractions to give your employees your undivided attention.

Bring your active listening skills. Be curious about what you may be seeing, hearing, or not hearing. What might be behind a question? Or is there an elephant in the room that needs to be acknowledged and explored?

Be Open

Times such as this demand a degree of openness and flexibility from leaders in all aspects of leadership, especially in your work as a leadership communicator. When it comes to employee communications, I encourage you to ask yourself these questions often: 

  • What does your team need from you now? 
  • What might be required from your leadership communications during these times?  
  • Are you open and willing to learn your way forward right now; to lead and serve employees thoroughly in your interactions? 

Try out ideas and suggestions—even if they are new to you and push your outside of your comfort zone—and learn as you go.

Pandemic conditions and virtual workplaces are here for a while yet, and for some companies, a mostly virtual workplace will be permanent. As conditions continue to change and evolve, you will be well served to learn how to communicate effectively with your team members, regardless of their location.

Be Candid

Your team will naturally look to you for clarity and direction. But they will value your candour even more, especially when there are so many unknowns making the path ahead uncertain.

Focus on what you can say with confidence and share it consistently with everyone. Simultaneously, be ready to acknowledge points on which you do not yet have an answer—especially if the topic is a conceivably real concern.

Be honest about what you do not yet know, rather than pretending there is nothing to be concerned about. Your employees will thank you for your candour and appreciate your willingness to show some vulnerability. 

With uncertainty so present in our pandemic-driven lives, leaders need to bring significant focus and attention to communications and interactions with employees, regardless of their work location.

Naturally, how you do it in your organization will be unique to you and what your employees require. You can read more about helping your employees thrive in my last post.

You can count on five proven ways to communicate well: 

  • Be intentional: clarifying your Why, How, and What helps.
  • Balance structured and unstructured time and ensure you allow time for both.
  • Be fully present with your team each time you connect.
  • Be open to addressing what your employees need from you and be flexible about embracing various ways to connect and communicate. 
  • Be candid about what you do and do not know. 

You do not need to have all the answers, but you do need to be ready and willing to engage in the conversation.

Your team will thank you for your commitment to them, and for providing the communications and connections so vitally important to everyone’s direction, well-being, and success.

When you do, you will boost your effectiveness as a communicator and as a leader.

Michelle Lane

Michelle Lane is a leadership development coach, consultant, and facilitator with 40 years of diverse leadership experience in the public, private and non-profit sectors. Michelle can be reached at


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