Leadership plays an impactful role when it comes to their teams’ success. Leaders hold responsibility and accountability for not only how well their team performs, but also, how their workers interact as a team: inclusively collaborating, communicating and innovating together. In fact, 70% of team engagement is determined solely by the manager, according to Gallup research. With employee engagement hovering around 23% globally, it’s clear that there is work to do with equipping leaders with the skills to effectively engage their teams, regardless of where they’re located.

While some leaders may excel at leading in an in-person work environment, translating those skills to a virtual environment can prove challenging. Many leaders struggle with cultivating meaningful and authentic connections with their remote and hybrid direct reports. This lack of connection can lead dispersed employees to disengage from their teams and company.

Virtual leaders must realize that to ensure team connectivity and inclusion, they will need to make a purposeful effort to promote this on their teams. In this article, we will evaluate the skills sets that virtual leadership must adopt to mitigate the risk of disengagement and successfully lead their remote and hybrid teams.

However, before we jump into these skills, I have a myth to bust.

Is There Really a Difference?: Virtual Versus In-Person Leadership

Many leaders may argue that virtual and in-person leadership requires identical skills, so as a result, leading a dispersed team should be equivalent. However, what these leaders fail to realize is that the difference doesn’t lie in the skills, but instead, the contextual application of these skills to meet the nuanced needs of their remote and hybrid employees.

The good news is that most leaders already demonstrate these skills (or at least should) in their leadership approach. Now, they must transfer this knowledge into a different environment, utilizing virtual leadership skills to meet their dispersed teams’ expectations.

Suzie Bishop, vice president of product development at The Center for Leadership Studies, shares, “Foundation skills are the same — managing the balance of success and engagement, open communication and transparency, clear standards, collaboration — but the importance of adaptability and intentionality increases. There’s an extra effort that goes into developing a relationship now because the other individual isn’t just right there; you have to seek it out or put in the extra time.”

Together, these evergreen skills, such as empathy and communication, can culminate to create a set of skills that when applied, fit the needs of your dispersed team. They can help hybrid and remote managers establish a sense of purpose, ongoing communication and timely support.

Now that you understand the nuance of leading a virtual team versus in person, let’s evaluate how to use virtual leadership skills to solve challenges significant to meeting dispersed teams expectations.

Virtual Leadership Skills: Refining Your Leadership Approach

Virtual leadership may require equivalent skills, but as discussed earlier, it calls for an augmented approach. Let’s review three key skills sets that leaders must embrace to successfully connect their dispersed team.


Skills that fall into communication include: inclusivity, emotional intelligence (EI) and self-awareness.

Clear communication can prove to be difficult when it’s reliant on instant messaging and web conferencing, making building an authentic relationship an even harder task. Cindy Huggett, CPTD, virtual training consultant and facilitator, explains this point in further detail: “The ability to communicate well using digital technology, across screens, requires a different skill set. This used to be a unique skill (5+ years ago) but now is required of anyone who leads a remote or hybrid team. Leaders need to decide what communication can be asynchronous (like email, texting, messaging channels, pre-recorded video, etc.) and what needs to be a conversation (either one-on-one call, video call or team meeting), so it’s both the skill of determining the best communication method and how to use these tools to communicate well.”

Unfortunately, virtual leaders may overlook opportunities to engage with their team and encourage ongoing team communication. This can make employees feel disjointed and like “gig” workers rather than a valuable asset to the team and business. On top of overlooking opportunities for connection, some virtual leaders may struggle with including everyone on the team in updates and opportunities, and instead fall to the direct reports who work closer to them. This is called proximity bias, and it can harm your team’s dynamics, thus lowering productivity and negatively impacting business goals.

Virtual leaders must utilize their skills in communication to enforce team connectivity and ensure that everyone is receiving equitable opportunities and attention. Remote and hybrid employees are reliant on their virtual leaders to knit the group together and create a psychologically safe environment where everyone can contribute and collaborate with their authentic selves.

Leaders must understand their feelings and the feelings of others to properly anticipate their remote and hybrid employees’ needs and to effectively stitch the team together. And to effectively practice these skills, virtual leaders must be self-aware of their strengths and weaknesses, and how their employees may see them. These skills sets can propel virtual leaders to flex their communication skills in a dispersed team.


To be an empathetic leader with authentic team connections, virtual leaders need to strengthen these skills: trust, active listening and adaptability.

We hear of empathy a lot, however; it is such a vital skill for leaders to embrace. This is especially dire in a virtual setting. For example, due to the flexible hours, some employees may not work during office hours. Virtual leaders must practice empathy to work around that employee’s schedule. They will also have to put themselves in their employees’ shoes to anticipate and support their work and learning needs.

Virtual leaders must also demonstrate trust to their teams and not micromanage due to lack of visibility. “One challenge is overcoming the desire to micromanage remote team members,” Huggett says. “The best leaders of remote/hybrid teams will set clear expectations, establish a cadence for regular meetings, equip their teams with resources, be available as needed, and then let their team do the work.”

Trust is the foundation of a productive and engaged team. Remote and hybrid employees can sense distrust from virtual leaders who micromanage, leading dispersed employees to either overwork themselves to the point of burnout or disengage altogether. “Micromanagement isn’t efficient, people waste more time reporting on their work than doing the actual work,” Huggett says.

Demonstrate trust for your team and take a genuine interest in them as a person to ensure they are seen holistically and not as a number. Ask employees’ questions about their interests and take an extra step to get to know their authentic selves. Leaders must fully engage with their employees’ and listen with the intent to understand and not just to respond — this requires active listening skills.


Skills in team building and cultural awareness are essential to creating an inclusive environment where everyone feels like their opinions and perspectives matter.

Inclusivity is the glue that holds the virtual team together. Inclusion is imperative to encouraging a tight-knit and collaborative team. It optimizes teamwork and productivity since everyone is involved and can share their strengths, and contribute to accomplishing team goals. Inclusivity, however, doesn’t just mean to include everyone — it also means to have respect and seek out diverse perspectives. To do so, virtual leaders must be culturally aware so they know how to adopt a mindset of inclusivity.

Inclusivity is key to managing a dispersed team and avoiding proximity bias. Leaders must be aware of unconscious biases related to leading a virtual team and how to recognize the behavior.

Moving Forward

Effective virtual leadership demands a deliberate focus on communication, empathy and inclusion. Cultivating authentic relationships, demonstrating empathy toward team members’ unique circumstances and fostering an inclusive environment are essential. Embracing these skills sets can help virtual leaders bridge the gap between physical distance and emotional connection, driving team cohesion and success in remote and hybrid work settings.