When the coronavirus pandemic shutdown offices in March, the workplace shifted to remote working as a means to continue production. With the move came a new normal: Less face time with colleagues, no group coffee trips, and meetings were moved to digital conference platforms like Google Hangouts and Zoom.
Whether it’s the weekly Monday morning team meeting to sales pitches with potential clients, video conferencing has become the way in which workplaces are doing business these days. It’s become so popular that some businesses could even look to keep it going even after offices open in order to continue social distancing measures with no COVID-19 vaccine ready.
But beyond how we’re communicating these days, video conferences have also produced something new that you might have seen: colleagues standing out more than ever.
A new study by Brigham Young University found that new leaders are emerging in virtual workspaces as digital leadership differs compared to in-person meetings. The study, published in the Journal of Business and Psychology, looked at “emergent leaders” – workers with no formal authority but who are recognized as leaders by team members – through different means of virtual interaction. Researchers found that those who thrive in face-to-face gatherings, i.e. the morning meetings with skills like extroversion and intelligence, were not necessarily the strongest in digital settings.
The reasoning behind this is because online makes for fewer cues available for human interaction, which creates more moments for miscommunication. With that gap between human and digital, team members sided with workers who take a more concrete approach toward achievement, rather than those with charismatic personalities.
“On a virtual team, it’s more important than in a face-to-face meeting to stand out as the one who helps others,” study co-author Cody Reeves, an assistant professor at the Marriott School of Business at Brigham Young University, said in a press release. “Those who take the time to pause and assist others with tasks are more likely to be viewed as leaders.”
The difference between virtual and in-person leaders was “stark,” Reeves said. Successful leaders online showed skills of monitoring timelines, providing feedback, and coordinating teamwork.
For the study, 220 students from two Midwestern schools were given surveys about their team members’ characteristics and behaviors. They were also asked to identify team leaders. Based on their data, researchers created patterns to see how leaders emerge across virtual to in-person teams.
“In virtual environments, our actions speak loudly,” said fellow study author Steven Charlier, a professor of management at Georgia Southern University. “The ‘soft’ skills that traditional managers rely on might not translate easily to a virtual environment.”