Technology increasingly allows one to work from anywhere, altering the mode and style of communication. Videoconferencing, online collaboration software, cell phones, e-mail, Wi-Fi, and other technological tools are contributing to a growing number of virtual companies and teams. Some larger companies have made portions of their workforce virtual, allowing employees to simply work out of their homes. These changes in work force dynamics require additional skill sets for leaders. What follows is a description of e-leadership and the unique leadership challenges associated with this field.
Often, e-leaders have two employee populations they serve. E-leaders have to balance relationships with “online” versus face-to-face followers. A simple “I’ll get back to you” to an e-employee’s idea without accompanying verbal cues may be alienating. Frequent communication may offset the lack of non-verbal cues (Avolio & Kahai, 2003). Several factors impact the quality of e-leadership including the degree of face-to-face interaction, media richness, and team composition.
Examining the level of face-to-face interaction associated with e-leadership, Hart and McLeod (2003) categorized the content of communication exchanges between 126 pairs of teammates. The communications were divided into task oriented and social-emotional categories. Summarizing the findings, the study indicated that leaders should encourage a variety of task-related communication to foster closer relationships in geographically dispersed teams. Leaders must provide virtual team members with a reason to work together, by promoting interdependence and reliance on one another, by taking such steps as dividing members by tasks or assigning mentoring duties. Hart and McLeod (2003) conclude that the results are consistent with a growing body of research that close personal relationships are possible in virtual settings. Leaders can aid in fostering these relationships.
Key Terms in this Chapter
Virtual Team: Geographically dispersed members who work on the same project through the use of information technology and telecommunications to facilitate collaboration between them.
E-Commerce: Consists of the buying and selling of products or services over electronic systems such as the Internet and other computer networks.
Media Richness: Refers to the capacity of the technology to provide immediate feedback, the number of cues and channels used for the personalization of messages, and the language variety.
Groupware: Software that integrates work on a single project by several concurrent users at separated workstations.
E-Business: Defined broadly as any business process that relies on an automated information system.
E-Leadership: A social influence process mediated by technology to produce a change in attitudes, feelings, thinking, behavior, and/or performance with individuals, groups, and/or organizations.