– I encourage all leaders to learn how to lead at a distance

“Leave the camera on,” is one of the mantras in Marlena Sofia Rasmussen’s leadership training.

Written: Mar 2020

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Make no mistake, the changes in work life that we’re all facing are challenging. But somehow, Marlena Sofia Resmussen seems to embrace the change to remote work with energy and optimism.

This image was taken before social distancing was a thing. Now learning & development partners Marlena Sofia Rasmussen and Emilie Wågsæther in Telenor Denmark and Telenor Norway are becoming experts in virtual and distance leadership.

“It is more important than ever to get personal, remember your team members’ children, partners, pets’ names,” she says – looking her audience at Telenor’s internal mega-meeting with several thousand digitally connected attendees, straight in the eyes.

Which is in itself brave.

Watch Marlena Sofia Rasmussen present during the Telenor virtual meeting


Rasmussen, a Learning & Development partner at Telenor Denmark, used to meet the people she trains face-to-face, but now as with the rest of us, she holds all of her meetings via her laptop.

Along with Emilie Wågsæther, Rasmussen built the Telenor Leadership Training Program to fit the global telecom company, Telenor. The content has been developed by collecting research, best practices and through dialogue with in-house psychologist, Øyvind Hofsø, and leadership development specialist Gary Shoesmith.

“I really find that virtual leadership training is needed and that the leaders are eager to learn and want a very ‘how to’ approach,” Rasmussen states.

These are her tips for virtual leadership:

  1. Get a grip on both humans & tech.
    The focus should now be on how we stay connected and have a sense of belonging as employees and as a team. I would encourage all leaders to really learn how to lead on a distance or virtually. In addition, stay updated on corporate tools and technology, including cyber security, to ensure strong collaboration and efficient ways of work, due to the disruptive situation we’re in.
  2. Engage and try to decrease misunderstanding
    Ask everyone to turn their camera on. We are social human beings and we need to have social interactions. This will result in fewer misunderstandings, as you can see reactions and body language. It also helps to check in and maybe even share a bit about your work environment. It fosters respect, breaks down the virtual walls and helps us to normalize the situation and environment.
  3. Ask open questions; This is the time to OVER-COMMUNICATE
    Ask directly, but help out by stating the employee’s name when you build up the question, so they get a chance to answer. Make sure everyone is heard ( and mind your cognitive bias on ‘out of sight out of mind’). Use chat or tools such as Diggle, Kahoot or Mentimeter for questions, and remember silence is not acceptance nor does it mean that everyone is onboard. Lastly, now it is time to over-communicate more than ever before, by re-visiting purpose, goals and team spirit. Be explicit about your support, trust and availability.
  4. Get personal
    Re-visit the purpose, goals and team spirit. Be explicit about your support, trust and availability. Keep the sessions short and regular and make sure to have informal coffee meeting or breakfast meetings. Share personal stories. As a leader, be vulnerable. Show that you care, be flexible and empathize with each employees individual situation. We now are invited into each others’ homes, and it’s a bonding opportunity.
  5. Have focus on psychological safety, and remember that you have two ears and one mouth
    Psychological safety is the most important dynamics in a high-performing team (if you want to read more, check out Google’s Project Aristotle – re:Work and Amy Edmondson, Professor of Leadership and Management at the Harvard Business School
    Run catch ups one-to-one and make it safe for the employees to express themselves. Remember to listen. You have two ears and one mouth, so listen more than you talk. This time is about your team members, so have a coaching communication style. Ask ‘how do you feel’? How have you organized working from home? How is your family doing? How is your work-life balance at the moment? Pay attention, as some might feel lonely, have anxiety, go at bit “corona crazy” or start to burn out.  And last but not least, the best way to treat everyone the same is to treat everyone different.