Department of Strategy and Innovation

Virtual Leadership under Corona Crisis

This research project will shed light on how managers in firms and organizations are tackling the challenges of virtual leadership during the Corona crisis. In addition, the project will investigate what permanent consequences the new experience of distance management will have in the “next normal”.

Why do we need more research on virtual leadership?
For past decade, researchers have showed increasing attention towards virtual working - work performed outside spatial and temporal organizational boundaries and enabled by information and communication technologies. A variety of terms, like remote work, telecommuting, telework, and remote work arrangements have been used, often interchangeably or with slight differences in meaning, to indicate ways of working in places that are different from traditional office spaces. However, till now virtual work has been seen as an innovative work arrangement that is complementary to the traditional work place organization and often taken up voluntarily or on a temporary basis by limited numbers of employees. None of the previous research on virtual work actually dealt with the situation we are experiencing now:  it is everyone, its mandatory, there is no face-to-face supplement and we don’t know how long this is going to last.


Even the “before-corona-crisis” research pointed out at one crucial antecedent for virtual work: leadership. Researchers agreed that it is more challenging to lead virtually than traditionally (face-to-face). In addition to ensuring task performance, virtual leaders need to proactively guide the relationship building process and hence expected to invest more time and effort to help coordinate virtual team tasks and facilitate team processes. However, it is not clear how exactly this should be done. Research and practice experience significant gaps in understanding of leadership in the context of virtual work. Furthermore, the gap is broadening when virtual leadership is put in the context of crisis situation. Unpredictability, ambiguity and insecurity of the crisis cause irrational and inappropriate reactions as diverse in nature as in-fighting, panic and apathy. People become tired, passive and disillusioned, and these create even more pressure on mental resources. This in turn will stimulate creation of hostile environment with low trust and cooperation, which makes any leadership attempt towards relationship building useless. So how does a leader get around these challenges in order to reach the desired results — both in terms of task and relationship-building? What are the best practices for leading virtual work? How can a leader sustain employee well-being and at the same time achieve an equal (if not higher) level of employee engagement when working virtually?


On the 15th of April 2020 we launched a new research project with the immediate goal is to explore answers to the above questions and in longer terms increase our understanding the antecedents of virtual leadership that make it effective in managing people in crisis situation.  The project is carried out by the Department of Strategy and Innovation at Copenhagen Business School and the Employment Relations Research Center (FAOS) at University of Copenhagen, in cooperation with the Confederation of Danish Industries (DI). The project is financed by the Innovation Fund Denmark. Please follow our LinkedIn Group to get live updates and learn the most recent findings.

Questions can be directed to Professor Dana Minbaeva dm.si@cbs.dk.

Read about the research results:

Corona kan forandre ledelse fundamentalt (article in DJØF bladet)

Forskere: Corona kan revolutionere vores arbejdsliv (article on Altinget.dk)

The page was last edited by: Department of Strategy and Innovation // 08/31/2020