Evoking Confidence through the Screen: Executive Presence in the Virtual Workplace

September 2021

Leadership positions in an organisation’s hierarchy, while much-coveted, come with their set of challenges. Exuding ‘executive presence’ includes, and goes beyond, reassuring the top brass of the organisation’s vision in your team’s projects and keeping subordinates inspired, while being true to your own potential. These factors take on multifarious meanings in a virtual workplace, where it is more difficult to exercise ‘presence’ and garner ‘influence.’ This fictionalised case presents the dilemmas of an Indian firm around productivity and effectiveness in a newly-remote working environment. Two experts weigh in.

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Case Study:

In March 2020, India went into a lockdown as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Multinational companies, corporates and start-ups had to shut their offices and put together policies for remote work. Many organisations had never allowed their employees to work from home. Among these was Findx Pvt. Ltd. (hereafter, Findx), a mid-sized consulting firm based in Bengaluru, India. 

Anoop Kumar, who headed the content team at Findx, was anxious. Bengaluru had reported its first case of coronavirus, filling India’s start-up capital with fear and uncertainty. Despite being among the first organisations to announce a ‘work from home’ policy for its employees in the wake of what the WHO had just announced as a ‘global pandemic’, some mid-level employees at Findx, Kumar included, were worried. Reaching their team’s targets and their own growth parameters in such uncharted territory was quite a challenge.

As for Kumar, he was a promising employee, hired as a content writer in 2018. He showed great initiative and unconventional thinking right from his first few months at Findx. He rose through the ranks and was managing his own team in the content division by his second year. As he led consecutively successful projects, Kumar was awaiting his evaluation to the role of director of the content division when the lockdown was announced.

He was a good listener who made compelling presentations, and as a result, was often sought out by other departments like sales and marketing. His foresight ensured that they averted crisis on most occasions, and his calm demeanour helped manage any that occurred. Furthermore, with his tall frame and muscular build, he towered over others, often being the centre in a group. He also carried himself well regardless of the time, whether he was making a presentation at 8 a.m., accompanying clients to dinner, or pitching a new strategy to the founders; he impressed everyone he met.

At the office, the open-plan seating of the floor meant that Kumar could keep an eye on his team, an arrangement that also enhanced their individual and collective productivity, where they could bounce ideas off each other or call out to a colleague or superior whenever required. Through this hyper-connected and collaborative approach, Kumar had been able to push his team members as per their individual dispositions, thereby bringing out the best in each of them.

But working from home posed challenges that Kumar had neither foreseen nor prepared for. In the office, the workforce had access to state-of-the-art hardware and high-speed internet, both prerequisites in their line of work. Kumar was concerned about how these conditions could be replicated at the employees’ homes. He also found it difficult to keep track of his team and their deliverables. While he made himself available to them round the clock, he couldn’t quite manage the projects between the numerous calls with team members, clients and bosses. Speaking to subordinates and superiors through video calls, being reduced to boxes on the screen, was taking a toll on him; he felt unnoticed and disconnected from everyone and everything. The previously inspired and productive content team was no longer efficient; members were missing deadlines and lacking ideas. As a result, the determined timelines of crucial projects suffered.

That wasn’t all. Earlier, Kumar was always on the frontlines of social media strategy for the organisation, regularly coming up with ideas that went viral, which were then taken up by others in the industry. But he was now repeating old strategies, and even slacking on his initiatives like the weekly newsletter. Concerned by Kumar’s predicament, his own manager, Manas Reddy, broached the matter with him on a call:

“What is going on with you, Kumar? Your projects were always appreciated by the clients and your deliverables came before the deadlines. But now, you seem so unfocused and unmotivated. This is the case with many members of your team as well. Despite the pandemic, several members of your team have already quit, while a few others give the impression that they may be considering doing so. Are you feeling the pandemic blues? Look, I understand, we are living and working through unprecedented times, but this is not the high achiever that I knew and was proud of! Please tell me what you’re going through, and I will do my best to help you.”

Kumar took a deep breath. He responded:

“I don’t know what to tell you, Reddy. I had concerns about working remotely, but I never expected it would be so much worse than I had feared. Earlier, I could imagine project pathways beforehand and prepare for anticipated challenges in advance. I could communicate with people...understand their vision and their challenges...and translate them into sizeable pieces of actionable tasks. I felt inspired and could, in turn, inspire my team. I felt validated, that everything I did mattered. But working virtually has just been too tough for me. I find it exhausting to follow-up with each member through individual calls and it seems that my entire working day is spent in asking for and relaying updates. I am working more than I ever did, achieving much less, and getting no credit whatsoever. And meetings, which were otherwise a quick and weekly phenomenon, have become so long-drawn and cumbersome, they are almost like the infamous commute of Silicon City, which now seems better in comparison to the burnout from working and leading virtually. I wait my turn to speak and contribute in these meetings, but I am often ignored in the meaningless cross-talk. All this leaves me with no time, energy or opportunity to ideate, strategise, or be at all effective.”

Reddy was speechless. Certainly, he was facing some of these challenges too. He also wanted to support Kumar, who was much loved by his team (at least pre-COVID-19), and always gave them the right mix of independence and guidance, and was now questioning his own leadership abilities.


  1. How should Kumar adapt his leadership skills and executive presence to be effective in a virtual workplace?

  2. How can Reddy provide guidance and assistance to Kumar to combat his and his team’s remote-work fatigue and boost their productivity?


The experts bring in their perspective as they respond to the key questions the case poses.



Executive presence, leadership style, leadership position, employee excellence, productivity, efficiency, effectiveness, remote work, virtual work, online presence, burnout

Gayatri Das Sharma, Co-founder, Timshel Coaching & Consulting

Gayatri Das Sharma is Co-founder of Timshel Coaching & Consulting, a learning, development and coaching firm. A professionally certified executive coach and talent consultant, she has coached senior leaders with global responsibilities in organisations with different ownership patterns and cultures, like multinational corporations, family-run businesses and public sector enterprises. Working with leaders in different stages of their career, she has supported them from one stage of leadership to the next.


Professor Mihir Mankad, Global Communication Expert and Professor of Practice, Leadership Communication

Professor Mankad is a global communication expert and Professor of Practice in Leadership Communication. He teaches public speaking and leadership communication to graduate school students and senior executives at Harvard University, Tufts University, and the Indian School of Business. He brings in a diverse background as a former national television anchor and global management consultant at McKinsey India and Bain US. He has also been involved in anchoring some of the most-viewed events in Indian television history, including the Cricket World Cup, and the recently concluded Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan. Mankad’s education includes an MPA from Harvard, an MBA from Kellogg, and a BA in Psychology and Economics from Stanford, where he was also part of the national championship varsity tennis team.

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