Written by: Dr. Nate Whittier, SKS Partner
The way we work has certainly changed recently due to the global pandemic. Many of us find that the way we are working day to day looks very different now than it did a year ago, or even a couple months ago for that matter. We have all found ways to accommodate these changes and, as events continue to be inconsistent and unpredictable, we need to continue to adapt to what comes our way.
Technology and its continued advances have allowed many of us to maintain productivity and, in some cases, increase efficiencies by working from home. Virtual meetings and events are becoming commonplace and allowing for increased collaboration with colleagues in other parts of the country and world. However, this new arrangement is not without its disadvantages. Many of us did not choose to work 100% remote; rather, current conditions forced it upon us. We have come to realize the same technology that has allowed us to continue collaborating and working together does not necessarily provide us with the same type of social connection we enjoyed in the office.
Whether you identify as an introvert or extravert, social connection is a fundamental need for us all. It impacts our physical and mental health, our longevity, and our effectiveness on the job. Studies show that individuals that experience social connection have higher self-esteem, display increased empathy, and are more trusting and cooperative in their dealings with others. Moreover, their colleagues are more open, cooperative, and trusting in return. This social connectedness generates a positive feedback loop of sorts, which enhances our experience of working together. It is important that we maintain that connection for our own wellbeing, the health and success of our teams and, ultimately, to achieve business objectives on behalf of the organization.
How do we stay connected? Feel fulfilled? Authentic? Engaged with one another?
While it is tempting to fill the calendar with virtual team meetings and coffee chats, it is important to make sure we are adjusting to individual preferences in this regard. What is most important to our wellbeing is our subjective sense of connection, which will be cultivated differently for each one of us. Whether one feels connected is really what allows us to reap the benefit.
Based on both research and our experiences with SKS client organizations, we have compiled a list of best practices for team leaders to consider as they work to cultivate team connectivity and engagement during these unique and trying times:
1. Meeting Norms – Set (and revisit) rules of engagement around meetings, especially if they’re being done frequently and/or in a new format. As you conclude the meeting, discuss how it went, and iterate how to improve going forward.
2. Frequent and Varied Communications – Given that we do not have the luxury of checking in with each other live, it is important to communicate in frequent, varied ways. Communicating important messages often and in a variety of formats will help others retain the information.
3. Reachability – It can be good to clarify expectations about responsiveness and reachability. As an example, are there core hours in the day where team members are expected to be online and available? What are the expectations around email response times?
4. Practice Active Listening – Conflicts or differences of opinion can be amplified in a virtual environment. Meeting via video or phone makes it difficult to pick up on interpersonal cues, increasing our reliance on assumptions. By inviting participation, actively listening, and checking for understanding, we can reduce potential misunderstandings and more effectively address disagreements.
5. Schedule Regular 1:1 Meetings – Maintain a quick check-in or touch base with team members. It is easy to move these meetings or skip them entirely as things come up. Show your team members they’re important by not sacrificing this time unless it is absolutely necessary.
6. Check-In Personally – Check in with people to see how they are doing on a personal level. The crisis provides a unique opportunity to connect on new levels, maybe levels that were not reached in the past. Certainly, you do not want to cross any lines, but asking some open-ended questions, actively listening, and following the lead of the individual can guide you down the right path.
7. Be Authentic – Role modeling vulnerability, acknowledging fear, and being authentic about your own experience can increase your relatability and convey to the team that you “get it.” Sharing your own experience with individuals can be supportive and affirming in its own right.
8. Leverage Humor – Many of us have children or pets at home that can all of a sudden pop up on a video conference. Do not try to hide that! If a cat jumps onto your desk during a video conference, make a funny comment and roll with it. Lighthearted moments such as this can increase the team’s connection and add some needed levity to the situation.
9. Stay in Touch – Many team members have been furloughed as a result of economic conditions, and staying connected with these individuals is really important. In addition to conveying your concern as a fellow human being, keeping in contact will help facilitate reengagement to the team if/when they transition back.
10. Leverage Diversity – An all-hands-on-deck mentality is critical as we work together to solve the challenges before us. It will be necessary for us to leverage the diversity of the team if we are going to be successful in this new environment.
Leveraging some of these best practices will help your team to maintain closer emotional and relational proximity and, ultimately, increase the odds of everyone’s success.