For the second post in this quick series I thought I would consider engagement. How do a team of people who are used to seeing each other daily in an office environment maintain their engagement with each other and the organisation when they are suddenly separated. And conversely, how does the organisation maintain its engagement with its people.
For the employees of an organization finding themselves working remotely from their colleagues for the first time there are many things to consider:
How do I maintain my connection to my work – This can be a very confronting situation, especially for those whose work may be made up of a series of short tasks. Knowing how and where you can coordinate your tasks with those you would traditionally sit adjacent to when you cant see them, don’t know what they are doing or even where they may be is a sudden and very alien experience. For others who may have longer cycle times on their tasks this may not be as big an initial hurdle to overcome but it will still cause concern when they need to check things or even just test ideas with colleagues.
How do I maintain my connection to my colleagues – Humans are generally social animals, most of us, even those who are more introverted, still appreciate the company of others and our workplaces are part of our support environment. You may not notice it until its not there but the opportunity to have a quick conversation with a colleague can break the monotony of a task. These connections can help with quickly clearing blocks that may be holding up work or just giving you an opportunity to clear your thoughts before progressing with the task in hand.
How do I maintain my connection to my staff – If you have staff who report to you or who look to you for guidance and allocations of work, moving to a remote team with little planning or previous experience can be very challenging. There are a whole range of tacit skills used in leading a team, these skills are very contextual and rely heavily on how and where they are developed. Many leaders will develop a sixth sense for when one of their staff needs guidance or assistance based on little more than reading facial expressions, body language and posture, all of which are no longer visible when everyone is working remote to each other.
Addressing these concerns means a substantial shift in the frequency and mode of engagement. Everyone needs to take additional responsibility for how they reach out and engage with others. This may mean sending messages to colleagues over email, text, slack or any of the many other platforms available to keep each other posted on progress of tasks, check ideas and pass work along the workflow. Similarly, taking breaks at a common time and having a group phone call or video chat just to keep connected is something many small organisations have adopted, clearly this gets harder when there are timezone differences, but the connections there are typically managed through other mechanisms, so I would recommend trying to keep theses “virtual coffee breaks” within smaller groups.
For team leaders it is critical that you check in regularly with your team, this could mean an email at the start of the day to let everyone know what you are up to and when you will be available, ensuring you have your phone on at all times, having an accessible and open calendar that your staff can see, calling, whether by phone or video, staff members on a regular basis and generally being hypersensitive to any nuance in messaging from your people. It is also very important that you work hard to not appear judgemental or critical of your people as they adapt to this new and alien environment.
It is also important that everyone considers the well being of others. Particularly with the current viral concerns and the likelihood that many colleagues may have children at home, partners in the same situation as themselves and parents and relatives all needing additional support. How we act and what we do in these challenging times will impact our working and family relationships for some time, so please be considerate.
From the organisational perspective, outward engagement in these challenging business times can be extremely critical. Your personnel will be looking for regular updates and news from the business on everything from social events to business continuity and responses to the virus. They will want to know that things are continuing as they were before they found themselves isolated from their colleagues. They will want to know when things will return to normal, and most of all, they will want to have the security of knowing that their jobs and income are still secure so that they can at least tick that one off their list of things to be worried about.
Dependent on the size of the organisation, businesses could consider having the CEO or division head or a similar leader of the organisation prepare a video for sharing across the organisation. They could have all employee calls or chatlines where employees can hear from the company leadership and ask any questions they may have. Posting news on company intranets is also always a good way to communicate. Whatever you do though, it needs to be frequent and open, frequency is critical in fast moving situations as it allows the business to demonstrate to its personnel that it is keeping pace with developments and considering all of the changes against its business needs.
Finally, I would also suggest that many of these outward communications can be a lot less formal than may be the tradition, frequent, engaging and current will be appreciated by everyone and, who knows, may even start a new trend in corporate communications.