At the time of writing this I myself am caught up in the Sydney 2021 ‘lockdown’ – despite the fact I live outside of Sydney, and like many it’s reminded me of how much the world of work has changed in the last 18 months.
I’ve spoken a lot about hybrid teams in recent months, because the big discussion has been around returning staff to physical offices and workplaces, whilst balancing their newfound sense of expectation around working from home becoming a new norm. In my view, the businesses who can balance their need to ‘see’ their staff in an office, with the teams work from home desires, will do best when it comes to retaining the best and brightest for their business. In fact, I heard just a couple of weeks ago about a big international corporate mandating no less than 3 days per week in office, which was causing much tension amongst their team who had all come to a common consensus that 2 days in office was sufficient and something they were all jointly happy to do – swinging the balance to majority in office time had definitely caused disharmony which will undoubtedly lead to a decline in engagement.
So, whether due to necessary changes in the mix of your ‘on site’ staff or due to the new ways technology is allowing for remote work to be an option within your organisation, the concept of keeping your team connected to you, your business and each other, has never been more relevant than right now. But how can you create, maintain or re-establish connection when people are physically and geographically disconnected?
Firstly, it’s beneficial to understand what we mean by connection, because it’s not simply communication. In fact, despite the importance of all the communication you may be doing, that doesn’t necessarily result in connection. After considering all of the definitions and their wording this definition from Brene Brown really resonates when thinking of connection of a team:
“I define connection as the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued; when they can give and receive without judgment; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship.” Brené Brown
What I love about this definition is that it refers to ‘energy’ an unseen, possibly difficult to measure concept. There may be many tools and resources you use to create that energy, including your communication strategies, but the energy itself if the secret sauce that is the connection.
It’s important to understand the concept of connection from this perspective because it demonstrates it’s importance. We know that people make decisions and take action, whether consciously or subconsciously, at some level, based on feelings. If connection involves energy, and that in turn creates the feelings, it is this connection that will drive decisions and actions within your team.
So for our teams to feel motivated, inspired, fulfilled with their work and driven to be productive, this all needs to be driven from a feeling, a feeling which comes from the energy driven from connection – quite simply the more time you invest in connection, the more your employees and contractors will feel inspired to do their best work and be their best as an employee, they feel valued, heard and worthwhile.
With that in mind, what strategies can we implement to reimagine and create great connection in an era and future of remote work being the norm?
For decades psychological research tells us that a huge portion of our communication is non verbal, and body language is such a huge part of the communication puzzle. So, if we know that connection involves the energy between people, having the visual and non verbal present in your communication really helps to build that connection.
Integrate video calls for meetings and discussions where possible, without creating Zoom overload. This will mean fewer emails and more face to face calls, and failing that pick up the phone and create a verbal discussion over a written one.
To really connect on a more personal level the team need a way to get to know each other and discuss things that are not all work related. We are social and emotional creatures, even the introverts amongst us so creating an environment where that can still occur is critical to team cohesiveness.
When on site this happens naturally, when remote this requires a little more effort. Options here could include creating a separate stream / channel / message group in whatever apps and systems you are using which is dedicated to this kind of thing. In addition, allow for chit chat in virtual meetings, create some lightness and encourage fun!
You can’t see them being busy, but does it matter? This is the trap that those businesses trying to mandate staff back to in office work are falling into. What you need to focus on instead is are the objectives being achieved? In my opinion this could be the single biggest game changer for businesses who can make this psychological shift. If you can make this part of your culture and become an outcomes focused organisation productivity will soar without additional hours being required.
Remote teams require leadership, strong leadership is critical to the success of these arrangements. For you as the leader this means being available, responding quickly, ensuring the team know that your ‘virtual’ door is always open.
As the leader you set the tone and the parameters for communication, so you can structure this however it works best for you and the team, but creating ways for staff to know how and when to come to you, and actively communicating and showing up virtually are critical in these remote environments.
If your team are permanently moving to a hybrid or even completely remote model of work, this may in fact be quite different for them, with some of their favourite rituals suddenly gone. If some of your team went to lunch together every week, make sure this continues, just in a different way, encourage and celebrate it.
Also consider how birthdays, anniversaries and other milestones are celebrated, don’t let these things slide aside, celebrate them in new and different ways.
The commute time is such an important transition period for everyone, it’s that space when your transition from ‘work focus’ to ‘personal focus’ and having some white space in between to allow you to re set and re focus is really important.
So how can we do this when we are no longer physically required to physically move from one location to another?
This might mean new habits, from exercise to meditation, it might be a great opportunity for a social call and catch up with a colleague. This is important because with the benefit of time we now understand that remote work has been leading to a tendency to overwork, and burnout has started to creep in. If we don’t help employees manage this better workplaces will be facing stress and burnout challenges in time.
There are certainly many other things you can do to help build and maintain connections amongst and with your hybrid teams. One of my favourite hacks is switching from an in office to a remote focus. And what this means is that you structure everything, from team meetings to communication protocols, to suit your remote workers first. Doing this turns upside down the way we traditionally approach remote workers – which is they need to fit in around in the in office processes. When you switch it up it means no one feels isolated or left out, and everyone is on an even playing field.
If you’d like to engage more with me in these discussions about creating amazing teams, whilst also connecting with other like minded business owners, leaders and managers, I’d love for you to join us inside our free Facebook Group: - www.facebook.com/groups/hrsupportaustralia