A friend of mine recently told me that after the last several weeks of COVID-19 related stress and anxiety, she started using a new model to help her navigate her weekly goals and her daily attitude.  At the start of each week she now spends a few minutes dot journaling what she wants to minimize and what she wants to maximize that week. Essentially, asking herself what do I want more of and what do I want less of?  Seems simple right?  Well, it is…but it isn’t.

Lately, it’s been especially hard for many of us to set aside our uncertainties and anxieties and meet the shifting challenges of remote work, home schooling, family responsibilities, and a lack of our traditional social and/or emotional connections.  Even if you are a leader in your organization, some days it can be tough to get up and get dressed (I mean, we’re all wearing more yoga pants nowadays, anyway!) much less think about how to best support your employees, teams and colleagues in the workplace.  However, NOW is exactly the right time to put some thought into the best ways to support and engage your workforce.  As much as any time in recent history, NOW is the time to minimize the unnecessary and maximize what’s truly necessary.

As I work more and more with remote teams and conduct virtual training sessions, I’m reminded of the trap we can fall into – believing that communication is a one size fits all tool. Communication, when it’s done well and with intention, can save us loads of wasted time and energy.  When it’s done poorly, with no clear purpose or understanding of those we are communicating with, it can cause more conflict and confusion than we ever bargained for!

If you are in the midst of adapting to your own new remote work environment, helping shift your team to a virtual workplace, or even pivoting your business plans for what the future will hold in this brave new  world, consider some of these best practice tips to ensure that you are using clear, purpose-driven communication to minimize what’s not needed and maximize what is.

  • Remember different strokes for different folks.  Face-to-face and virtual communication is often best for building connection and rapport among co-workers and teams but, the benefits start to diminish the higher the number of participants goes.  Virtual team meetings can be great but, don’t forget that many employees need a one-on-one conversation to feel valued, to feel heard and to have a chance to share what they may not be comfortable sharing aloud in an online all-hands staff meeting.  Whenever possible, take the time each week to check in individually with your team members and you may be surprised how much it matters to them and how much you learn!
  • Be transparent. Share whatever information you can and share it early and often.  Even if everyone on the team is comfortable with their new remote set-up, it can be hard to know who is getting what information and when.  The last thing you want is for your team to start wondering why certain people aren’t getting the same access to information as others.  This is also a great time to check in with your own biases.  Are you communicating clearly with everyone on the team?  Are you favoring certain voices over others in virtual meetings?  Does everyone know about and have the same opportunity to be heard?  Does everyone know how to ask for help and do they feel they can ask without fear of reprisal?  One simple way to counteract the perception of bias (or actual bias) is to make sure to share the “why” behind decisions that are being made.  Helping people understand why something is being done or being changed can limit the chance that they will jump to their own incorrect assumptions about your motivations.
  • Visual feedback is more compelling.  Whenever possible, offer visual feedback to your team.  Some examples might include:  Showing data in a chart or graph, allowing employees to make comments during meetings using the “chat” function on your virtual platform, asking team members to share pictures of something in their home office that makes them smile, offering pictures of what kind of attire is required or expected for work-from-home remote meetings so everyone can prepare and know what is appropriate for your organization.  *Special note – be sure everyone in the meeting has the ability to view the visual content that is shared.  You can ask you attendees ahead of time if they have any visual accommodation requests to ensure that you prepare and provide your attendees appropriate access to information in the format that best suits them.
  • According to a Harvard Business Review research article, Energy, Engagement & Exploration are the three key elements of effective team communication.  Think about who brings the energy to your team.  This person, or these people, are your allies!  Cultivate that talent and ask for their input.  You could invite them to kick off your weekly meetings or close the meetings out with an energetic positive message for the whole team.  You might ask them to help you create a Slack or Teams channel specifically for sharing positive messages and kudos for team members throughout the week.  Whatever you do – let that person or group of people know that they are important to the success of the team and empower them to keep the energy up for all of you!  

Engagement is all about how the energy is distributed among your team members and how they connect with one another.  If just a few people are talking and connecting, then your team won’t be nearly as effective as it would be if all members’ talents are engaged and valued.  Find ways to encourage employees to connect individually across departments and/or outside of normal meeting times; enlist team members to take turns facilitating meetings or planning virtual events; and remember to switch up who you call on to answer questions or share ideas.  Lastly, high performing teams encourage exploration outside their own group.  They intentionally seek out voices and opinions from other divisions, other offices, and other leaders to explore new and creative ways to tackle today’s problems.  Think about how you can support these external connections for your employees or who you might want to invite in to share their insights with your team.

Regardless of how many more weeks or months we continue to social distance (and disinfect our groceries and packages), “normal” work life will be forever changed from this global experience.  My hope is that we take the time now to practice minimizing our disconnection and disengagement from one another and find new and exciting ways to maximize purposeful communication and connection. Here’s to returning to even better workplaces for all of us!