Over the past year we have supported many of our clients to lead their teams effectively when working remotely. For many it has been already a year of remote or hybrid work and following side effects are transpiring:
Lack of emotional intimacy and trust - We can hear the messages, but can we grasp what is said between the lines?
Zoom Fatigue - We take part in countless digital meetings, but are we really PRESENT?
Changes in the organisation's social system, due to less spontaneity. Do I still belong to this group, even if I am not "seen" every day?
In previous articles we have spoken about the psychological and neurological effects of remote work. This time we would like to focus on hands-on recommendations, we have seen to work well in practice. Please keep in mind – every team is different, and every circumstance requires an individual set of interventions. After all, it is all about experimenting, reflecting and discussing and then, if needed, adjusting. Nevertheless, get inspired by some of the following tools:
Regular Walk & Talks: Around a year ago, the world discovered Zoom, Teams, Webex, Skype etc. as an incredibly powerful tool to work together independently of time and space. Since then, we have spent countless hours in digital meetings. Ever wondered why you are so tired after a day full of digital meeting? Much more so than a day of meetings in the office? Due to the reduced image and tone quality compared to reality, our brain constantly and automatically tries to fill these “quality gaps” and form a "complete picture". Our brain is simply overwhelmed! Therefore: START USING THE TELEPHONE AGAIN – at least whenever possible. This reduces the “complexity” our brain has to handle, as it can focus on the tone only. For catch-up and update meetings, we see some teams even go for a quick walk while calling each other. Regular walk & talks, that refresh the body and brain!
Team Leader Office Hours or The Virtual Office: One of the interesting sociological effects of remote work is that signals projecting a person’s social status in a group are no longer easily conveyed. Does my colleague have large separate office or a simple desk? Where does he/she sit in a meeting? How is he/she greeted when entering the office? Is he/she involved in casual coffee talks or does the conversation stop when he/she enters the room? For us as human beings it is crucial to know our position in a group – not knowing whether and where to belong puts us neurologically in an “alarm status” (see SCARF Model by David Rock, beautifully explained by Andreas Diehl). Therefore, ensure your team members have the chance to be seen also outside of scheduled meetings. We have two practical recommendations:
Team Leader Office Hours: Some team leaders have started to block two hours per week as “office hours” in their calendar. During this time, any team member can approach them spontaneously - for questions, for a social chat, for advice. This allows the team to “enter” the leader’s office and hence become visible outside of work touchpoints.
The Virtual Office: Other teams have gone even further and decided to work “beside each other” in a virtual meeting for two hours a week. While everyone completes their own tasks, the team is “present” in a virtual meeting room. This allows for spontaneous questions, comments and the much missed “office gossip moments”. And again, the team “sees” each other outside of scheduled work meetings, without being unproductive.
Weekly Check-out round “What made me proud this week”: Around 300,000 years ago, there were nine different species of humans walking the earth. Today, there is just one: the homo sapiens. The reasons why our ancestors were so successful was a sophisticated capacity for abstract thought and communication. The ability to strategize, plan, and cooperate as a team with a common goal was our ultimate weapon (Longrich, 2019). Therefore, one important and often underestimated way to create community spirit is to actively stress what was achieved as a team and prompt people to talk about their individual contribution. We have seen teams spending one hour on a Friday afternoon to let everybody share what made them proud that week. What used to be the Friday pub night, should now be done virtually to keep the team spirit alive.
This are only a few suggestions to try and experiment with. Hopefully one of them will be appealing for you to try out!