Gone are the days of water cooler breaks, lunches with colleagues and team happy hours, at least for now. Those social events have been replaced with Zoom meetings, Slack messages and the occasional phone call. But while our methods of communication are different during this COVID-19 crisis, we should be open to having deeper conversations with our teams.
I recently listened to a NPR Ted Radio Hour podcast with Esther Perel titled “Building Resilient Relationships.” The therapist explored how people are creating stronger bonds with people in our lives, including our work relationships. I loved when Esther said “We are not working from home; we are working with home.” It couldn’t be truer today.
For a lot of people, our coworkers are getting a more personal look into our lives. We talk about our pets because they are lying by our feet. There could be interruptions during the workday from children who need assistance with virtual learning. We are actually seeing the environment our coworkers live in which makes them seem more human. We are in one context and another context at the same time and it’s harder to keep them separated.
A lot of people are managing by maintaining their rituals and remote work-life boundaries as best as they can. For others, life is more chaotic and draining these days.
The pandemic has also rearranged priorities. We hear of mortality and loss on the news daily so it’s natural to think that life is too short to continue on the same path we have been living. This period of time is inspiring people to make changes in their lives they may not have had the courage to do before. Some people are starting businesses, while others are getting divorces. Compromise is no longer a way of life.
One of my coaching clients (we’ll call him Travis) knew his life was out of alignment. He had been with his company for over a decade and had simply outgrown it. He had spent the last 15 years twisting and contorting himself to what the business wanted that he lost sight of who he was as a person while at work. His wife even joked to him each day as he put on his three-piece suit that he was “arming” himself to go into battle.
Travis would be the robot everyone expected at work and then unplug and relax to his natural self when he returned home. He realized he was putting on and shedding that armor every day and finally, he had enough. He quit his job, sold his house and spent several months traveling across the country with his wife and children. This was completely out of character for Travis, in fact, he had never done something so drastic before in his entire life.
Throughout this period, we worked on awareness, courage, vulnerability and staying connected to himself – all qualities someone would need to have in order to take such a plunge in life. He practiced self-care, from exercising to meditation. He faced the tough conversations he needed to have with the executives of the company who had similar ideas around duty and loyalty like his parents.
Deeper Conversation Commitment
Travis was able to have those frank talks with his bosses and his parents who all eventually understood his position, but not everyone has an easy time showing their human side to the people they work with. This is where some of the burnout and depletion we are seeing these days are coming from.
A new poll from the workplace app Blind found that 70-percent of professionals in the tech and finance industries are feeling disengaged from work. Part of that disengagement may be a lack of connectedness to colleagues. Around two-thirds of respondents said they feel less connected to their coworkers as they work remotely.
That’s why leaders must be committed to creating a culture that fosters open communication. If it’s not happening naturally, you must work to make it happen.
Here are five ways to foster communication among your team virtually:
- Start virtual team meetings with a personal check in. Take the first ten minutes of your meeting and spend it checking in with members of your team. It can be as simple as giving each participant one minute to share what’s happening in their lives, both professionally and personally. Go first as the leader and be real, so you set the tone for the exercise then watch as others follow suit and start forming connections.
- Put this time for personal interactions on the virtual meeting agenda. It’s important to be clear about expectations for any exercises: how much time will be spent, how structured or unstructured it will be, etc. Don’t surprise your team. Instead, set boundaries that will help them embrace the change. Alternatively, you can leave the unstructured time at the end of meetings and allow members to choose to participate or leave the meeting if they have other commitments.
- Start your meeting with something that allows your team members to connect with heart. It could be a few minutes of meditation, reciting a poem, playing a song or starting with a fun icebreaker game.
- Host virtual social engagements for your team. These could be team building events like a painting lesson or cooking class, an escape room challenge, happy hour wine tasting, fitness demonstration with a related challenge or even a book, or podcast club.
- If you prefer one-on-one communication, take a lesson from one of my clients who shared with me that she would randomly call her direct reports throughout the week to check in. She made it clear to her employees that they were not in trouble, but that she personally wanted to check in to see how they were doing. This went very far in creating an open dialogue with her team because it showed she took the time to care.
Leaders are responsible for the company culture and that includes forming, maintaining and strengthening individual and group relationships. As Harvard Business Review reports, there’s a virtue to “hanging out.” These personal conversations lift emotions and promote well-being and are critical to building high-performing teams.
However you work to create a connection, active listening is the most important factor, and even in times of crisis, the fundamental tools of effective communication still work. McKinsey lists five things superior crisis communicators tend to do well:
- Give people what they need when they need it. How you spoke with your team at the beginning of the pandemic has likely evolved to a different messaging today. Evolve with the times and think about what matters most in the given moment.
- Communicate clearly, simply and frequently. Your communication during this time needs to be real, happen often and be on constant repeat.
- Choose candor over charisma. Be transparent and honest with your team and don’t be afraid to show vulnerability. Research shows that leaders who demonstrate vulnerability build trust with employees.
- Revitalize resilience. Now is the time to show your team how to bounce back from instead of being paralyzed in times of trouble.
- Distill meaning from chaos. There eventually will be an end to this situation, so try to stay positive. Have a vision for your company post-pandemic and illustrate how your team will come out of this crisis better than ever.
Instead of winging your crisis communication, take a deep breath, remember the basics and recognize the unique situation. If your team could benefit from coaching on communication, managing change and accountability, our team coaching services can help them align around common purposes to achieve goals.