Enhancing connection and engagement in a virtual workplace

With more than a year of it under our belts, we can safety say we have successfully transitioned to a remote workforce. Virtual work communities are our new normal as people have settled into the new solutions and new ways of working and collaborating. Now it’s time for leaders to dig deep, build on that foundation and make improvements to the virtual workplace.

There’s no question that working from home day after day during lockdown, can feel like ground-hog day. There’s no ebb and flow to the day, where you leave the home, arrive at the office, have face to face interactions and then come home and re-group with your family at the end of the day. Indeed, one day just bleeds into the next and it’s natural for everyone to feel fatigued to a greater or lesser extent.

It’s important for leaders to try to keep things fresh and look for new and improved ways to keep staff engaged, connected and to stay innovative. Here are a few ways to do just that;

1.   Be crystal clear on roles, responsibilities and deliverables. 

In a virtual space, there should not be any ambiguity around who’s doing what. Use your team meetings to ensure everyone is 100% clear on what their role is and what they are expected to do and by when. Have progress meetings to ensure everyone is on track and is encouraged to provide an update on progress and ask for help if it’s needed. Provide open communication channels to ensure this dialogue remains constant and people are not left unsure of what their role is in a particular project. Follow up meetings with an email to confirm outcomes and expectations if necessary and check in regularly to ensure everyone is doing ok.

2. Be empathetic and create some space for mental health.

In addition to work commitments, many are also caring for and homeschooling children or looking after elderly parents. Some might live alone and feel the effects of loneliness and isolation. Our mental health is being stretched to its limits due to additional stressors caused by the pandemic. Those with existing mental health issues like anxiety or depression are struggling more than normal. Bring the conversation into your regular dialogue. Learn about every member of your team and understand their situation. Now more than ever staff need the support of their leaders and colleagues and there is no denying that our personal lives are affecting our work lives as the division between the two has never been more blurred. Think of ways to allow your team some reprise from the relentlessness of the lockdown and working from home.

Encourage employees to take time for self-care. Something I have noticed is that people are starting their days earlier and ending them later, simply because they have no divide between their office lives and home lives. Try to minimise a culture where people are expected to be available for meetings and phone calls any time of the day. Encourage people not to book meetings during lunch hours or before 8.30am for example. Allow staff to block out times in their calendar when they won’t be available for meetings. One client I work for has given all staff two days free leave to take over the next few weeks just before their busy season kicks off.

As it turns out, burn-out from virtual meetings is a real thing. We are having more meetings to make up for the fact that we aren’t sharing office space now. Be conscious of this and recognise when meetings are happening just for meeting’s sake. Sometimes, instead of holding a meeting, an email can be sent. This is often more productive way of communicating. When meetings are back-to-back, people are exhausted and lose motivation to do the actual work. With less meetings in the schedule, you are giving your staff more time to do their work and come to meetings refreshed and ready to connect.

3.   Allow more flexibility

Many of us have extra responsibilities with children at home and now school holidays. With clear goals and expectations in place, is it possible to allow staff the flexibility to choose when to do their work? Of course, they may have to tune in to team meetings but if they can take their kids out for the afternoon and then work in the evening, allow them this flexibility to make their lives a little more manageable for the time being. If you haven’t considered this flexibility before, have the conversation with your employees and think about how it could work for you and your team? Just having the conversation will engage your team and let them know you understand and care about them.

4.   Change how you show up to online meetings  

There is a link between the mindset that people have when they come into an online meeting and the effect that has on the outcomes of the meeting. We are running an online leadership development community for a client and what was happening was that the leaders were signing into the regular meetings with the mindset that this was a catch up with peers. This meant that the meeting became a check in only – “How are you going?” “Good thanks. You?” “Yeah. Not too bad.” As a result, participants were not getting the value from the community and therefore finding reasons to not come to meetings. We asked people to change their mindset from being “a catch up” to being “an opportunity to coach and to be coached.” While it is early days yet, it seems like this has injected a new lease of life in the communities. We have become used to online meetings over the past year or so, and now is the time to evolve them further, dig deeper and make them more dynamic and engaging with meaningful outcomes.

Could you and your leadership team do with one of my tailored workshops? I’ll share my experience and fool-proof leadership techniques with you. Don’t hesitate to get in touch today.

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