dr. Loubna Noureddin is a leadership scientist, executive coach, Civil War survivor, advocate for orphans, author and co-founder of spirit market
The business community remains divided about the way of working. I’ve noticed that many are still working remotely, while others are slowly returning to the office. The question that remains is how do we become more effective at communicating with both worlds? This article may provide some insights and recommendations from experts in the field.
I believe the way we look at the world has changed. Over the past three years, we’ve been dealing with fear, frustration, confusion, doubt, loneliness, stress, anxiety, and a whole range of emotions. The way we live our personal and professional lives has also changed. Most organizations deal with Mental illness far beyond their capacity. Millennials and Gen-Zs report significantly higher burnout rates; a survey by Indeed in the UK found that: 59% and 58% of these two groups felt burned out as of February 2021.
It’s no surprise that about 60% of employees do not fully agree that they know what their company stands for. In addition, virtual teams are more likely to be disconnected from a company’s core values. And those who prefer to work in person, yet are forced to work remotely, report 17% lower productivity and 24% higher revenue.
So how do managers navigate the turbulent waters of miscommunication, misinterpretations and consistent interruptions?
The new normal
For years, in my experience, executives have feared the separation between teams that operate virtually and those in the office. When remote working became the only option, people became more aware of its benefits and are now urging their companies to embrace it.
By as much 159% increase in flexible working policies, even before the pandemic, new trends show a greater commitment to lead in a virtual space.
Ready for a refresh
I believe that we cannot continue to lead virtual teams with an in-the-office mentality. The consistent interruptions, mass messages and all replies can cause frustration and overwhelm. Some experts suggest that managers set aside a specific amount of time to connect with their teams and then give employees a chance to focus on their tasks with minimal interruption. This is known as fast communicationfollowed by focused and deep working time.
Many employees interviewed by my company reported frustration with their manager’s lack of communication or availability. Others reported being concerned about keeping up with the constant flow of meetings, emails, chats and mass messaging.
So how do you balance between connecting and letting employees do the work?
Experts suggest setting up daily huddles or weekly check-in meetings and meeting more frequently, especially during periods of change. Being clear about expectations and allocating “business hours” are also essential tools. As projects meet their deadlines, the important can be sacrificed for the sake of the urgent. This leads to mistakes in communication. Chatting is not the solution. I believe that timely check-ins and establishing engagement rules can provide the foundation for efficient remote teamwork.
Managers as coaches
Managers have a constant struggle to balance their workload and keep their teams engaged in a disruptive work environment. Coaching can help. Wearing my coach hat, I ask open-ended questions, listen without judgment, and identify limiting beliefs through mirroring or paraphrasing. Managers can apply these coaching techniques to have healthy team conversations instead of carrying the burden.
Here are some coaching questions to use during your weekly check-ins.
• What do you want us to focus on today?
• What works for you?
• What challenges are you facing?
• How do you know you got there?
• What are you worried about?
• What could derail you in achieving your goals?
• How can I better support you?
In addition to weekly check-ins, here are three other steps that can help improve the employee experience and promote better alignment in a virtual space.
1. End the week with an open, informal dialogue about what went well, what could be improved and what support is needed to achieve better results. Stay focused on priorities to help your team connect the dots. Be transparent, calm and compassionate and focus on sharing relevant and clear information. Preparation is key. Watch your words and the tone of your voice. Share what’s important and relevant.
2. Hold one-on-one check-in meetings with every member of your team. In my opinion, we are normally drawn to meeting people we like. So make sure your calendar includes those you may have neglected on the team. Also, be aware of the amount of time you take with those you like and enjoy working with.
Let your team member take ownership of the meeting and share their progress and challenges. Ask open-ended questions to help them navigate blocks or restrictions. Conclude by asking for their commitment or consent.
3. Schedule in-person meetings. I believe there is no substitute for groups to connect and create together than in person. Schedule team meetings that help your team connect, engage, and commit to your vision and strategic goals. We are committed to connecting and supporting people. Schedule time for your team to connect. Create the space for serendipity. Make your personal time meaningful and focused on problem solving, innovation and collaboration.
Managing virtual teams requires even more mastery of social consciousness and emotional intelligence. These skills can help you navigate difficult conversations and connect the dots for your team in the best possible way. Guiding and knowing the conversation when information best suited to share can be game changers.
Technology has given us the ability to be well connected. It has opened up the opportunity for many to work efficiently from home. However, overuse of technology can derail focus and lead to chaos and burnout. Effective communication will conquer the turbulent waters.