Cornerstones for a more connected team
At the rate that technology is evolving and how we’re seemingly unfazed by almost every new product and feature that today’s tech giants roll out, one would be led to think that when thrust into a “Covid-19 world”, we’d be perfectly at home with it.
Well, not quite.
As it turns out, living a life where daily human interactions are replaced by virtual ones isn’t quite the same as knowing instantly how to navigate all the latest iPhone features.
We are finding ourselves having to, all at once, adopt far too many new changes. Virtual discussion, digitalising work flows, creating new meeting rhythms and plenty more. All set against a backdrop of a new work environment that finds us in comfy sweat pants amidst screaming children, barking house pets, a neighbour’s home renovation and the list goes on.
The pandemic has indeed accelerated this digital revolution and placed us in unfamiliar territory – one that is here to stay. The unfortunate irony with the world being mobile and connected is that we are finding ourselves to be increasingly disconnected. Because at the behest of this supposed digital revolution that we’re in, comes the inevitable decline of real human interaction and connection.
Think about it – the meetings we have with our teams are always scheduled, with set agendas, specific objectives and allocated time slots. While these are great for the purpose of achieving a target, it is also creating a great divide. Gone are all the impromptu conversations that spark countless unexpected ideas. These moments, albeit small, can often make a huge impact. The interaction we have with those we work with on a daily basis is what helps to create culture and camaraderie; it is often the flint that helps to spark bright ideas. And with us having every moment of the day scheduled and packed to the gills, it leaves little time for these genuine interactions
We spent much of last year putting in place digital versions of systems and processes and becoming somewhat comfortable with them. However, the technological knowhow are mere tools to facilitate our day-to-day work. The heart of the matter lies in making connections from the heart.
A leader’s reflections
Some time in the middle of last year, when we were a few months into working from home, I checked in with my team to find how they were coping. They seemed to be doing fine when we had our team Zoom calls but I just wanted to be sure. It was only during these one-on-one calls with them that I realised the uniquely diverse issues they were facing. A young consultant voiced her struggles with working from home, saying that her parents expected her to help around the house just because she was at home. Another spoke about the constant distractions he faced not having a conducive space to truly focus on work. These were just two examples; there were plenty more.
The conversations I had with them provided me with clarity on what their day-to-day experience was like, which led me to think about the necessity of having a platform for such interactions to happen. We won’t be able to solve every single issue of course, but sometimes, offering a listening ear and taking the time to understand a situation better makes for a good start.
Helping your team be their best
To ensure that your team has the capacity to embrace all the changes we have been experiencing and be better equipped to grow into the future, we need to ask the right questions, the kind that encourages them to open up about the challenges they are facing. Consider using these questions to get the ball rolling.
At the end of the day, it is not about having to find a solution for every single issue, but to use this as a platform to hear and be heard. Sometimes, just knowing that the next person understands your situation and is possibly facing the same could be all it takes to breathe a much-needed sigh of relief. Together, the discussion could then lead to working as a team to find ways to alleviate these concerns in whatever small way possible.
It takes two to tango
Can’t say I know how to tango but I’d imagine it makes sense that you’d need two people to do it. And the same goes for fostering a relationship in our digital world. As important as it is for an organisation and its leaders to be proactive in reaching out to the staff, the employees need to be equally reciprocal too.
Back in the days of physical meetings, being a warm body in the meeting room with the occasional head nods and laughter peppered with the odd yes or no might suffice – simply because the mere physical presence of a person adds to the energy in the room. With a virtual meeting, it’s a whole different ball game. More often than not, there’s a need to remain muted so that there aren’t any distracting feedback or noise brought into the call. Coupled with the lack of eye contact and some people’s preference to remain off-camera, it makes for a cold, can’t-wait-for-this-meeting-to-end type of meeting.
Employees need to make an effort to be even more present than before. Not doing so can be detrimental to the organisation because it means large chunks of the population being unengaged and simply doing their work by rote. The onus lies on both the leaders and their team to constantly reach out to one another and communicate well to maintain work rhythms and flow.
Empowerment and trust
Being able to work remotely is a form of empowerment simply because it comes with a natural loosening of work rules. Whatever norms and expectations that come from being in the office may no longer apply as much because we are now empowered to simply deliver.
Along with empowerment comes trust because of the need for mutual understanding that what needs to get done will get done. Trust forms a large component of what constitutes as the building blocks of a successful team. Being able to work synergistically and knowing that the rest of the team is performing at their optimal sets the stage to producing truly great work.
A balancing act
For many of us, the home-office is probably a little more than a metre or two away from where the bed is. Bringing the work environment into our regular living space puts us in a bit of a conundrum because it causes a blurring of lines that we do not experience when working in the office.
And the much-lauded work-life balance that many are in constant pursuit of? – it’s just going to be that much more difficult to attain. The hard stops that we imagine ourselves putting in place aren’t as easy to execute because we are so connected all the time. This is why the work-life balance that we envision may not be the ideal that we should be striving towards.
Perhaps, instead of balance, what we should be working towards is an integration. Because the fact is, we’re already there and have been for the past year. Now, it’s more about finetuning the experience. We may not always be able to shut down at 6pm and call it a day till the next morning, because it’s not unexpected that the “urgent” mail or text message rears its head at some ungodly hour.
Similarly, there may be a need for urgent personal matters that need to be attended to during the course of a regular work day. Being able to integrate work and life means finding space in the day to allow for both to take their rightful spots in your busy schedule. And yes, I’m the first to acknowledge that this is definitely easier said than done. It requires mutual trust and understanding from both parties. And it’ll take time for sure.
But this change is a necessity because it could just be what would bring us that balance we so crave. And, perhaps it’s time we viewed this as a change to the world in and of itself. Not entirely good, not entirely bad, but just different. The digital age has given us another means through which we maintain that human interaction and relationship, and for better or for worse, it’s going to stay.
A mind open to the future
There are some things we set as rules of the company and as part of the culture because we feel that they are important for productivity. Just a year ago, the idea of having a majority of our workforce work remotely seemed untenable. It was just not an arrangement that we thought would be beneficial in any way. We had concerns that in doing so, it could potentially dilute our company culture, reduce performance and morale and plenty more.
Fast forward to today, the new Covid-19 world has truly opened our eyes to the possibilities of what could be if we’d only pause for more than a second to entertain those supposed crazy ideas.
From changing time-honoured practices and rituals to embracing unexpected radical ideas, these changes in one way or another are proof of resilience. At the end of the day, it is not about stubbornly holding on to idealised habits and practices because they worked in the past. It is actually about the adaptability and tenacity of the heart of an organisation – its people – and how we can move forward as one.
It’s never been easy, and especially so in an unprecedented time such as this. But if 2020 has taught us anything, it is that we are all capable of so much more than we thought we were.
Jacelyn Chua is Group Business Leader, RecruitFirst Singapore.