I met one of my employees in person for the first time last week, even though they started in September and live in the same city.
The week before, I met for the first time the team of people I have been working with on a project for the past 9 weeks.
This is a common story I am hearing. People meeting their team, their colleagues, their manager for the first time in-person, as organisations bring their teams together for end-of-year events.
I have even heard it said that when meeting colleagues for the first time, some people didn't even know what they looked like, because their organisation doesn't have a policy of having to have your camera on for virtual meetings, or standards about your profile picture.
For someone like me who much prefers to interact in person, so I can feel the other person's energy, really look into their eyes, and to clearly read their body language; virtual relationships can be challenging.
“I remind myself that I’m always more satisfied by human interaction than by a digital connection.” - Maulik Pancholy
While it's not like this never happened pre-pandemic; I have certainly had colleagues before that worked interstate/overseas who I developed a relationship with over the phone or via email before I ever met them in-person; for me, the team/leader relationship is particularly important and the best way to build this is in-person.
So even in the past when I have had team members working remotely, I would always have the final interview in person and their first day/s in person, even if this meant flying to their site or bringing them to my office.
Even after lock-downs ended, many organisations faced resistance from their teams to return full time to the office, or at all. Some team members threatened to resign if they could not continue to work remotely; and those organisations looking to attract talent are offering complete flexibility, enticing talent away from less accommodating organisations. So, in a talent-short market, retaining your talent may be a real issue and developing strategies to remain an attractive place to work will be a priority.
On bad days, my team makes it bearable...
Strong team relationships are one of the keys to retention. We all have bad days; and having others we can share our challenges with who understand what we are going through, or who have common experiences, really helps overcome barriers and challenges at work. Without this support, employees are more likely to 'vote with their feet'.
The way the world of work is evolving, it looks like hybrid is here to stay, and virtual and/or blended meetings will simply be incorporated into the way we work.
The down-side of remote-working is that virtual meetings generally are only scheduled for a purpose; and while there may be some time at the beginning or end of a meeting for general conversation and a joke; it is rare when working remotely that teams will connect simply to have a chat; whereas when working in the same place, colleagues tend to socialise more - chatting about their lives, their ups and downs and general human experience. It is this 'gold' that helps communities of people truly connect and understand one another.
It is far easier to wear a 'mask' and hide your true feelings when working remotely.
So, as an organisation, how do you ensure that you and your team have the opportunity to build meaningful connections, build trust, loyalty, and commitment to one another?
Develop a set of protocols for virtual interactions, such as:
Profile pictures must be of the real you, not an avatar, or picture of your dog.
During meetings, cameras must be on at the beginning and end of meetings and should only be off if you are eating, or the internet connection is dodgy.
Ensure that during blended meetings, virtual participants are specifically provided with the opportunity to provide input.
Meetings should allow a buffer of 10 minutes at either end for general chat and socialising.
Team members are encouraged to connect outside of official meetings to collaborate, chat, and work on their own thing while connected.
Set KPIs relating to virtual working and building relationships. Set up a facility for team members to provide feedback to one another as to the effectiveness of their virtual working.
Rather than the team only coming in to the office at different times; set a regular time for teams to come together to meet in-person - such as a weekly or fortnightly catch-up followed by having lunch together, whether business-funded or BYO.
Book your leader/team one-on-ones in-person and take the time to get to know your team member personally.
Encourage socialising outside of hours (underpinned by your Code of Conduct) - a quarterly team event such as bowling, cooking, sport activities, trivia events, board games etc.
Create virtual activities that encourage team members to share aspects of their lives - pets, hobbies, family, friends, leisure activities, passions etc; such as photo/post sharing on company Teams, Slack, or other chat channels.
Of course, you can also get your team involved in coming up with ideas for how to improve their connections with others in their team.
While many of us love the advantages of working from home - no commuting, more time for exercise, the opportunity to fit domestic chores into the day, the chance to spend more time with family, freshly home-made lunches, wearing your tracksuit pants and slippers while at work... even those who are loners or introverts can miss the connections they used to have when they worked full time at the office.
Individualism is an increasing symptom of our society as virtual tools continue to improve and become more accessible, which is great for efficient, and cost-effective ways to work; however, nothing beats the true brilliance of a team working together in-person to achieve a common goal.
What are the challenges your organisation is facing in this hybrid working era and what strategies are you employing to overcome them?