During my daily LinkedIn scrolling, I see a lot of Forbes, HBR and Inc. articles on how to manage and navigate the challenges of a still primarily remote workforce these days. As I have read through them, I noticed that many talk about the new things we do or the way we work. New scheduling or tracking tools, standing desks, ring lights to up your Zoom game, and the like. There’s plenty on the how and the what, but not a lot of focus on culture and remembering why we exist.
The reality is that most of us will not see a full return to “the way things were before COVID”, no matter our industry, locality or line of business. It has been more than a year since our big shift, and while some people are starting to come back into a physical office, many more remain remote, or may have started a new position and have never been to the office at all. Facing this reality, we must now re-invent the way we develop our relationships and the culture that is made from them.
Or do we?
Every member of my team holds the secondary title of Chief Reminder Officer. When we meet internally, we work to incorporate our core values and mission into the discussion. This is a long-term effort. Sometimes reminding everyone to Own It, Challenge Everything and Do What’s Right seems silly in a meeting where we discuss company finance or have a quick review of the week’s tasks at hand. But that is how our values become woven into the fabric that is a company’s culture. We did this when 90% of our meetings were in person, and we do it now that 99% of our meetings are virtual.
Making Time For Relationships
Building and maintaining a personal relationship is always a challenge. We are programmed to come to work, execute tasks and move on to the next one. Most of us spend as much or more of our waking hours at work as we do at home. Personally, the greatest challenge when shifting from office to remote work was the loss of human interaction. The 5-minute chat in the hallway, a morning coffee talk with a coworker or talking about what you were going to make for dinner with someone who you don’t live with was suddenly gone. As jarring as it can be and as artificial as it may sound, taking time to check in and chat is so important to building strong relationships with our colleagues. Make time to reach out about what is going on (other than work) in someone’s life. We all need it.
Make time for a segue in your meetings. When everyone joins up on a Zoom call, you have no idea what an individual might have going on leading up to that call that could be impacting their ability to be present. Set a time to share what is going on in your world, even if the update is as simple as “I can feel the sun shining on my face today, and that makes me feel happy” or “I woke up to my cat barfing on the rug this morning, sorry if I am a bit frazzled”. It goes a lot further than simply saying “oh, I’m good”. They might be good, they might not.
Plan unstructured dialogue with your direct reports. Have a non-transactional discussion with your people. Ask a few simple questions, like “what’s working?” and “what’s not working?”. Everyone was thrust into this great experiment in completely changing how and where we work with little direction, no time to plan, and an unknown end date. We’ve been figuring it out as we go. The tips and tricks we all come up with might just help each other out, but only if there is an opportunity to share. This is as critical when working apart as it was when we worked together.
Being Quick to Resolve
For Calyx, moving to an all-remote workplace forced us to realize some challenges with rapid communication around priority issues that did not exist when most of us sat in the same building. Through discussion and collaboration, our managers were able to quickly resolve issues simply by making time to talk it out with their staff, who were included in crafting the right solution. To any Calyxers who are reading, this is an example of living our mission to “always create a better way.”
I would be remiss if I did not give a huge shout-out to Jenn Layport, who took on the role of Service Delivery Manager with us a while back. She has done an exceptional job of building relationships with her team through the wild ride that has been the last year. It is incredibly heartening to see routine one-on-one time scheduled with supervisors and their staff.
A division between work and home is hard to define if both happen in one physical location. When your commute became measured in feet, the time to mentally prepare for work and to unwind on the way home was lost for most. Encouraging your staff to stop at quitting time and walk away is important. Put your laptop away and your phone down, stop checking email and slack all night and weekend. It is a fast path to burnout and must be avoided.
Finally, just remember to give people some grace. If you are on a Zoom meeting with me while my 4-year-old daughter Amelia is home, I can guarantee that she will try to sneak up behind me and wave to my “friends” on the call or ask me for a snack. Your dog might bark while you are on the phone. FedEx will not leave a box of wine on your porch without a signature (priorities, people). Sometimes you will just need to go for a walk around the block to clear your head or get some sunshine. If it happens to you, chances are it happens to someone else. Everyone is going through this together, so let’s act like it.