Particularly for those of us who work on technical projects, it’s tempting to use the time working from home to focus project work; however, as a manager, your staff need your attention now more than ever. Maybe you supervise highly technical people who enjoy working alone. Or, perhaps you have a team filled with social butterflies. Likely, it’s a mix of the two. In either case, they are human and they need connection – some to a greater degree than others. Plus, for productivity sake and collaboration, you want them to stay connected to each other. How will you help staff and team members feel connected when everyone is sequestered in their homes away from water cooler chitchat? Think about connection for the sake of productivity to keep projects moving forward. And think about connection for the sake of mental health, general well being and to create a sense that you care personally. As a leader, you need to provide both.
Use this checklist to plan your connection strategy.
Know your staff or team. Think about your team or your staff. What do you know about their communication styles? If you participated in my webinar last week, Know Your Staff: Know Their Superpowers and How To Use Them, you have a good idea of who your detailed data people are and who needs the stimulus of other people. If you weren’t on the webinar, why not? Just kidding. If you weren’t on the webinar take a mental assessment of your people.
- Who likes to focus on their project with minimal interruptions?
- Who likes to chat with colleagues?
- Who is the person who networks with everyone?
- Who are the data-driven researchers?
Now, consider their environment. You may need to adjust your expectations based on the realities of personalities, communication styles, and home care logistics.
- Who has small kids at home?
- Who has other responsibilities that will challenge the at-home work environment?
- Who has support at home to help with the kids?
- Who may be lacking a support system?
With that mental map of your people in mind, consider your plan for keeping you and they connected.
For office productivity:
Have regular meetings. If you had regularly scheduled meetings with your team or your managers, keep them up virtually. Include a few minutes at the beginning of the meeting to chat about the COVID-19 situation. Continue with:
- Staff meetings
- Project team meetings
- Working groups
- Task forces
- Committee meetings
- Office happy hour
- Office lunch and learn or just lunch and chat
Connect visually. Use video conferencing services for visual connection (I use Zoom). Adding the visual component makes a virtual meeting feel more conversational and alive. Have you noticed that you feel more connected when you have a visual image of your employee in their home office? Leverage that natural tendency by providing a virtual “tour” of your home office or the view from your window. Give your staff a visual context of you at work in your home office and offer them the opportunity to share their home workspace (if they wish).
- Determine the video conferencing service for the team
- Ensure that everyone has the equipment and information to successfully connect.
- Test the functionality that you are most likely to use.
- Provide a virtual tour of your work environment.
- Offer that option to others.
Weekly summaries or meetings. Consider sharing a brief weekly summary of the status of work across units. It doesn’t need to be long. Bulleted points are enough. The goal is to keep everyone in sync with the big picture and each other. You can also request that a short summary of status be sent to you weekly. This keeps you up to date on the work of your dispersed office and conveys your interest in their work.
- Would a weekly status summary assist in keeping the team on the same page?
- Could you manage the work better with a bulleted update from staff each week?
- Are you receiving adequate information for decisions and informing your boss?
For personal connection:
Touch base just because. Call your staff or team members even if you need to put these calls on your to-do list. Plan the calls into your day. For those of us who go-go-go, this may not feel like a productive use of your time. But research shows that people who feel engaged and cared for are more productive. You are actively contributing to productivity when you place these calls. Call (not email) to inquire about them (not the project). Show interest in their personal well-being. That matters to an isolated person with limited contact.
- Ask the impact this pandemic situation is having their life with kids?
- Do they have older parents?
- Have vacation plans been canceled?
- Have they tried any virtual parties with friends or family?
- Are there any health situations with family members or friends?
- Is there a funny story about working at home?
Offer your support. Whether on a phone call, FaceTime or on a virtual meeting platform, ask how you can help them be more productive and feel more connected. Since this pandemic has made the workforce extremely health conscious, you might also need input on what health benefits you can add for employees to make them feel safe and secure. Making sure they have access to a care team of medical providers, behavioral health specialists, and health insurance experts might be a good start. In order to curb the general anxiety of workers, hence boosting productivity, you may want to take a look at blogs like https://www.edenhealth.com/blog/what-are-employee-benefits/ and catch up on the different benefits (health and otherwise) that might help you stay more connected with your staff and make them feel like protected assets. Here are some other questions that might be helpful.
- What would make the experience better for them?
- What do they struggle with?
- What is it like for them to work from home?
- How can you help?
- How you can help them stay connected to you, staff and the organization?
- Don’t forget to thank them for adapting to this strange environment.
These are strange times and they call for unique management considerations. Make sure your staff feel connected for productivity’s sake and for a sense of caring during an unsettling time. Your efforts to provide connection will pay off now and will pay dividends with goodwill when this is all behind you.
Shelley Row, P.E. explains why NOW is probably the best time for technical managers to work on improving their leadership skills (and earn PDH credits!).
Registration & more info -> https://ilinstitute.teachable.com/