December 10, 2020

Virtual Collaboration and the Distributed Workforce

Our previous blogs have been building up to this moment… so let’s make it fun and purposeful. Some companies will come back 100% full time, but most companies will now adopt a proper flex plan and distributed workforce approach. Frankly, I think there has been more resistance from leaders because of one big word- TRUST. Are employees really working? Are they productive? 

So, let’s take a step back and lean into the hundreds of books, podcasts, lectures we have all participated in and reframe our thinking. If we build teams with empathy, loyalty, and trust- we know the answer- employees will run through brick walls for the company and its leaders. Let’s look at this next phase to push ourselves and our leadership teams into practicing what we know and trust our employees. This can be extremely powerful! 


Anything is possible with the right level of communication. Before we think about the team and project meetings, let’s focus on the individual. Here are some tips on how to engage on a deeper level. 

1 – Yearly Goals: Every year, each director and manager send an exercise out that asks each employee to list three goals: their professional, personal, and family goals for that year. This informs the leader of external desires and gives the employee the feeling that you care about life outside of work. During the next touchpoints is the time to understand where they are on this journey. 

2 – Touchpoints: Every leader should be doing touchpoints with each employee once to twice a month. This should not be about work, perse, but more about how the employee is doing. What is going well? Where are the obstacles? What is happening outside of work that keeps them from being present while at work? This is where you might uncover a significant life event that is resulting in poor performance at work. “My dad has cancer.” “My wife lost her job.” “I’m overwhelmed with our system.” These examples now inform the leader that this employee is emotionally or physically struggling vs. assuming they are delivering poor performance. 

With the immense amount of negative news and massive obstacles 2020 has thrown our way, it is imperative to stay very close to your employee base. Sometimes, just asking someone how they are doing and genuinely meaning it, is the most powerful thing you can do all day! 

3 – Team Meetings: Each department needs to have at least weekly structured team calls. These calls should always have an agenda, have a start and stop time, and allow everyone to participate. The team calls that go exceptionally well are the ones where you add a NOT work-related topic. Enjoy each other, have fun! Make a round-robin, and each person gets a meeting that they can bring up a topic to discuss, favorite recipe, favorite things to pack in your kids’ lunch, latest fitness trends, best financial advice. At your team meeting, take a few minutes to give space to connect to each other. This is a huge part of what is missing these days. Everyone wants to belong, and they do! They belong to a large group of the company and are part of a team on a more intimate level. Let them feel that! 

As executives, take time to drop in on calls every so often and THANK THEM for what they do. Ask how they are doing, ask what the company could be doing to provide greater support! 

4 – Company Updates: Here is an excellent opportunity to re-invent how you communicate with your teams and employees. A weekly or monthly newsletter that goes out and highlights each department, recent achievements, and personal achievements. Yep, there are team channels, there are slack channels, and other ways to stay connected that are all great. The one element to keep in mind with Teams and Slack Channels is to make sure that there is one that addresses everyone. Sometimes those channels can further isolate people from feeling connected to the overall movement within the company. 

5 – All Hands Meetings: These will probably be virtual for a while, and maybe a shift in general. The most critical thing you can do right now is to be transparent and honest. Share performance metrics. If your organization is not performing, share that with details on solutions and strategies to correct and highlight the dependent parties. Let people know their role in the turnaround success. If you are outperforming, give shout outs! Celebrate your employees and what they are doing, even the little wins. 


Also Share the Vision: We have communicated all along the way of what to expect, but we made it clear that there were many external factors that might prevent our execution. Let them know the plan so they can adjust accordingly. Understanding the vision is so key to employees feeling connected to the business and their role within the business.  



Physical Space 

Your office will now become a destination. How do you make it feel like a destination that they WANT to come to versus have to go to? Our last blog spoke about how the office will work moving forward. Still, some additional thoughts focus on the office’s feeling versus the tactical side of how to create it. 

1 – Technology. Technology. Technology: Having a fast and reliable internet will be more critical than ever. Plug and play opportunities will be needed everywhere. People are not coming in to work at their desks. They want to collaborate. Make sure that every space is ready for plug and play. Make working and collaborating easy. This could be the biggest driver for employees to come back, the ease of access and bandwidth of technology.  

2 – Collaboration and Social Space: Creating comfortable and cozy break out areas will be critical, which can be budget-friendly. People have been working from home. They do not want to immediately go back to a stark, strict structure. Ease them into the office by creating softer areas with rugs, throw pillows, etc. People want to gather. Make spaces that allow them to gather and be with their co-workers safely. Again, having the right technology to support these spaces will be key. You must plan on teams being distributed for time to come.  

3 – What to Eliminate: Although people want to gather, they will not use the office like before as it relates to gaming. That is socially not okay right now with the current state of health, but people will want to come in- visit- and get back home. We are seeing a decline on the café, break and gaming spaces. I think it will be some time before those spaces will have the engagement like they did PreCOVID. How people use the office has shifted, and that is not likely to change with a vaccine.  


In the end, as leaders and executives, we get to determine how much juice we infuse back into our culture and reshaping how our office becomes a destination. Communicate, communicate often, be honest, stay connected, give ample opportunities to connect individuals to the company, and create a space you want to return to! 


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