We all remember too well that in March of 2020, the world changed. The great unknown was happening across every level of our lives. No one knew how deadly the Covid-19 virus actually was or how it was really spreading. We couldn’t shake hands or be in the same area as others and everyone carried hand sanitizer. If you went to the store, we had to social distance (6 ft) from others. If you were like us, we were early adopters of masks, figuring something was better than nothing and we even wore rubber gloves when we shopped. When we got home, we washed all the fruits and vegetables and we wiped down all our groceries. When it came to working, unless you were a front-line worker, you had to work from home to try to stop the virus from spreading. Millions of people suddenly had to figure out how to work from home. Companies were forced to become virtual, whether they were ready or not and many were (and still) not. I believe, for the most part, people have figured out how to work from home and a huge percentage of them have decided they like the flexibility it brings. I am sure that at first, they struggled. It was hard to stay focused on work when there are so many other things going on around them. Zoom became a household name, Microsoft Teams suddenly became the way corporations would communicate with each other and video conferencing became the daily norm. Eventually, both the companies and the employees began to determine the best ways to communicate and stay in touch. It's been almost 2 years, it still feels like a blur to me, and as more people are getting vaccinated, companies are beginning to bring employees back into the office. Except employees who in the beginning struggled to work from home have suddenly decided they would like to continue working from home. They like the flexibility; they don’t have to travel to and from the office, which saves them time. They get their work done and have become very efficient. They are pushing back! The world is becoming more and more virtual or at the most, we are becoming a hybrid world.
One major problem remains for both people and companies, how they stay connected to each other. So many things we took for granted are gone now. I remember the first time I met my brother-in-law, he is deaf and has been deaf his entire life. As I got to know him, I realized that he lacked a lot of small details of life. He was unable to create proper sentences; he would confuse words when attempting to properly ask for something or misunderstand when it was appropriate to say your welcome or thank you. He was very well educated; his family sent him to a special school for the deaf, then he went to a public high school, where he was mainstreamed into classes with all the hearing kids. The more I thought about it, the more obsessed I became with how much of life we learn by what we hear or overhear. We learn so much by being around people, hearing what they say, hearing how they say it—feeling emotions based on the tone of our voice, from anger to empathy. Everyday conversations can lead to other thoughts and/or ideas. He had missed all of that. The same can be said for not being around your co-workers in the office. You don’t hear the comments, thoughts, ideas, issues, concerns etc. On top of that, how does the company maintain and/or create a culture that keeps them and their employees connected, appreciated, and informed?
The Commitment of the C-level Executive
I’m not going to lie to you; the reality is that it takes extra effort from both sides, but even more from the company’s leadership. As a Founder, C-Level executive or company leader, you will have to put in some extra effort at all levels. Communication and appreciation are two important keys to creating a successful virtual culture. Over communicating is really the key and to take that even one step further. Communicating from a personal level, not an email or document level, is the ultimate key. Too many companies feel it’s ok to send out a mass email to inform employees of things that are happening within the company and by doing so, although technically, they are communicating but there is no personal touch, no voice inflections, no facial reactions, nothing that says I care. The bottom line is that this form of communication is old school, top-down mentality and does nothing for your culture and to tell the truth, it sends a message that you, as the owner, executive or leader, don’t have time for your people or care enough about them to spend time with them.
Steps to Improving Communication
So what should you be doing? There are a ton of ideas, but for the sake of this blog, let’s look at a couple of quick and easy ones. The first idea is to hold a weekly video team meeting, where it’s mandatory that everyone who attends is on video. It is really important to make sure everyone is on camera, and if they are not, call them out. They may not like it at first but they will learn. There are multiple benefits that result in a weekly video team meeting. First, your people will be able to see you and your expressions; they can also hear the excitement and/or your frustrations in your voice. Allow them to ask questions, let them offer thoughts or even provide ideas. Second, it will remove any interpretations that can come from an email or document. People tend to read into or over analyze how words and/or phrases have been written vs. hearing them and understanding exactly what was meant. The result will be considerably more effective communications and allow your people to feel more connected to the company. It shows them that you have time for them, that you care enough to spend time with them.
Why is it important to have everyone on camera? You get to see your people’s faces and trust me, you can learn a lot by seeing them. You will start to learn if they are happy, sad, distracted or stressed out. Are they responding to your comments or just going through the motions? Just imagine how much you can learn about the mental state of your people by seeing them. You might be asking, how to know if they are happy or sad. Your people are going to feel isolated, and disconnected from co-workers and the company as a whole. When you notice if someone is sad or stressed, the next step is to reach out and have a one-on-one call with them. Find out how they are holding up, and where are their stress points. What can you, as their leader, do to help them? Ultimately, having periodic one-on-one calls is really important to do with everyone. It will help them feel a bit more connected to you and the company, but keep an eye out for those that are really struggling and make an extra effort to reach out. Tell them that you noticed on the team call that they looked a bit stressed, so you are checking in on them.
Show Your People You Appreciate Them
Finally, let’s talk about making them feel appreciated, not just by you, but also by others in the company. I suggest that during the company calls that you have co-workers call out another co-worker for something they did that helped them out or made a difference. Public affirmation is HUGE in helping others to feel appreciated. As the owner, c-level or leader, drop them a quick email or text, telling them thanks or how much you appreciate their efforts. Sometimes it's the small things that have the most significant impact. I know it all takes time, but it will be worth it in the end.
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As always, I welcome your feedback. Until the next time, stay safe and be healthy.