As a leader, having all your team members in the office was ideal. It made it easier for you to connect with them and for them to connect with each other. And it allowed for those impromptu moments that add a lot more value to business relationships than we ever knew. When things went 100% virtual and everyone was working from home, it created a humanity deficit, with cohesion plummeting alongside it. How could we even be called a team if we were working by ourselves? Well, one benefit was that at least everyone was having the same, albeit isolated, experience. The shared pivot was our common ground.
As we enter the new hybrid model, also known as work from anywhere (WFA), we’ll be experiencing a strange combination, and it’s already feeling as if we won’t be able to stick together anymore. Each week brings some of what we experienced in the real world and some of what we felt during all-virtual environment—making human connection and team cohesion more complex and convoluted.
For team leaders, the job of inspiring, supporting, educating, motivating and coaching your staff is now significantly more challenging, requiring a lot more finesse and taking deliberate actions to create an environment that includes everyone. A recent study by Deloitte found that a third of employees are struggling with fatigue and mental health challenges, with a significant dichotomy between perception and reality. “Only 56% of employees believe their company’s executives care about their well-being, while 90% of execs think their employees believe they’re cared about.”
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Here are four antidotes that bridge the gap and bring the humanity back to the office—no matter where those offices are. Show your people you care and create a truly engaging experience in the WFA environment with these approaches.
Equalize your meetings
When the conference room became the Zoom room overnight, we all learned that virtual meetings are more challenging, exhausting and often less satisfying than their in-person counterpart. In-person meetings allow us to have those real, visceral moments with colleagues in a shared space, but they’re sharing the zone with virtual attendees now. To create a more consistent experience, make the hybrid meeting fun, with as much opportunity for personal interaction as possible:
- Send meeting prep materials (the stuff that doesn’t require interaction) to everyone in advance. Then office and remote members can experience your fundamentals the same way.
- Make the live meeting all about interaction. Be deliberate about calling on those who are participating remotely. Make the first slide of your presentation deck a photo of the whole team (see below). Off-site colleagues need more attention. They also have a lot more temptation to multitask, because they’re participating on the same device that houses all the other work they can be doing. During the meeting, use online polls and games that each person can interact with on their phone. This way, local and remote participants interact in the same way.
Make the most of in-person opportunities
Whether it’s a team meeting where everyone files into the auditorium or a focused professional development retreat, heavily emphasize relationship building at in-person events. Look at your agenda and make sure it is heavy on engagement and fun and light on individual work. Use the fact that you have everyone together to get a team photo. Send physical copies of the team photo to each member after the event as a reminder of the fun you had, providing each member with a tangible reminder pinned to their home office wall.
Bring everyone into your office, figuratively speaking
You may not be able to have everyone in your office at the same time, and maybe some of your team will rarely or never visit the office. But you can still have them there all at once. Create a team wall with headshots of everyone in the group. Those who are in the office will be reminded of their remote teammates, even though they don't get to see them regularly, every time they pass the wall. Remote team members will see pictures of the group in your background.
Stay in touch while staying on schedule
Managers of WFA teams need help, too. According to Gallup, team managers and project leaders are experiencing stress to a greater degree than the members of their teams. This is in part due to increased demands on their time communicating with team members—especially if WFA means widely varied time zones. To reduce the demand and build one more opportunity to foster a consistent experience for everyone, distribute weekly video updates. Try to keep the update to 1-2 minutes max. You don’t want your people to groan when they see it in their inbox. One of my clients produces her video updates at home and sends them to her people every Sunday evening. She includes:
- The big happening of the previous week
- Kudos and acknowledgement of team member wins
- An inspirational or focused thought for the coming week
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WFA is making leaders’ lives more challenging and stressful. To reduce the stress, be deliberate about creating positive connections as consistently as possible. Remind them—and yourself—that no matter where you are, you’re all working together.
This article was originally published in Forbes.
This article is also available in Chinese.