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Tackling Isolation in a Remote Work World

A laptop showing a video conference with a mug sitting to the side
May 26, 2020
January 14, 2021
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Isolation and perhaps resentment are building and colleagues will slowly begin to mentally check out over time. How can leaders quickly address this need for human connection and investment in one another? Here are my three key tactics to keep those workplace interactions healthy, constructive, and as useful as face-to-face meetings.

#1 NO EMAIL CONVERSATIONS

My teams knew that if they tried to engage me in an email conversation, they’d get this response: “FTF or PTP.” That meant get off your tail and come see me or if not in the building, please pick up the phone. Over time, they adopted the same and it slowly became a part of the culture. Hallelujah! Now would be an ideal time to encourage this behavior; video or PTP.

#2 ONE-ON-ONE DAILY CALLS WITH DIRECT REPORTS

Joe DeLuca, a longtime, former colleague, EVP and GM of my beloved alma mater, the Tampa Bay Times (formerly the St. Petersburg Times ), told me recently he has kept his regular standing and project team meetings using video conferencing, but he is quick to note: “This is the transactional activity.” But he is also making the additional investment of “connection” time (those important deposits) to hold daily, one-on-one calls with his direct reports - keeping them to no more than 15 to 30 minutes.“ I focus on the individual and their specific work, relationships, leadership or even personal challenges.

Some days we have a lot to talk about, some days it’s just a check-in and sharing of a funny story. It takes me two to three additional hours per day and makes for some long days, but I find it’s worth it. If the kids are driving them crazy, sometimes I just listen or suggest things they could put off doing until they are in bed, adjusting their work hours,” he said. “It's certainly not a magic bullet, but it’s working for me and I think my team would say that it’s working for them as well. I think just knowing the daily call is there if they need it helps.”

#3 THE “US” HUDDLE

I recommend a weekly team meeting, same day, time and duration (at least 60 minutes). This time is devoted solely to building relationships and checking in on one another. Think “head” and “heart.” Mondays seem to work best. No business is to be discussed. Participants should come to this meeting focused on a single question of the week. Make this your own weekly “Us” Huddle. Pick your name and preferred video platform. 

Appoint a leader each week. Someone should volunteer to be the timekeeper. Set a limit for an individual to talk such as 2 minutes with a 30-second warning. This keeps things moving and helps focus colleagues’ comments.  The week’s leader gets things going, but others can tag colleagues along the way to maintain a cadence and encourage full participation. Adopt “High Fives” or your own version to give colleagues a “shout out.” Let these come up organically after you get started.

Make your “Us” Huddle work for you, but remember that a basic human need is a feeling of being connected, needing more “deposits than withdrawals” in interpersonal settings. It’s very challenging to stay connected in this new world and even harder to stay aligned on the work product. Ultimately, “trust” will be the secret sauce of highly successful teams with or without a virtual workplace.

 **

PS: I’m happy to report that my husband and I developed a joint daily schedule. This was a first after 44 years together, but I needed accountability. It’s much easier - and enjoyable - to work on clients’ needs than to focus on my own work. A daily 4-mile bike ride is also a wonderful new part of my daily ritual.

*Smartsheet https://www.smartsheet.com/about , a Seattle-based company that helps businesses accelerate collaborative work, recently commissioned a mid-April survey to be conducted by Engine Insights https://enginegroup.com/us/about/ .

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