The Art of Building Relationships and Trust in a Remote Work Environment

A desk showing a laptop, plant, and iPhone.
May 18, 2020
January 14, 2021
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Wednesday, May 6th - Shelter Day #47

I last wrote on April 16 (Shelter Day #27) about my inability to develop and sustain a daily schedule or even know what day it was. Any daily ritual for me had temporarily evaporated. Yet, most of my clients were successfully developing some version of a daily schedule with my coaching. These CEOs and senior level executives who were accustomed to others handling their daily schedules and needs were finding they needed to be more proactive in guiding what they needed from their support teams. 

No assistant was popping into the office to share three quick things and hustle them off to a meeting. The support these executives need today is the scheduling of video conference meetings with their teams. This has resulted in an endless number of video meetings sucking up valuable employee time in this new remote workplace.

Why? Managers down the line are following suit. They all say they need to “stay informed.” And pay attention; we’re beginning to see early stages of what might become a real psychological diagnosis: “Zoom fatigue.”

How many meetings are too many?

Many organizations have had remote workforces for some time, but for many it is the new norm.  And guess what? The employees who frequently asked for remote working flexibility, the most tech-savvy generations in our history, are beginning to voice their annoyance at the hours of video calls their managers are scheduling.

In an April Engine Insights survey* that included adults who are working remotely for the first time, Millennials (57%) and Generation Z (61%) employees say the time they spend on video calls is “excessive” and impacting their productivity. They feel “less connected” (Millennials 81% and Gen Z 82%) and they feel “less informed about what’s going on at their company (Millennials 66% and GenZ 82%). Why? My guess? They feel they are wasting time keeping the bosses informed and even more important, they are missing genuine human connections. 

Making the Most of Virtual Meetings

There are a few key items to keep virtual meetings useful, effective, and engaging in a time where we can’t physically sit around the table together. 

Participants must come fully prepared to be present in a quiet home zone with water or coffee, notes. No interruptions. Turn off all alerts from email, IM systems, and phones. Turn on “Do Not Disturb” or other tools. Just like in the office, meetings aren’t a time to multitask. 

At the start of a meeting,  use deep-breathing exercises to get grounded and become fully present. One of my clients uses Headspace at the start of every executive meeting and I’ve recommended it to other clients or adopt one of the other meditation apps. My husband and I use Headspace to unwind at bedtime. https://www.headspace.com/

Allow for a few minutes before and after every meeting to check in, connect, and chit chat. Just like walking into the conference room or taking a few minutes at the end of a meeting to gather your thoughts and belongings, those moments are just as critical as the content of the meeting itself. 

The Importance of Connection

Those brief daily intercepts in the elevator, grabbing a coffee, passing in the hallway, or the banter before and after meetings are the tiny, subconscious human investments we make daily in building relationships with one another in a work day, socializing and taking interest in people and their lives. 

I tell clients to think about these as “deposits” in a joint savings account with an individual. In contrast, a “withdrawal” is the more common transactional exchange - “Hey Dave, can you get that spreadsheet to me by 4?” Like your bank account, you want the transactions to at least balance out—and in an ideal world, you’ll have more deposits than withdrawals. 

What’s becoming ever more clear is that most employees’ virtual interactions are now purely transactional, too many withdrawals. If there ever was a joint savings account established, the balance is moving south quickly. Furthermore, many leading these transactional meetings are not practicing “good listening” skills and missing the cues their folks are sending.

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