This is the 5th of 6 blog posts as part of the series ‘Dancing with Complexity’. This blog was authored by Gerry, capturing the results of a survey on the experience of teams in the virtual world this year. Thank you to all those who contributed to this article.
In my experience the groundwork that helps teams to gel and perform at a consistently high level gets laid both through formal and informal structures within our office environments. We are all familiar with the planned team events, the bonding sessions, the away days, the team culture workshops with external facilitators to name but some of the interventions that organisations, both big and small, deploy in support of team development. There are, of course, many more informal engagements that we participate in every day as part of our interaction within the workplace.
I have been curious as to the possible negative impact of Covid 19 on these typical engagements, both formal and informal, where, both consciously and sub-consciously, we build team trust, camaraderie and mutual understanding. Now that our professional milieu has lost its face to face dynamic, and we have been forced to an incorporeal world of Zoom rooms where spontaneity feels awkward and where a chat over coffee has all the intimacy of a film set, what can we do?
And so I asked some business contacts, across a range of industries from tech to services to FMCG, to let me know what they have been doing to keep team engagement going now that those teams are no longer convening as a physical unit. Interestingly, those organisations which capture employee engagement scores have reported that these scores were not negatively impacted, which is a huge tribute to all involved. Below is an effort to summarise some of their responses.
As you might expect, formal virtual team meetings have been scheduled through one or more of the available online platforms and are conducted on a diarised basis with business momentum being maintained through the transition to total virtual activity.
Interestingly, and not surprisingly, not having to commute to work is being seen as having a positive impact on team members while team leaders have set up more informal, casual get-togethers with the team where members are encouraged to share what they are doing in their own time. This has given rise to some creative outputs from some team members who are happy to share their progress on new personal goals which has had a positive and motivational impact across the rest of the team.
Another interesting positive arising from the switch to virtual is the breakdown of silos which were more prevalent in the physical environment, usually by virtue of location. With everyone participating virtually the limiting boundaries sometimes encouraged and/or perpetuated by team location have been eradicated. This isn’t just about geographic borders but also, what can often be, the more insidious inter departmental ones, within the same building,
Coming through also was a concern that the loss of face to face connection might negatively impact empathy levels. Team leaders have called it out and tried to raise awareness while engaging with training sessions around mental health and resilience. Managers are being supported through delivery of additional training in how they engage and create connection with their teams in a virtual environment while colleagues are reminded of the support structures available to them through Employee Assistance Programmes (EAP) should they feel the need for external inputs.
A key element for all was to ensure that no regular engagements from the physical world, which were seen to be working well, were dropped. This meant some extra effort in setting up Townhall events virtually and maintaining peer learning formats, both for the inherent learning content value but also, and just as importantly, as a means of maintaining colleague connection.
Supportive communications have been a common feature of the engagement plans, in particular for those colleagues who may have had specific challenges around, for instance, home schooling, care for elderly or vulnerable family members etc. And the good old fashioned weekly email update from the leader has been used in several locations, offering a mix of items intended to appeal to a diverse workforce, while recognising that some of these colleagues are away from their homeland and unable to travel back right now.
Virtual delivery of a physical intervention has also been in play with exercise and yoga classes on offer, supplemented by wellness sessions, listening groups and team webinars with the team leader. Several respondents advised that engagement scores have remained steady at pre-pandemic levels. This is seen as a reflection of the support effort which team members recognise and appreciate has been constructed on their behalf.
In summary, the approach seems to be one of trying to marry the formal with the informal, in much the same way as would be the plan in the physical workplace. Clearly, spontaneity suffers and this can’t be re-created meaningfully in a virtual world. However, the authentic message of care comes though as team leaders work hard in a sincere fashion to maintain open lines of communication and continue to be available to their teams at both a formal and informal level.
You may feel the approaches outlined are all relatively obvious. I would be inclined to agree as nothing earth shattering was detailed. I see this this as the good news though.
I say this because, what is coming through, is the upside of a commitment to a genuine virtual engagement plan with regular formal and informal communications, augmented by relevant additional training and employee support programmes as needed, all underscored by a bit of fun and relaxation in the shape of online recreational/exercise classes.
As the ad used say, it’s good to talk!
If you would like to hear more from us, why not try our November Podcast: ‘Dancing with Complexity’. This podcast introduces this series of blogs and gives you a flavour of others in the series.
Eadine Hickey and Gerry Prizeman