For many of us, Zoom or Google Meet was not the way we interacted with our colleagues and teams on a regular basis. We are much more accustomed to and likely comfortable with connecting in person, over the phone and via email. There is something magical that happens when a team can be in the same room and feed off each other’s energy. They don’t need to be speaking, but there is a comfort in knowing that Tom could just pop over to Jane’s desk to ask a question or get her opinion. There is a camaraderie and even friendly competition in a team dynamic that is not as easy to achieve virtually.
Now we are thrust into a world where we are forced to do 90% of our connections, conversations and work in front of a screen via a virtual platform. Sure Tom can still call, text or email Jane with a question but that organic human interaction is gone. If he wants to bounce ideas off Jane and have a face to face conversation, he needs to make an appointment, send a calendar invite and wait for her response. There are no more impromptu conversations in the hall (except maybe with your cat) and you won’t run into Jane in the lunchroom and catch up on the latest and greatest on Netflix.
This shift in the way we do things can be frustrating and exhausting. Zoom fatigue is real!
So how do you bridge the virtual divide and get your team back to some semblance of authenticity or normal connection? First you need to ACKNOWLEDGE that things have changed and that each member of your team feels a certain way about that change. Next you need to acknowledge that you feel a certain way too…just because you are a leader doesn’t mean that you can’t be frustrated by the situation. Your team will appreciate your honesty. It’s okay not to be okay with it and it’s equally okay if some of your team is loving this new way of working. This has impacted us all differently and it is up to you as a leader to help everyone acknowledge that.
The next thing you need to acknowledge is that much of this situation is out of anyone’s control. As much as you would like to have all the answers and know what the future will hold, you and your organization are at the mercy of many outside factors. Many team leaders feel like they need to show that they are in control all the time, but acknowledging that there are some things you just can’t control will bring your team closer because they feel the same way.
After you acknowledge the situation, you need to help your team to ACCEPT that this is the new normal, that even when the pandemic is under control, there are years of recovery ahead. Some organizations may never get back to working the way we used to and, like it or not, some may make working remote permanent. Honesty is always the best policy and if you don’t know what is on the horizon, don’t sugar coat it. You have already acknowledged the things that are out of your control and once they accept that, you can focus your team’s energies on the things they can control and move to the next phase which is ACCELERATE.
In this phase it’s all about pushing past the negative and building on the positive…look for the opportunities in the situation.
You ACKNOWLEDGE that the team has a serious case of Zoom fatigue and so you dig a little further:
- There are too many people on the call talking over each other
- There is not enough focus on the call and it often strays from the topic and agenda
- People are tuning out
- Some people are dominating the conversation while others are silent
- The calls are too long
To move past this and make it better, you and every member of the team needs to ACCEPT that this is the case and that they play a part in the situation.
Some ways that you can ACCELERATE in this situation are:
- Task a couple of people with putting together a best practices and etiquette document for your virtual meetings
- Split your topics/projects into smaller teams and meet that way
- Incorporate some time for connecting in each call. Open the call early or stay on after for a little socializing.
- Keep the ‘meat’ of the meeting on topic and focused and add things to a parking lot as needed.
- Follow up every meeting with a summary of decisions and any assigned actions or tasks with deadlines attached.
- Be flexible – acknowledge that everyone is adapting to working in a new way and be open to allowing people to find balance with family / work responsibilities.
- Be available – maybe have open Virtual Office Hours that people can pop in and out as needed.
- Encourage people to connect with colleagues and have a joint working session where they hop on a virtual call and then just work independently with the others there as if they were in the office together. Sounds odd, but I wrote this whole chapter this way with my co-author Kim typing away alongside me (virtually). It’s quite effective.
- Encourage time just to connect and maintain that camaraderie. Schedule virtual coffee breaks together, schedule virtual lunch, arrange a virtual team building activity, plan a virtual pub night, celebrate a win with a virtual party. Be creative and playful!
As a leader, take this moment in time as an opportunity to connect with your team on a different level. You are being invited into their homes and they into yours as we navigate this new normal. Take a minute to share who you are and ask them to share something about themselves. (Did you know that Tom was a Comic Book fan?) It’s okay to introduce pets and kids, show them that scarf you knit last winter or that tomato you grew. You both will be richer for it! All of these are tips to bridging the virtual divide.