By Balder Tol
COVID-19 has upended our lives. Alongside the health crisis and its severe economic impact, the global pandemic has dramatically accelerated technological transformation in our workplaces, catalysed social change, and thrown many of us into the biggest work-from-home experiment.
As the world comes to grips with the ramifications of this shift, business leaders of all stripes are being challenged to figure out what the future of work will look like for their business and teams. Being a global company with a distributed workforce, we’ve learnt some lessons along the way about how to keep remote teams connected and engaged.
Re-create opportunities for chance encounters
Communication is sometimes taken for granted, especially when we see each other every day and pass along information through informal conversations. The last few months however, have shown us just how important it actually is.
With many businesses now having a distributed workforce, scheduling team meetings – and sticking to them – has become crucial. Not only does this regular cadence allow you to share wins and workshop challenges, it also creates a culture where employees can ask questions, facilitating transparency.
A lack of watercooler chats or chance encounters in the corridor means we’re not able to pick up key non-verbal cues anymore. Something I’ve come to appreciate to alleviate this concern is the use of technology, allowing for face-to-face contact and a way to continue maintaining cohesion.
But shifting the way we communicate can be tough — which channel to post on, what can and can’t I say in the group, do I email or use Slack? Developing an in-house communications guide or one-pager is a simple but valuable tool to help teams navigate the differences.
If in doubt, here’s my go-to:
- Email: communication to large groups and critical updates
- Slack: active collaboration, digital banter (gifs, memes, the fun stuff)
- Zoom: video meetings with the camera switched on!
Lesson: Host office hours via Zoom or Microsoft Teams with no set agenda, just an open forum to ask questions or chat over a coffee.
Be open to share your emotional journey
I’ve always been inspired by leaders who are transparent, grounded and committed to their teams. What stands out is the human element — that genuine interest in employees and providing clarity on what is needed. But perhaps what is most challenging for leaders is getting comfortable with sharing your own emotions. This, for me, is the most important part of being transparent.
Recently, at an all-company town hall, I shared my own emotional journey over the past few months, before resetting expectations, goals, and realigning cross-functional efforts. Doing this provided a ‘human’ sense for employees. It showed them that while I am a leader at the company, I’m still going through the same struggles as them.
Sharing a more vulnerable side of ourselves is key to building and maintaining connection with each other, which is more crucial than ever during times of significant change.
Lesson: Be human, be kind. Knowing when and how to share your own emotions goes a long way in building a more personal rapport with those who are remote.
Create a sense of stability
Positive energy goes a long way to motivate the people around you. In times of change, aiming for internal stability helps provide reassurance for the team. I have personally tackled this by aiming to be as transparent as possible. This includes sharing our key business performance indicators and our future market forecasts at monthly meetings.
Focusing on team bonding to maintain a collective positive spirit is another way to achieve internal stability. Working in isolation has sparked conversations on mental wellbeing and at WeWork, we see the importance that community plays in combating feelings of loneliness. For example, we have a virtual happy hour on Friday afternoons, where the whole Australian team (and sometimes, their families) come together to engage in casual, fun activities over Zoom. By spending time getting to know each other on a human level, blending moments of fun throughout the working week to increase morale and coming together in meaningful ways, we’ve found a new normal beyond the immediate constraints of COVID-19.
Lesson: Use this time of physical separation to create moments of purposeful connection amongst your teams.
Give back control on work-life balance
Leading a high growth company, it’s integral to keep high-performing employees engaged and fulfilled. At the same time, we are deeply conscious that a culture of burnout is widespread in our connected world, especially amid a pandemic where the lines between work and life have blurred.
I believe I have a responsibility to first and foremost take care of our employees, so they feel supported, happy and motivated to make the right decisions for our members. Over the years, we’ve rolled out many initiatives to prioritise the wellbeing of our people, regardless of their location – our team are the heart and soul of our business. One such initiative has been listening circles where we take on board feedback, work to provide better outcomes and implement new initiatives with wellbeing at the centre. The number one goal is to keep our people safe, healthy and connected during these strange times.
Lesson: Be thoughtful of others and mindful of time zones when scheduling a virtual meeting. Flexibility is important, but so are boundaries.
Building a business is a marathon, not a sprint. At the end of the day, it’s important to pace and take care of yourself first, so you can take care of the wider team.
While we’re living in incredibly unusual times, it’s also exciting to consider what the future might hold as we go on to redefine what the ideal state of work is going to look like and be part of this evolution.
Ultimately, during this time, don’t be afraid to challenge the norm on “how things are done” — just because something was done that way before, doesn’t mean it should stay the same.
Now is the time to unleash the full potential in one another.
Balder Tol is the General Manager of Australia at WeWork.