While there are many great benefits to hybrid and virtual working, these new ways of working can cause feelings of isolation which carry costs for both employees and businesses. So what are the signs to look out for and what can you do about them?
1. Look at the face on the screen
Can you tell the difference between a happy face and a faux happy face? Watch out for forced smiles and especially a ‘resting face’ that is not so happy. It’s the resting face that tells you where someone is. The downward curves on the mouth, the furrowed brow, the sad eyes. Don’t be fooled by the smiles. Like the clowns in the circus, these may just be for show. Then watch out for the brave words ‘I’m fine’ or ‘I’m just a bit tired today, but everything is okay’. Don’t walk past these in the virtual team. Dig deeper with ‘how are you really feeling?’ Watch out for avoidance too. Employees who are feeling isolated can cleverly change the subject away from them onto something else, usually something to do with a work priority or ask about you and how you are. Ask how that person is feeling. Then ask them how they are ‘really’ feeling. You might get two different answers. Then ask that person to ask their own team the same questions. Ensure your entire leadership population is across well-being as a form of motivation for your remote workers.
2. Encourage your leadership community to be thoughtful and caring
Remind them to send out little and often reminders that their people matter to them. It might be a text, email or voice mail to one of their team or to someone in another team who has collaborated well with someone in your team. It might be that you send out some tips on positive mental health. It might be that they share some positive client feedback. It might just be a simple well done. On your regular calls with your leadership community do more than go through the numbers and the plans. Spend some time emphasising the importance of motivating a remote workforce.
3. Are you sensing frustration, anger or stress? Isolation can show up differently
Some of us go quiet, insular and sad. Others get angry, hostile and critical. Don’t assume your employees are all the same or like you. They may appear to be angry, resistant or downright frustrated but each of these may mask underlying feelings of isolation. Give your people a real voice, by encouraging them to speak up about how it feels to be working remotely. Assume nothing, just listen. Run some cross-team check-ins, pick up the phone and gauge the mood of some, or run surveys to find out how they are really feeling. Make sure you act on what you find though. There’s nothing worse than finding disengagement and doing nothing about it. Respond honestly with what you are hearing and what can be done about what you are hearing. Then make sure you deliver on your promises.
4. Try not to cancel one-to-one meetings
When one-to-one meetings are frequently being cancelled or cut short, it’s a sure sign that relationships are being prioritised behind doing more ‘urgent stuff’. Without regular touchpoints with managers, employees will inevitably feel more isolated. Regular cancelled one-to-one meetings are a red flag to watch out for, so ensure you and your leaders keep these going.
5. Build a sense of ‘we are one team’
Talk about shared goals, shared purpose and the vision for the business. Ensure your leaders do this for you. You may be the CEO, but the most important leader in your employee’s life is their team leader. Get the message to your leadership community that you expect them to regularly connect their teams to more than their keyboard, mouse and screen.
6. Finally, look at how your business is performing
Successful teams tend to be happy and motivated teams so own your own team’s performance and build a successful top team by following a science-based team building formulae for today’s digitalised world. The world is changing and we have to change with it. First get your own team ‘Set’ by ensuring everyone is on the same page, then get them ‘Safe’ so they can speak their truths and then move on to getting them ‘Strong’, so they can work autonomously with constructive rather than destructive tension. You’re never going to be able to build an organisation defined by a proper team of teams, which is energised, motivated and successful unless your own team is exactly that. Follow this sequence and you won’t go far wrong.
About the author: George Karseras is the founder of www.team-up.company, and author of the new book Build Better Teams: Creating Winning Teams in the Digital Age.