I am convinced that two years of primarily virtual work cannot replace human collaboration methods that have existed for 12,000 years [the onset of agricultural and human settlements]. That’s not to say we should return to the traditional, five-day, in-person work week—but we need to find ways for meaningful, relaxed, and purposeful face-to-face group experiences.
Recently, a senior executive leader bemoaned the loss of his team’s problem-solving energy and creativity during COVID. Given the prolific use of collaboration tools, such as Zoom and Teams, we don’t know exactly why that happened. People were still connecting. Then a recent experience hit me.
As a regular runner, I maintained my practice during the pandemic-imposed isolation through solo runs. I was clocking an unimpressive pace of 11-minute miles, and anything faster required relentless attention and effort. Recently, as we began to return to “normal,” I ran in a 5K race. With no extra effort or intent, I trotted along at a 9-minute mile pace (yes, still unimpressive, but not comparatively). There was something special about the collective energy of my fellow humans that moved me in ways that were real yet intangible and hard to understand.
I feel that applies to our work environment as well.
- That spurt of inspiration that comes after sharing an idea with a colleague in the break room.
- The visual reminder that we are a team when glancing at a surrounded conference table.
- The concert-like energy that comes from an enlivening in-person town hall meeting.
- We feed off each other’s energy, whether it be positive or negative.
How to respond: Assign the highest priority to facilitate large, interactive meetings that allow ample time for relaxed social time. If you are operating within a hybrid-work policy, consider a monthly or bi-monthly “collaboration week,” where everyone agrees to come to the office. Shift the mindset of employees who desire to work 100% remotely. Being part of a community requires balancing one’s individual needs with those of the organization.
I’ve heard more concerns about the decline of a “One Team” culture than any other. Some see an increase in silo behaviors—specifically seen in instances where people: 1) don’t keep affected parties in the loop regarding decisions that will impact them; 2) misread intentions behind emails or other perceived slights; 3) rely too much on electronic communications when a phone call or in-person conversation would be more effective; 4) experience misalignment of cross-functional goals.
Not to mention, many new staff members haven’t had the opportunity to assimilate into the team through in-person relationship building.
This is a natural consequence of too much remote work. It can be quickly resolved through an intentional response.
How to respond: Since every team or organization is unique, you must facilitate a “One Team” self-assessment to uncover your current reality. Pull the team together and ask each member to share responses to two questions:
- Regarding our team dynamic, what have we gained because of remote working? (It is important to realize we always grow new skills or capabilities from challenges or adversity.)
- Regarding our team dynamic, what quality have we lost? What do we need to reclaim?
Use the input to capture and prioritize 2-3 themes. Develop and focus on actions to improve the highest priority theme over the next 4-6 weeks. Then take on the next one. (I favor attending to one team action at a time and focusing on doing that one thing well.)
Not all these ideas are novel or exotic, but they do require that leaders and managers assign high priority attention to the 3-Rs of Reengage, Reconnect, and Reunify. It is easy to sacrifice focusing on “How are we doing?” when we are too caught up in “What are we doing?”
If you have any questions about how your team or organization is doing relative to the 3-Rs, please feel free to reach out for a quick consultative call or e-mail exchange.