Send in your questions around leadership, motivation, accountability, manager connection, or working on a remote team to get expert advice from Vivo Team’s EVP of People Analytics & Talent Activation, Dr. Jim Sellner, PhD. DipC. (*names have been changed)
Hi Dr. Jim, What are some more ways to build culture when working remotely besides team meetings? -Sandy*
My definition of culture is the series of behaviors that are going on within a team or within a company. Now, we have the definition of a culture, but then we have the reality in terms of the actual behaviors.
One of the things I would do is ask people to send each other, maybe to a central place everyone can access: In one sentence please describe our culture. Another thing is to ask people every once in a while, during an online meeting or in a chat, to shoot out to the rest of the team members a win they’ve had in the last week. Or what’s a challenge they are having that they would like help with.
It’s the interactions of people sharing and connecting with each other that’s really important.
– Dr. Jim
Dear Dr. Jim, What are some ways I can grow and develop my team virtually? – Anil
Think about what you were doing before working remotely to grow your team. Go through those elements and see what you can apply virtually.
I would recommend people meet with one another in a less than business-like way maybe once or twice a week to do a check in. At Vivo Team, we call that a D.O.S.E. (a Direct, Ongoing, Swift, Encounter) in which people do a quick check in about what their priorities current are, what problems or stuck points they’re and the impact on the team, as well as a ‘win’ they’ve had in the last seven or ten days and the impact on the team. That helps people stay connected.
I would also encourage people to check in with each other on a casual basis, with those colleagues that they feel close to and actually did connect with when they were in the office – that’s another way. One of the other things to do is to get together once a week or every two weeks and have a presentation on some new thing that you or somebody in the team has recently learned. These ways of staying connected can be really helpful.
There are lots of webinars, for example Vivo Team puts out lots of what we call “Swag Bags” for people to check-in. Watch one of those (videos), they’re only one or two minutes and then stay together after that to have a conversation about what you learned, how you might apply it, etc. It’s all with the intention of staying connected with one another, because what we’re noticing, working with a multitude of teams, is that people generally don’t tend to do the more casual connecting like they did in the office. You can do that virtually, it just takes a little bit more discipline to do on a regular basis.
Dear Dr. Jim, We’ve all heard of Zoom fatigue, but what else should I be aware of or watch out for? – Marie-Hélène
Hi Marie-Hélène, During this time of Zoom meetings that seem to be back to back, by the end of the day you’re like a marathon runner who’s run out of gas – you’re struggling and trying to keep your thoughts together.
So that’s one thing: too many meetings too close together. Another thing is going to meetings you shouldn’t be in. You should also be aware of taking time off during the day. Go for a walk. Even 15 minutes can make a big difference.
Now, I want to explain something that goes on when you start getting Zoom fatigue, and this research is from Dr. Travis Bradberry (see diagram in video):
Boredom/Depression: When we’re down here, we’re kind of bored, depressed, and wondering “What am I doing?” We hear this from little kids: “I’m bored, Mom,” because there’s not much going on and there’s a low stress level.
Increased Attention/Interest: What happens as you start performing more and there’s a little bit more stress, you have increased attention and interest, and that’s why it’s really important to be doing things that are of interest to you because you can handle a fair bit of stress (which is part of life) and do well in terms of what you need to do at a certain level.
Optimal Performance: Then you get up to this optimal performance level, and that’s where we’re at our best. It depends on:
Organizational impact (e.g., too many demands, not enough demands, unclear demands, etc.)
Strong Anxiety: What begins to happen when our stress levels get higher, but the demands are still there, people start feeling strong anxiety and then performance starts going down.
Complete Meltdown: After which you can get to an awful place of complete meltdown, where you just can’t function anymore.
One of the cues to look out for when you’re working is whether you can still have clear thoughts and move through your priorities that you have set. If you find yourself staring at the screen, unable to maintain concentration, you’re getting into anxiety area, and that, on a long term basis is very self-destructive to your health.
My new manager is insisting we use our video cameras during virtual meetings. Is this really necessary? My previous manager was fine with us having them off. – Holly*
Would you go to a face-to-face meeting with a bag over your head? No you wouldn’t.
That’s what it’s like to be in a meeting where people are not on video. You can’t see them. Most people are probably multitasking and not fully paying attention, so it just kind of screws up the whole thing.
Now, I realize there can be connection problems and things like that, and that’s fine, but everybody should be up on video – ready and present, so you can SEE one another, and interact with one another, like you’re together, almost face-to-face. This helps reduce people not paying attention and multitasking.
So when you’re in meetings, whether it be Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Workplace, etc., come on video, look at one another, and be interactive and pay attention. Also look at the camera – that’s really important, too.
Your meetings will become much more interesting and you’ll be able to see each other. Get over your shyness – it’s fun! Once you get over it, you’ll find it much easier. It’s just a matter of moving into a different way of doing things. Hopefully this is helpful.
Dr. Jim, My company is implementing a coaching program for all managers. I’m skeptical. Will this be a waste of my time? – Hayden*
It could be. Some items to consider:
Have managers been trained how to coach people in addition to their many other responsibilities?
Are managers rewarded for coaching people?
And finally, and perhaps most importantly, is there a way to measure whether the coaching is successful or not?
At Vivo Team, we have a method that we use to identify the five requirements of a good coaching program:
Evidence – Behaviors. Is there evidence of the behaviors that are going on right now that you would like improved? This allows you to take a look at what the task-specific behaviors are that you’re hoping to see – behaviors that will indicate improvement.
Relevance – Deal/Goal. Is what’s being talked about in the coaching session (which should be no longer than 20 minutes) relevant to that person and the goal that they are working on, in terms of their everyday roles and responsibilities, that lead to the results of the team and the strategy of the organization as a whole.
Consequence. Measurement comes into play here. For example: You were here. I see the progress here. Now it looks a lot better here. There should also be some kind of consequence in terms of whether there is an agreement about required improvement, i.e., what is the consequence if the person doesn’t move forward? A consequence – not a punishment. For example, if an employee wants to move into a supervisory role, then you might say to them: “I notice you’re doing this thing and I think that might interfere with your effectiveness as a supervisor. Your probability of moving into a supervisory position will be greater if you do these things instead,” and you list the kind of things you’d like to see, your expectations of what you’re looking for.
Agreed on Action. At the end of every coaching session there should be an agreed on action with a timeline tied to it. This step requires the person who’s being coached to send their notes (that they’ve taken throughout the coaching session) to the manager, so the manager can get an idea of how well the content was understood, and the person who’s being coached gets a clearer idea because they’ve written it down.
Follow-Up. This is where you look back, you go over what’s working well, what needs improvement, etc. This is very important in terms of results.
Dr. Jim, What are some best practices for coaching and mentoring my team remotely? – Cheryl*
Some basic things to start with. One: make sure you have good connection. Two: make sure people are on video–with cameras on, really important–so you can have a life-like conversation.
Make sure that everybody understands what you’re coaching about. What would they like to get out of the session? What would you like to get out of it?
Next, keep it short. I like my coaching/mentoring sessions to be no more than 20 minutes. Everything virtual these days is fast-paced, I find people have difficulty if you go over the 20 minute mark. It gets too long and there’s too much information.
I also ask that the person I am coaching writes the notes, and at the end they send them to me: what we talked about, what the agreements are, and by when. That’s a really important thing.
A structure for coaching I sometimes use, before the session we each write down: What’s working well? What needs improvement? If I’m the mentor/coach, what can I do that will help you become better at what you do? Finally, what you might do as the coachee to improve yourself.
Just imagine it’s like you’re face-to-face, that’s a good mindset to come into it with.
Dear Dr. Jim, Do you have any tips for team goal setting for the New Year? – Chris*
If I was in your shoes, and I am, the number one thing that I would make clear with my team members is: what are our norms and our rules of engagement? How are we going to conduct ourselves? The things we agree on need to be unanimous because they are the rules that we’re all going to play by. Any kind of game that we play, the game of life, football, chess, whatever it is, there are rules. If you don’t follow the rules, things are going to go awry.
The second thing, I tend to like to set 90-day goals around the overarching expectations, big goals, or purpose for the team as a whole. By setting 90-day goals you can review them on an ongoing basis. If you set a goal for a whole year, it’s a really difficult thing to try to do, it’s too long a time.
So go for 90 days. At the end of 90 days, review the following: What went well? What do we need to improve on? What might we be missing? What is it that I need to do more of to help my team fulfill the goals? What would I like more of from the team? You can do this through each month up to the 90 days. Take a look at it, re-jig it depending on what’s going on, things that are happening, etc.
One of the other things to do is as a team—and this is really on the leader—if you’ve got high priority things that you need to do over the next let’s say 90 days, 120 days, 180 days, it is your responsibility to help your team stay focused on those goals and protect them from incursions from outside that may get them off track. Make sure everybody is sticking to goals. Check-in once a month, hang in there, and stay focussed.
Really important: norms and rules of engagement. Discipline. Discipline gives you freedom. That’s one of the absolute aspects of life. The more disciplined one is, the more freedom you’re going to experience. Tough to do. Hang in there, take care.
Dear Dr. Jim, Working from home can get monotonous. How can I spice it up for the New Year? – Sam*
I’ve been working remotely for about 20 years, and it’s certainly different now than it was a year ago before COVID hit. So, there’s that to consider.
First of all, find your comfort level. Set up your area so it’s as comfortable as you can make it for yourself.
The next thing is focus on priority setting, not time management. Every day or week, whichever is your preference, decide what the first item on your list is that you want to get done, what’s the second, the third, and try to work through those items throughout the day or week.
Something else that I do every day, all day, is I make sure to take breaks at least every 30 or 40 minutes. I go somewhere, I get away from my computer, I do something else. I may call or Zoom with a friend or colleague to have some interactions with people, to just have a chat.
Make sure that you feed yourself well. Stay away from the junk food, it’s not a good thing — you start to feel crappy after a while. Also, every day I try to do some kind of exercise. I get out of the office, go outside, walk around safely (i.e., social distancing), to bring in some variety.
Another thing is to make sure that you set up times when you’re going to work. And, whenever you stop, make sure you turn off your computer, the displays, the whole thing to help disciplining yourself to stay away from the computer. Because what we’re finding with people who are working remotely is that once you start getting bored you go back to your computer and start doing more work.
Finally, make sure you get enough sleep. It’s really important in terms of making sure you keep your energy up.
These are some of the things I do on a regular basis and it seems to be working.
Dear Dr. Jim,
My manager has been giving more regular feedback. I know she’s trying to be helpful and constructive. Why am I having such a tough time hearing it and feeling insecure?
That’s a big question! But let me take a shot at it. In what we call The Communication Loop, there is the sender of the information, or the feedback. You might be getting a sense of, “it’s not so much what they are saying, but how they are saying it.”
You may have a sense that they are being punishing or they do it at a time when you are busy, without asking if you have time to talk now. Maybe the sender of the message is inaccurate or is not being clear.
Another thing, I see this often with managers, IS they actually talk too much. When somebody is sending a message about feedback it should be very succinct: “I notice that have been 3 days late on your financial report the last 2 months.” It is very short, and it describes a behavior and outcome. Then, they should be quiet and wait for you to respond.
Now, let’s discuss the receiver side. You may be busy and you feel like you are being interrupted. Maybe you don’t respect this manager so you have difficulties taking in what they have to say. You may get defensive because you think you’ve been doing a good job, and if that’s the case the two of you should have what we call a feedforward conversation to talk together about the issues and start moving toward finding better ways of doing things.
Another issue there could be is around some kind of expectation that originally was not set very clearly. If that’s the case it’s up to you to talk to you manager to get clear on the expectations.
It could even be that personally you often feel defensive and triggered. That’s an opportunity for you to work on your emotional intelligence and be more self-aware of your triggers.
But, I would guess that it is probably a two-way street, so it’s the both of you that need to work on this. It’s up to you, if you’re having a difficulty to have a conversation with your manager, assuming you have a pretty good relationship with them and are willing to experience your courage and look over the edge of fear to clear this up. Hope this helps.
– Dr. Jim