How to Engage Your Virtual Team in Stressful Times

How to Engage Your Virtual Team in Stressful Times

Part 2 of a 3-part series

Leaders are stretched in unfamiliar ways as the coronavirus forces a “new” normal into our lives.

Thousands of employees suddenly working from home or anxiously wondering about their employment status require a different leadership style. Leaders must rise to this new normal.

The first tip from part 1 of this 3 article series, 3 Tips to Rally Your Team, is communication. Consistent communication can be the first thing to vanish as stress escalates. In my first article, I share several communication strategies to help rally and inform your team.

Social Isolation Kills Momentum

Consider that coming to work and into an office centers around social connection. Even in challenging work environments, people are connected.

Our new normal is “social distancing” with the COVID-29 pandemic. Imagine the employees, who in the matter of a few days, lost social connection with colleagues as companies started telework programs.

Employees who have never worked from home for days on end may start to feel the effects of social isolation. Social isolation affects mental and emotional health. 

Meaningful Engagement

Team member engagement is key to maintain a sense of belonging. Belonging lowers mental and emotional health impacts. Meaningful connections strengthen relationships, give team members opportunities to learn about each other, improves personal wellbeing, and builds trust. Positive, trusting relationships are the outgrowth of meaningful engagement.

Team Building Games

If you’ve used team building games when in-person, you can adapt for telework use. The goal is to give people an opportunity to learn something about each other. There are tons of remote work team building games online to use with your teams.

Team building activities spark meaningful engagement and team bonding (and fun). A couple of key ideas to keep in mind. Schedule team bonding activities weekly (maybe kick off meetings with a team building activity). Ask for ideas from your team (you don’t have to do all the heavy lifting). Set clear expectations for appropriate talk and activities (don’t need HR called!).

Communication

I wrote about communication in part 1 of this 3-part series. It is important to go beyond information sharing.

Meaningful engagement involves asking for team member ideas. If your goal is to strengthen team collaboration, you could divide people into solution-finding teams. Maybe there is a pressing problem your company needs solved. Start a team competition to find a great solution. Video meetings are a great way to allow people to connect. Teams can ideas or solutions during video meetings to increase interest, participation, and engagement.

Impact Opportunities

Remote work can leave people feeling limited to just delivering on their tasks. There are a few things leaders can do to expand and grow engagement. I call these impact opportunities. A cross-training program can help individual contributors share specific expertise with the entire team or select team members.

Another impact opportunity is for your various departments to do a short skit or fun presentation using just symbols or pictures to teach three important ideas for the department. We often believe everyone understands our respective departments, but they do not. This can be a great time to create meaningful engagement through department sharing. A note here: It can’t be dry or dull PowerPoint presentation. Push creativity.

You could consider rotating leadership for team meeting among staff members. The key idea is to identify ways that people can feel valued for their contributions outside their main role.

Inspired Engagement

Meaningful engagement increase productivity, a sense of value, and reduces social isolation. Leaders must deliberately create fun, engagement experiences for team members. It increases a confidence and sense of belonging.

When we work with clients to help build remote team engagement strategies, our clients discover real benefits in focusing on intentionally strengthening the relationships to remote teams.  Trust, genuine connections, strong relationships are important team dynamics that can be built with remote teams with a little creativity.

Jenny DuFresne, CEO, DuFresne Solutions Group, a training and leadership development firm helping leaders and teams grow people, profit, and impact. Jenny served for 10-years as a U.S. Marine. Learn more at www.SeekLeadership.com.

3 Tips to Rally Your Team in Stressful Times

3 Tips to Rally Your Team in Stressful Times

Part 1 of a 3-part series

We are living in uncharted waters. The coronavirus pandemic is radically altering our workplace and relationships. Leaders are overextended as we try to address a rapidly evolving situation.

Everyone is uncertain. The uncertainty cripples getting things done. Team members are faced with learning how to work virtually. While for some employees, balancing working at home and navigating a child’s education is adding to an already stressful situation.

In normal times, leaders struggle with the ambiguity of a change. In this unprecedented global pandemic, leaders are faced with rapidly evolving situations for which there is no roadmap.  Our “new normal” requires leaders to dig deep and create stability and calm for their teams.  

When the pandemic is controlled and our global economy recovers, it will be largely because leaders were able to rally their teams to navigate the uncharted waters.

Rally Your Team

In times of extreme stress, leaders must communicate, engage, and celebrate to create calm and clarity.  Below I explore communication tips to help your team thrive and excel.

Communicate

People default to self-preservation in times of high stress. People in leadership roles are no different. Leaders, overwhelmed with putting out so many fires, may overlook the critical importance of communication.

Consider this. Rumors are born from a lack of clear and consistent messaging. Either a leader controls the message, or the rumor mill will.

During a crisis, leaders must over communicate. Here are four daily actions to help support your teams.

  • Give daily informational briefings to keep employees up-to-date on the latest changes. Be transparent about what you know and what you do not know. Keep the briefings to 5 to 7-minutes. Focus on the most critical information and avoid speculation. Use a script to keep messaging consistent.

 

  • Over communicate critical information. Host a team Zoom call (or similar) so team members can see you and each other. Follow up with short, clear email recapping the information. Ask a question in the email to activate engagement and responsiveness.

 

  • Check-in and listen to individual team member’s concerns, needs, and identify if additional support is needed. It is important to ask questions about your team member’s well-being or deep concerns. Listen deeply. A check-in can be 5 – 7 minutes long.

 

  • Host virtual team connect times to increase social connection and build relationships. Working at home can be very lonely and isolating for team members who are doing this for the first time. This connect time can be structured around a simple question like “What’s up for you today?” Depending on your team’s size, dedicate 10-15 minutes for your team connect time once or twice a week.

I recommend leaders plan out a structure for each of these engagements. Consistent communication must planned and not left to chance. That might seem awkward, but the reality is that structure gives us freedom. Plan your scripts and put the communication activity, team and individual check-ins on a shared calendar. The more stressful a situation, the more likely we will forget to do what we promise.

In part 2 of this series, I will explore how to engage your team experiencing high stress.

Stay upbeat and positive in your communication and messages. Reassure the team that it has your support. Building confidence in the face of uncertainty is a game changer to keeping your team engaged.  

Jenny DuFresne, CEO, DuFresne Solutions Group, a training and leadership development firm helping leaders and teams grow people, profit, and impact. Jenny served for 10-years as a U.S. Marine. Learn more at www.SeekLeadership.com.

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