Written by: LaVada English, MBA
Founder and Owner, LaVada English Consulting
AABLI Alumna, Class #10
One day you are in the office, happily functioning within your “society-defined” normal. You are scheduling meetings and lunch engagements, preparing to jet off to business conferences and longing for upcoming getaways and milestone celebrations with friends and families.
The next day, the state is jolted by a stay at home order. Your world begins to spin. Like many other organizations whose teams are primarily based in-office, yours must now scramble to set up technologies to keep it running effectively from remote locations.
Communication is one of the top challenges teams face on an average day, even during normal times. Just google work team communication: you’ll find pages of business expert advice on the subject in the form of books, blogs and magazine articles. Now take most of the workforce and suddenly distance colleagues and teams from each other. Can you visualize a runaway communication freight train? Not a pretty picture.
Let’s stop this train before it gains momentum.
FIRST, REMEMBER THE BASICS OF COMMUNICATION. They apply no matter where and how your team works. Body language, tone, and the words you use matter; they are a package deal. You can find scores of arguments disputing which member of this trio is most important, but there is no debate that misuse or misinterpretation in any of these areas can cause unnecessary delays in productivity and foster an overall dysfunctional team.
While it’s no substitute for face to face interaction, video conferencing is an effective alternative. Push back on team members who “don’t like video communication.” Provide the necessary technology and set up frequent meetings that include check-ins, collaboration round tables, team progress reporting, lunch gatherings and any other focused productive sessions. Zoom, Teams and GoToMeeting are among platforms that provide tips and tutorials to help you navigate the digital space. The idea is to see and hear each member of your team.
SECOND, BEWARE OF THE LURKING EMAIL TRAP. Relying on email as the primary form of communication is a common trap for teams. E-mail messaging has caused catastrophic miscommunication errors and national scandals. Newly minted work-from-home teams too often succumb to the email routine. After all, when you are miles away from your colleagues, it’s not hard to avoid team connection. Honestly, if we could mandate that email should be used as rarely as possible, it would vastly improve many workplace cultures. Remember that e-mail is not a primary means of doing business. It is a supporting tool that utilizes only one-third of the basic communication trio.
THIRD, CREATE A CLEAR AND DETAILED WORK-FROM-HOME PLAN. Work-from-home teams, just like in-office teams, need clearly structured communication plans. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 scare did not allow many groups to formulate a plan prior to the “transition” to a new way of working. We know what happens when there is no plan: people make their own assumptions and rules. If this is your team, don’t fret. Many organizations are navigating this time of uncertainty and pondering their “new normal.” However, leaving it this way will ultimately lead to that freight train we mentioned above. You don’t have to be the leader to suggest a structured plan. If you see the need, speak up. Present a few recommendations. Here are just a few to get you started:
- Make video meetings mandatory
- Establish when regular team meetings take place
- Be clear about who is expected to attend specific meetings
- Communicate behavioral expectations during meetings
- All employees should regularly meet one-on-one with leadership via video
- Require the entire team to learn to use virtual tools effectively
- Openly share all changes that affect the whole team
- Don’t fall into the email trap
- Establish core working hours when members are expected to be online or in the office
- Determine how you will track individual and team progress
- Determine how to communicate vacation or sick days
- Determine what days the team eats lunch together
- Establish how you will celebrate wins
A two-year study conducted by Stanford University showed that work-from-home teams can be more productive than in-office teams (see link below). The research also showed, however, that more than 50 per cent of the people participating in the study preferred to be in the office for at least a portion of their work week because they felt too much isolation at home. This is where your planning kicks in. If your team has a structured plan of communicating with proficiency and if you remain sensitive to the human need for genuine connection, you can avoid costly business errors and feelings of isolation. With the right plan, your team can get through this emergency with ease and confidence.
LaVada English is a Workplace Cultural Development expert and a proud graduate of AABLI, Class #10. She is the founder and owner of LaVada English Consulting. She and her associates hold the expertise needed to customize programs, policies, and practices that elevate organizations. With experience in Human Resource Management, Diversity Equity and Inclusion, Employment Law, Talent Acquisition, and Organizational Development, LaVada and her team are instrumental in impacting the future of many public and private agencies.
This blog is not written by aabli.org or The African American Board Leadership Institute. The author is solely responsible for the content.