With the shift of the last 12 months to increased remote and digital communication, the need for really understanding each other is vital.
All of us have had a different experience over the last year. There are so many factors that will have influenced how each person reacted to the challenges of isolation. Family, environment, security, financial and mental health are but a few of the areas contributing to our individual circumstances.
Email has no tone of voice and is used differently by each individual. Some use it as a belt and braces information-dense barrage. Others stick to monosyllabic digital grunts. And there are of course, those who rarely respond even when urgency is apparent.
Communicating by phone allows for greater interaction but still leaves context in doubt as we cannot fully understand the circumstances the other person is speaking from. And of course, no facial reactions.
Video comms were a novelty a year ago, but now represent an unwelcome necessity to many as they wander into the rambling meetings we used to suffer in an office. With multiple users on a call, voluntary contributions have reduced dramatically as the objective now seems to be to leave the video meeting as soon as possible. Personal contact is virtually impossible.
So how do we make sure we are doing what we need to do for our teams; that we are exercising empathy and adapting to the deeper understanding accordingly.
- Contact team members individually.
‘Is everyone ok at the outset of a Teams meeting?’ may seem like a check point but is in fact only a verbal nod to which there is no real need for any depth of response. The extroverts will chorus a positive and the introverts will go unheard. The other voices you will not here are those who are not ok. Nobody wants to be the negative voice in a team. If you really care about how your people are coping, you have to call individually.
- Have no agenda other than to find out how they are feeling.
In a one-to-one call, if the agenda is business related, conversation until that point can be seen as obligatory rather than choice. Make a point of having no reason to call other than to have genuine interest in your colleagues welfare. Listen to answers and ask follow-up questions. It matters.
- Make the calls consistently.
The one-off call, although likely appreciated, will after a length of time without follow-up, be seen as a token gesture. The mental health of your team members is not a single point of reference, but an ongoing conversation that has links between calls. That is not to say that calls must be diarised daily, but they cannot be a tick-box exercise completed once. None of us know how the rest of us are handling our degrees of isolation. We have to increase our understanding through a process over time.
How we try to really understand our team members now, will have huge influence on how they return to a physical environment. Take time and think about whether you are ticking boxes or showing genuine empathy.