4 Strategies to Build Connection in a Virtual World
As the impacts of the Covid-19 crisis require employees to continue to work from home in record-breaking numbers, Core Leaders are being called upon to consistently take action to cultivate feelings of connection to employees. For many employees, no longer going to an office means that on some days they are dealing with the added challenge of feelings of isolation, loneliness, a lack of belonging, and missing the social interaction they have appreciated with colleagues in the workplace – elevating the importance of meaningful interactions with their teams and Leaders.
Here are 4 best practices we have gathered from coaching hundreds of Core Leaders across industries over these few last months:
- Be Present, Vulnerable and Real
Core Leaders set the tone for how safe it is for employees to talk about what is going on for them, and potentially ask for help. Removing distractions, making sure not to multi-task when talking with employees, and modeling appropriate levels of self-disclosure signals to employees that their Core Leaders are available for a real interaction. When employees share their challenges, employees experience that their Leaders care about them, and creative problem-solving often becomes possible.
- Create Forums for Casual Contact
In a distributed work place, the opportunity for casual contact between meetings, after a weekend, and throughout the day must be created or they likely won’t occur. Beyond group meetings and social hours that are often structured and not always appealing to the introverts on your team, letting employees know that you are available to take a break and have lunch or a coffee with them, publishing office hours and inviting employees to drop-in, and setting up open forums for idea sharing and brainstorming can foster the type of interaction so many employees have been missing.
- Schedule Time for Individual Check–ins and Encouraging Check-ins Between Team Members
Leaders set the tone for what gets discussed and prioritized.
Be sure to reserve time during one-on-ones to ask questions to find out how employees are handling their work from home situation, how their home-life is impacting their ability to do high-quality work and meet deadlines, and anything else they want to put on your radar.
Sometimes employees just want to know that their Leader is aware of what they are dealing with, and at other times discussing solutions that would support them in being successful, makes all the difference in the employee’s level of stress and engagement.
A bonus? Encourage peer connection, as that also makes a big difference when teams are no longer working in the same office. Encouraging team members to reach out to each other to offer both friendly and practical support helps build the network of connection and trust across your team.
- Check Assumptions, Be Curious, & Read the Non-Verbal Cues
Communication cues that we rely on when interacting face-to-face can get lost when all communication is happening through virtual channels. When possible, encourage employees to turn on their cameras, and then pay attention to non-verbal cues such as vocal tone, facial expressions, and overall affect. And if you sense that there is something that is not being said, or an employee is feeling discouraged or having a challenging time, be sure to reach out and make the time to check your assumptions and see what is actually going on for your team members.
Experienced Leaders understand that helping employees feel connected is linked to employee engagement, and levels of employee happiness and well-being. Ask yourself how in a virtual world, your teams can prioritize creating intentional connection.