Since March 2020, I have had hundreds of managers ask me the same question, "How can I nurture a genuine connection with my team in a virtual environment?" Even if some people are physically coming to work, in many cases entire teams are not. Or at least they aren’t all in the same space, at the same time, like during pre-Covid times.
My answer: You nurture a connection with a lot of intentional choices. Intention is about where you put your attention. Think about it, people are logging on from their homes. In the background, (your background and their immediate surroundings) are pets, children, contractors, laundry to be folded, plants to be watered, leftovers in the fridge. The distractions are endless. Nurturing a cohesive and engaged team, which is absolutely the role of managers, is more challenging than ever.
Your intentional practice begins with paying attention to how you are showing up. Are you intentionally setting aside other work, like open documents or email, while on a zoom meeting with your team? Are you, even in virtual meetings, focused on your nonverbal communication, paying attention to your eye contact or facial expressions? Do you ask people their opinions before sharing your own and invite people who haven’t spoken up to share their ideas? All of these are simple but incredibly important to do – consistently and actively – particularly in virtual environments.
I also encourage you to incorporate the uncomplicated practice of validating perspectives into your intentional practice as a way to really maximize your positive impact. As a manager or colleague, you validate the perspectives of your colleagues because you want to convey a genuine interest in them, assure them that you are understanding their ideas or needs, and accurately capture important nuances in communication.
The workplace of today is still a bit messy and unsettled in many places. Most people I talk to aren’t sure if they will ever be together full-time with their teams again. Regardless of what the future state will be, there are some solid and inclusive practices that can be put into place now. Further, these practices, if shared amongst the team, can become powerful group norms that help everyone gain clarity on the behaviors they can demonstrate to convey their care as well as encourage the kind of engagement we all seek.
Remember – intention, attention, and consistent practice!
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