“Did you hear that Carolyn just adopted a Dandie Dinmont terrier rescue?” “How about the Titans third-round pick?” I sure do miss those impromptu watercooler conversations with my colleagues since the COVID-19 pandemic saw our entire workforce go remote.
Not only do I miss those interactions on a personal level—for example, welcoming back a co-worker from maternity leave and being able to enjoy her bouncing-baby-boy pics in person—but I also miss those face-to-face chats from a professional perspective.
We need to be mindful of this interpersonal information gap, as I like to call it, as it can rob us of the opportunity to be more creative, innovative and collaborative with our colleagues, and ultimately impede the evolution of new ideas and solutions.
In this post, I take a look at the steps Gresham Smith leadership is taking to help our employees bridge the interpersonal information gap while working from home as they guide our firm toward the next normal.
Communication Begets Motivation
For all the positives that come with working from home—like zero commuting, a custom environment and wearing comfortable clothes that would not fly, even in a “business-casual” setting (yeah, I’ll admit to it!)—being “remote” can present a number of threats to productivity, including a sense of isolation that can spur a lack of motivation.
As I mentioned in my previous blog post: Betwixt & Between: Getting Unstuck in “The Neutral Zone” During COVID-19, personal motivation can decline in what the late William Bridges, author and change management consultant, defined as The Neutral Zone—an in-between time in which we’ve bid farewell to the old but the new hasn’t yet been fully realized. Many of us who are working remotely due to the coronavirus pandemic find ourselves in this holding pattern.
Between 2010 and 2015, Harvard Business Review surveyed more than 20,000 workers around the world, analyzed more than 50 major companies, and conducted scores of experiments to determine what motivates people, including how much working from home plays into the question.
The survey revealed that working from home is likely to reduce motivation. The study also discovered, however, that employees are more motivated when given a choice about where to work—even if their choice is to work from home. Gresham Smith leadership is giving our people that choice, which is great! Still, factors that could potentially dampen motivation are present.
One way they’re striving to maintain an effective working-from-home environment that keeps employees motivated and connected is through ramped up communication—even if that means overcommunicating during this time of heightened anxiety when less isn’t always better than more.
We’ve Got Rhythm!
A large part of that enhanced communication is getting into the rhythm of regular virtual meetings throughout the week with our teams.
On Mondays, for instance, our training and development guru, Sara Rayman, conducts a video meeting with her team that’s focused on performance. This not only helps us gauge the impacts we’ve individually had during the week, but also provides the opportunity to discuss lessons learned. And there are always some of those!
Outside of the tactical focus, the Monday meetings prompt informal chit-chat among the team, taking the place of those ad hoc workplace conversations I’ve been grieving.
Sara also touches base with each member of our team midweek. In these more personal one-on-one’s, she’ll ask us questions like: “How is life outside of work?” and “How can we improve our team collaboration?”
I can’t overstate just how powerful these interactions can be, as they frequently lead to important discussions that probably wouldn’t occur in any other setting.
Toward the end of the week, our group meets once more to check in on our progress and to simply ask one another: “How are you doing?”
These virtual get-togethers not only help bring closure to the workweek, but have also introduced a touch of fun into our agenda, as there’s always some back-and-forth kidding among the team. And let’s face it, we humans are social creatures that need a little fun in order to cope with our current daily stressors, especially if we want to avoid getting stuck in The Neutral Zone.
I personally leave these meetings feeling more motivated and more connected to my colleagues, and that the interpersonal information gap has been closed—at least for the most part. Invariably, a topic will arise at any one of these sessions, and by the end of the discussion someone will wind up saying: “I’m really glad we got to talk about that!”
Along with these virtual touchpoints, Gresham Smith leadership is encouraging us to look for safe ways to connect with our teams in person if we’re comfortable in doing so. It may be lunch in the park or coffee on a patio. Either way, these face-to-face meetups allow us to have a little more connection with our colleagues even though we’re still officially working from home.
Feeding the Positive Motivators
All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy—or at least it zaps some of his motivation! As identified by Harvard Business Review, play, purpose and potential are the three positive motivators that often lead to increased work performance.
Play (excitement from curiosity or experimentation) is the motivation that boosts performance the most, yet it can decrease if people have a difficult time getting work done remotely. For example, we may miss the joy of problem-solving with a colleague in real time.
Purpose (the work matters) can also decline with a team’s decreased visibility into their impact on clients or co-workers.
Potential (we are improved by the work) can wane if people can’t gain access to colleagues who teach and develop them.
To combat a decline in our employees’ sense of play, purpose and potential, Gresham Smith leadership has kept all 2020 initiatives rolling despite the pandemic. One example is Studio-X—an internal incubator program that encourages innovative and creative ideas from project teams across our firm.
An investment in our people and our culture, this company-funded initiative is still proceeding, bolstering motivation and signaling that we haven’t lost sight of our purpose. And, while clients will benefit from our Studio-X innovations, our employees are also being challenged and energized by exploring topics ranging from smart cities to a carbon-neutral future in small teams.
Gresham Smith leadership is also working to instill a strong sense of play, purpose and potential in our employees by reinventing how we do all things. One of the ways we’re doing this is by reimagining the delivery of learning—a subject that is very personal to me.
Our training and development group has invested much time researching the best ways to effectively teach in a remote environment. And, we’ve come to discover that although the tactics might need to change because of the current climate, the goals do not. At the heart, training is about connecting with people and imparting learning—whether you’re face-to-face in a classroom or on the other end of a computer screen.
At the end of the day, professional development and personal growth are still very much a part of our daily culture. It’s just that we serve it up differently now. And we are figuring out how to do that best.
Ultimately, we are living in an ever-changing situation. Concerns about our health, the economy and important social debate capture our attention on a daily basis—even to the point of distraction.
I believe there is no time like the present for all of us to nurture the bonds we have with our fellow employees to help us stay motivated and connected and to effectively bridge that interpersonal information gap.