“It happens every time. The same people talk and everyone else stays quiet.”
Does this sound like your zoom meetings? Have you noticed that the same people keep contributing to meetings while the rest fade into silent observers? Have you asked your team members if they feel frustrated?
A year into the pandemic, there is a lot of talk about the stress and isolation resulting from remote work, but there are more subtle problematic effects that may last long after the stay-at-home orders are lifted. If you act now, you may be able to reduce the impact.
Reduced Creativity and Innovation
Are you marginalizing some employees in meetings? If so, the team may be missing out on alternative perspectives that could inhibit creativity and innovation. In any meeting, face-to-face or virtual, it is important to make sure a variety of people are contributing to hear challenges to ideas, different angles that may not have been considered, and questions that may have not been asked. When people remain silent, the status quo becomes the norm.
Recommendation: Rotate who leads the meetings and add facilitation processes to make sure everyone participates and people’s ideas are not shot down prematurely. Consider asking for people’s input ahead of time to give less extroverted people a chance to think and be heard.
Better qualified people could be making the decisions and getting the work done. Often it is the leaders who speak but they are not necessarily the ones who are closest to the tasks or who best understand the issues. It may be that others should be talking and raising issues upward rather than listening to decisions made by their leaders and feeling powerless to influence them.
Recommendation: Examine whether decisions can be pushed lower to free up leaders to do other things. Create an agenda prior to the meeting that includes the names and/or roles of people that have relevant information, knowledge, experience, and/or proximity to the issues being discussed. Facilitate the meeting to make sure they are heard.
One of the biggest complaints about remote work is the number of meetings people have to go to and how they don’t have time to get their work done. This is often an issue in normal times, but the quantity of meetings during the pandemic has skyrocketed. It may be because people are dispersed and don’t have casual conversations anymore or because it’s so much easier to all pop onto a call than to travel to a conference room or because people are afraid of missing out on something when they are isolated at home. The result, however, is that, when so many people are sitting in a meeting and are not being engaged, they are likely wasting their time.
Recommendation: Talk to your team members about how they feel they can best use their time. Create communication channels that keep people informed, such as sharing meeting minutes, having a point of contact, or creating subgroups that report back to the larger group less frequently.
We are at a time where inclusivity is key to recruiting, engaging, and retaining high quality employees. When you don’t see people day-to-day in the office, you may fall victim of the “out of sight out of mind” adage. Whether intentionally or not, you may leave people out of meetings and decisions. If employees feel excluded from the conversations, they are likely to “check out” and eventually quit. That is the best-case scenario. If they feel they are being discriminated against, they may take legal action.
Recommendation: Examine how you and others determine who should be in meetings, who is on the agenda to speak, how the discussion is facilitated, as well as who has not spoken up, who is not at the meeting, and who you have not connected with one-on-one recently. Ask your team members for their observations and feelings about participation in conversations and decisions.
Remote work environments lend themselves to more task-oriented approaches. Have you noticed, for example, that people tend to show up for meetings at the precise start time and leave abruptly and there is no time to chat? Have you noticed less humor? Do you feel that you haven’t really spent time with the people you work with over the past year other than in meetings?
Recommendation: Dedicate part of each workweek to relationship building. You will likely find that a little time invested in relationships saves a lot of wasted time due to poor communication and lack of trust. It may seem strange at first to ask people to show up to social meetings during the workday and some people may reject your requests. Stay at it and tell them explicitly how much you value your relationship with them and how important it is for you to spend time supporting each other on a personal level.
There are many ways to address these negative effects of prolonged remote work. The important thing is to notice when they are happening and take action to reverse them.