Tag Archives: relationship building

The Surprising Effects of Long-Term Remote Work

“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.

Decreased Efficiency

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. 

Lower Productivity

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.

Exclusive Culture

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.

Frayed Relationships

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.

The key to knowing when to be right or let it go

Disagree Or Agree Directions On A SignpostWhat’s negative one squared (-12)?  If you learned math in school before 2009, you probably said “1.”  If you learned math once the Common Core was implemented, you would say the answer is “-1.”  A friend of mine spent an entire 4-day weekend visit with his family arguing about the answer to this problem, trying to prove he was right.  When he returned and I asked him how his trip was, he continued his tirade on me.  Even after I agreed with him, he persisted to prove that he was right to the point where I made up an excuse to leave because I was tired of hearing about it.

Do you ever find yourself so caught up in proving that you’re right that you end up alienating everyone around you?  I hear this a lot when I’m coaching technical people.  Of course, they don’t use those words.  They say things like, “people don’t understand my enthusiasm” or “I don’t understand why people are so sensitive” or “some of the people on my team are not that smart.”  Those who are more forgiving to the people around them say something like, “I just can’t help myself” or “I have to be right; I mean, it’s so important to be right in your work, isn’t it?”

Let’s stop right there because that brings up a very important question.  When is it essential to be right and when is it better to let it go?  We all know that with family or with a significant other, we have to let it go sometimes to keep peace in the relationship.  The same holds true at work.  Yet, sometimes it’s harder to do it there.  Why is that?

Usually we argue for our position at work because we feel we’re hired for our knowledge or expertise and we need to prove that we’re right to prove our value to the team.  But sometimes, the relationship is more important.  In fact, quite often, that’s true.  Research shows better work relationships lead to greater employee engagement, organizational loyalty, job satisfaction, productivity, and prosocial behavior.  Strong relationships also help people get things done faster, more efficiently, and more collaboratively.

You can still be right, but do it in a diplomatic fashion, and don’t keep telling people you’re right.  It’s also okay to disagree sometimes.  There are many ways to disagree without damaging a relationship.  You can say “I can see how you’d see things differently from your perspective” or “I don’t think we’re going to come to an agreement right now so let’s agree to disagree” or “you have some really good points and I’d like for us both to give this some more thought before making a decision.”

happy school girl on math classesSometimes there is no right answer, like with the Common Core math example.  We all learned in school that (-1) x (-1) = +1.  The difference is, that with Common Core math, they follow a different order of operations than people did previously.  Whereas older people were taught to keep the negative number intact and break up (-12) into (-1) x (-1), younger people were taught to break up “-1” into (-1) x (1).  They use the PEMDAS order of operations, which is parentheses-exponents-multiplication-division-addition-subtraction and, since exponents come before multiplication, the problem becomes 12 x (-1) which equals “-1.” So that’s how you get the difference and the answer is there are two correct answers.

For most technical people, it’s hard to believe there can be two opposing correct answers to a math problem.  We, engineers, for example, are used to thinking in binary, in black and white, right and wrong.  But there are two right answers out there and we have to find a way to mutually respect that we can solve things in different ways and it still works.  And there’s no sense in arguing about it.

 

Introverts: 4 Tips to Build Relationships at Work

business relationshipGuest Post by Jennifer Kahnweiler

In a discussion I once had on HuffPost Live, we spoke about how preparation helps when introverts attempt to make friends. It occurred to me that building relationships at work also relates to preparation. In fact, the quiet influencers who have the most fluid and comfortable conversations consciously prepare for these interactions.

Here are some examples of how they prepare to build relationships at work.

1)  Set up space and times to talk. Consider how your workspace enhances or discourages conversations. If you work in a noisy or busy space take a walk with a colleague or move to a private area.  Scope these places out ahead of time. Schedule phone calls or video conferencing so that you are both focused.

2) Make time for face time. Be intentional about it. John Maeda, the head of the Rhode Island School of Design learned to get off the computer and connect with people. He found that scheduling ‘walking around’ time was useful.

3) Allow for serendipity. Companies are encouraging workplace happenstance that leads to innovation and creative ideas.  For instance, the late Apple CEO Steve Jobs built central bathrooms at Pixar to foster connections between different people. Google’s Vice-President, David Radcliffe, designed their 2015 headquarters in a way to encourage ‘casual collisions of the work force.’  As a result, the new design will place employees no further than a 2 1/2 minute walk from each other. Why not eat lunch with some new people once in while or take your breaks in a different part of the building?

4) Prepare questions ahead of time. At gatherings you can ask, “What brought you to this meeting?” or, “What have you been working on lately?”  Get the ball rolling by preparing some talking points about your own interests and background. Selah Abrams, a quiet influencer says, “you can read people like a good book and if you engage in a conversation you can learn even more.”

So with a little prep you will be more confident AND strengthen your workplace relationships.

Originally published 8/10/2013 on JenniferKahnweiler.org.

Jennifer B. Kahnweiler, Ph.D., Certified Speaking Professional, is a bestselling author and global keynote speaker known as the “champion for introverts.” In addition to her latest book, The Genius of Opposites, she has written two bestselling books about introverts (Quiet Influence and The Introverted Leader), which have been translated into 14 languages.