How to start an engaging Zoom meeting

Capturing the attention of an audience has been the work of storytellers, writers, and orators forever and a day. Narrative hooks can range from dramatic to hilarious stories, startling stats or relatable secrets.

Songwriters and musicians use music hooks memorable lyrics or melodies to catch the ear of the listener. 

Why? If you can pique the interest of your audience and bring them together, you’ll have a better shot at keeping their attention with the rest of what you have to say. Not only that, but they’ll feel connected to you and to each other.

When you have a Zoom meeting with your team, how you start things off matters — especially right now, amid the uncertainty and stress of the COVID-19 crisis.

We’ve already covered the basics for setting up an online meeting that keeps your team engaged. So, how do you actually kick-off the meeting in a way that gets everyone involved?

Start with a question for everyone to answer. Not just a rhetorical, “How’s everyone doing?” but a truly interesting question that everyone can answer. 

(Pro tip: If it’s a huge meeting, skip the roundtable and ask people to give their answers in the chatbox so everyone can quickly scan the responses.)

It sounds simple, but having the right question to start a meeting:

  1. Encourages participation: Getting people to say something at the start of the meeting inherently makes them more comfortable to speak up and engage later in the meeting.
  2. Guides conversation but allows for creative and varied answers: A good open-ended question encourages folks to share about a common theme. When you’re leading a team during these uncertain times, it helps to have direction and focus. The right type of question will work for all personalities, taking the pressure off the quiet folks, exciting the creative thinkers, and not annoying the logical members on your team.
  3. Builds relationships on your team: An open-ended question allows people to share their unique thoughts and experiences, which helps with team bonding as people get to know each other better. Your team members may realize they think a lot like Sam in accounting, they’re interested in what Fadi in marketing has to say and they have a lot in common with Zoë in sales. In times of distress or difficulty, it also allows people to share a bit about themselves their bigger lives outside of just their work life.
  4. Builds trust among team members: Sharing things about ourselves that aren’t necessarily work related or that won’t come up in most work conversations helps us to get to know each other and that builds trust. Best of all? Building trust builds stronger teams.

At Padraig, we’ve developed a card deck, called “Team Talk, Team Trust” that helps get teams sharing about interesting and thought-provoking topics. The deck has 150 questions that are designed to start conversations that develop trust among team members.

We’ve recently developed a screen-sized version of the cards for virtual meetings and whiteboards:

engaging zoom meeting

engaging zoom meeting

engaging zoom meeting

 

We’ve heard from so many of you who are trying to figure out how to make this new reality of working remotely and managing others remotely (all while juggling family and personal life) and so we’re offering you this complimentary download of 10 questions from the Padraig “Team Talk, Team Trust” card deck. CLICK HERE and we’ll send you the 10 cards as screen-sized PDFs, and as PowerPoint slides and Keynote Slides so you can use whichever version works best to post on your video meeting software.

If you’d like to buy the full set of cards, we’ve also put them on sale and we’ve added a bonus we’ll email you the full set of all 150 cards in PDF format, as well. You can order them here.

And again, thank you to everyone who has reached out to me to let me know how much you’ve appreciated the blog topics to help support leaders during this COVID-19 crisis. If there is a topic you’d like us to address, please let me know.

Coach’s Questions: 

What successes have you had with online meetings? What are your top challenges? Which question would you like to try to launch your next meeting?

8 tips for encouraging team members to speak up at work

If you’ve ever worked in a fractious or toxic work environment, you know how difficult it can be to speak up at work. 

Hushed and guarded conversations. Uncertainty about who to trust. Dread about retribution for those who dare to raise concerns. Worrying about the future of your career. In the worst cases, a pervasive sense of fear and not even daring to ask for permission to speak freely.

We’ve seen exactly this scenario emerge in recent years with Google, which as it grew from a handful of like-minded techies to 10,000 employees to upwards of 100,000 seemed to forget about its own “don’t be evil” motto as leaders went after more and more business at any cost.

speak up at work

The company that once had incredibly high ratings for employee satisfaction and employee engagement ended up facing high-profile news reports when staff and contractors around the globe walked off the job on November 1, 2018, to protest Google’s corporate culture.

Worldwide, news agencies reported how Google staffers and contractors shared complaints about the way contract workers were treated, sexism, sexual harassment (including paying male executives millions in exit packages – without addressing inappropriate behavior), racism, unethical behavior and engaging in business practices that put profits ahead of human rights.

In January of this year, Ross LaJeunesse wrote an article for Medium that detailed why he left his role as Google’s Head of International Relations. His article is one of the most personal accounts validating the concerns of those Googlers who walked off the job.

In 2010, LaJeunesse was instrumental in Google’s courageous and ethical decision not to censor search results in China. But by 2017, the company was involved in creating a new search engine for China named “Dragonfly” that would facilitate censorship.

The company that had once held firm to upholding human rights was also very interested in doing Cloud business with the government of Saudi Arabia — known for its terrible track record on human rights — and the Cloud executives didn’t want LaJeunesse’s Human Rights team involved in any of it. There were also ethically questionable Artificial Intelligence projects being brokered in China and for US military purposes.

LaJeunesse describes how Google’s workplace culture deteriorated to the point that senior staff were abusive toward young women team members and frequently blatantly racist, homophobic and sexist. 

As a Google manager who was part of their elite executive pool, LaJeunesse says he repeatedly raised his concerns with both Human Resources and senior executives. Over and over, nothing was investigated. 

One day, a senior HR director copied LaJeunesse on an email by accident in which the director was asking someone else to “do some digging” on LaJeunesse because he was bringing up so many issues (rather than asking someone to look into the problems being raised!).

How does a company that prided itself on upholding human rights and offering a safe and respectful workplace end up in such a different place in such a short time?

What helps other companies stay true to a mission without compromising ethics?

How do you create (and sustain!) a company culture that is inclusive and respectful of diversity?

8 strategies to encourage your team to speak up

Here are some strategies leaders can use to build a strong culture that prevents these kinds of problems:

  • Look inward and check your biases. If you tend to think, “Oh, this person is always raising problems and they’re so negative” is it possible that while that may be true, they might be right on this one?
  • Make an effort to be objective. Step back from the situation and consider whether you are making assumptions (pro tip: try our Ladder of Assumptions tool). You might be surprised to realize that you’re reading into things or there is some other misunderstanding.
  • Engage with the staff who are raising concerns. In addition to really listening to what they have to say about the problems they’re bringing to you, ask for their insight into reasonable solutions.
  • Don’t add to the problem. Pointing fingers, being negative or talking badly about people who speaking up at work about something that troubles them will not improve anything — but it will probably shut down any discussion (on this concern and on future ones). If you have to vent, find someone you can really trust (like a mentor or coach) to help you turn the venting into constructive actions or journal about your feelings. 
  • Presume that people speaking up at work have good intentions. It’s easy to start with a different presumption. Instead, try to see things from their perspective. What is important to them in this situation? Why is it important to them? Be curious and ask questions.
  • Gather facts. There are always different sides to every story (and the truth, if there is one truth, may lie somewhere in the middle).
  • Ask for input from others. Be careful that you’re not just soliciting input from those you know will agree with you — even if you’re wrong!
  • Don’t shoot the messenger. You might learn some disheartening facts, but you’re gathering information. You might sometimes have to deal with difficult employees who are creating dissent or stirring up trouble, but generally being receptive to hearing the good and the bad is very important if you want people to continue to be honest with you. 

Watch for our next blog on June 2, when we continue to explore how to eliminate fears of speaking up at work by reviewing some strategies that foster a culture of open feedback. 

Coach’s Questions:

Have you ever hesitated to share your opinion about something for fear of retribution? Do you think your team members ever fear speaking up at work? What can you do to help eliminate fears and encourage people to speak frankly?

Balance? What about work-life synergy?

I’ve been doing some reading about work-life balance (and how it rarely exists). 

Many of us have spent years — maybe even decades — trying to find ways of achieving work-life balance. A primary focus is often, reducing the demands from our work time to allow more “life” time. And, indeed, research shows that idea is important to retain talent and most companies have developed policies to help people carve out some balance.

It’s become even more difficult to achieve in the last decade with improved technology making it hard for people to really unplug from work at the end of the day — let alone weekends and holidays. It’s hard to leave work when it follows you on your phone everywhere you go.

Work-life synergy

I’ve noticed a shift toward the idea of work-life synergy, which is a refreshing new way of trying to find some “balance.” The idea behind this is that each side of our life supports the other. The difference is nuanced, but it’s interesting:

Work-life balance implies there are two sides competing, like weights on opposite sides of a scale, and by compartmentalizing you can focus fully on one and then the other.

Work-life synergy focuses on finding ways work and personal life can interact and cooperate, creating harmony out of their combined existence. (Life includes your family, friends, health, community, hobbies, etcetera.)

With work-life synergy, we work to align everything with our goals and unique needs. It’s a way of figuring out what you’re passionate about not only at work, but in all facets of your life — at home, in your hobbies and in your volunteer time — and using things you learn or practice in one area to support or strengthen another. At times, it requires more flexibility and at times, increased commitment. 

It’s an interesting endeavor in today’s work climate, when the ability to stay connected (and sometimes the pressure to be constantly available) can result in our work lives eclipsing everything else about us.

You may be surprised when you start looking at your life this way how many elements can work in harmony. Instead of feeling stretched and pulled in all directions, you may start to feel more congruity. 

A tech leader we know used to struggle to find time to practice yoga during her busy work weeks. If she tried to fit in classes after work, she felt she lost quality time with her children and partner. 

She decided to make time during her workday for yoga, and found to her surprise that some of her team members wanted to join in. She had become a certified yoga instructor back in her university days and found great joy in leading classes in a break room. Not only was she enjoying her return to the yoga mat, she saw how the classes were reducing stress and encouraging a different relationship among her team members.

Other leaders have shared how they felt great satisfaction in sharing their time and talent for finance with non-profit charities that were aligned with their own beliefs. 

One finance manager not only volunteered as a treasurer for a non-profit organization, but started participating in fundraisers for a cancer charity. As a cancer survivor, he enjoys giving back and also celebrated his return to health by cycling 200 kilometers for the epic two-day Ride to Conquer Cancer. Plus, his improved fitness routine has helped him manage stress at work and feel more focused.

Work-life balance to work-life synergy

Here are some ideas to help you shift from thinking about work-life balance to work-life synergy: 

Accept the complexity. You can embrace different aspects of your identity and you don’t have to pick one over the other. Make a list of things you care about and then ask yourself: Why are these things important to me? 

Find common ground. Look at your list and then think about connections. Are there aspects of some things you do or enjoy that complement others? Does being better in one area help you in another? What skills can you take from one area of your life to another? Are there ways you can make time for what matters that you hadn’t considered previously?

Recognize it’s more than just work and personal life. Move away from either/or thinking that either you’re at work or you’re home — or either you’re working or you’re relaxing. Synergy is about finding harmony, not segmenting aspects of your life. Are you able to enjoy the moments where you are? Are you giving your full attention to the activity at hand (whether that’s talking with a client, or talking with your kids, calculating spreadsheets or going to the movies with your spouse)?

As leaders, we can also help folks on our team move toward work-life synergy. Finding this sweet spot for work and life helps with mental wellness, retention, recruiting high fliers and job satisfaction. All of this then feeds into other benefits, like higher productivity, creativity, and loyalty.

Here are some ways to encourage a shift in culture to work-life synergy so that everyone on your team can walk the talk:

Offer practical support. Researchers find that employees appreciate a variety of supports to facilitate their work-life integration. It’s not just being able to telecommute at times (that’s expected in today’s job market!), but also other things like on-site daycare, gym subsidies or classes at work, perhaps a shower and changing room, healthy snacks, casual dress and flextime. What are some things you can offer to your team members?

Agree on boundaries and respect competing priorities. It’s so easy for us to keep working around the clock and through days off and evenings because we’re tethered to cell phones (and thanks to smartphones that means email and spreadsheets and on and on). Being able to say no without losing respect is part of the equation — the other part is being the leader who says I understand and let’s see how we can make this work and still achieve our work goals. Set the example of making other things in your life a priority and, for example, really unplugging when you take a vacation.

Understand demographics and cultural differences. Millennial workers are driving change in the workplace because they just don’t (or won’t) live to work because they want to work to live. They want careers to fit in with their lives and individuality. Their successors, Gen Z, also want work that has meaning and a meaningful life. Add into that the diversity of a multicultural workplace and there will be different priorities for family time, holidays, cultural traditions and more. When leaders support people finding what work-life synergy means to them individually, everyone is more inclusive and supportive.

Involve your team members in the conversation. Work-life synergy is going to mean something different to people in different industries, at different stages of life and from different backgrounds. At its essence, work-life synergy is achieved when employees have more control over their lives professionally and personally. What will make your team feel more engaged, creative and enthusiastic? (Hint: the same things that will make them more productive and increase their job satisfaction.)

This might look like someone leaving work early to drive a child to soccer and catching up on work later at home. Or it might be someone telecommuting for a stretch of caregiving for an aging parent. It could also be offering team members opportunities for professional development because many folks like to feel they are involved in something that has meaning and that their employer is supportive. 

Align with company and personal goals. When you set performance goals for your team members, of course, you’re going to want to have them align with company goals. But team members who write a personal vision statement for their career will have some ideas about what work-life synergy means for them as individuals.

This helps to determine ways everyone can get work and life to dovetail so that one supports the other — things like cycling to work knowing there is a place to keep the bike locked and safe as well as somewhere to shower (meeting the personal goal of keeping fit without any strain on work or other goals). 

Consider setting weekly priorities. Making a habit of setting weekly priorities (individually and as a team) instead of a daily to-do list helps the flow of work and life because you’re not perpetually managing urgent situations that knock everything else off the schedule. Check out project management and communication tools that may be very helpful for planning and executing priorities (at Padraig, we use Asana and we know some of our clients use Trello boards to manage deadlines and many moving pieces). 

When there’s a rhythm to work, everyone on your team can schedule other things around the key priorities and manage their time accordingly. Some companies even reserve certain days or times for meetings or administrative tasks so that team members can flex other days without inconveniencing anyone else.

Embrace a change in time management thinking. Instead of feeling like you’re juggling or always short on time, reframe the busy-ness in a positive way. Setting priorities and finding time for what matters is about problem-solving, not throwing your hands in the air in frustration and defeat. When you can figure out what matters most and strategize how to get things done, you’ll attract and keep the best and brightest talent. It might involve teamwork, delegating, outsourcing (by the way this applies equally to work and personal life!) or asking for additional resources — or it could mean you’re going to have to set some new habits and guard your time more wisely. 

Coach’s Questions:

What possibilities do you see in shifting from work-life balance to work-life synergy? How can you start finding work-life synergy for yourself? What can you do to help your team achieve it?

Respect: is it owed or earned?

Respect is a two-way street. 

Respect your elders.

Give respect, get respect.

We grow up hearing all kinds of things about respect, but what is ideal in the workplace? Is respect owed because of achievements, abilities, and status? Or earned because of qualities and reciprocity? Or should it be a combination of both owed and earned?

I recently read a very interesting article that Kristie Rogers, an Assistant Professor of Management at Marquette University, wrote for the Harvard Business Review about respect and employees.

In her article, Rogers says that her research shows that two types of respect are valued in the workplace:

Owed Respect – which should be given to all members of a company, where everyone is valued and accorded a basic level of civility

Earned Respect – which is given to those team members who have done work well or exceeded expectations and are rewarded for their success with admiration and sometimes in other ways as well (financial or other incentives)

Rogers and her fellow academics argue that companies whose employees feel valued and respected are more successful. Finding the right balance of owed respect (which meets the universal need to feel included) and earned respect (which meets the need to be valued for doing good work) is the tricky part for leaders. 

You’ve probably seen workplaces where there is a focus on earned respect but not enough owed respect: Only the shining stars are appreciated. In this environment, you’re thanked or appreciated only if you deliver the big client or the successful project. Good, solid effort every day toward ongoing needs gets overlooked. 

I once worked for a boss who was seen to “play favorites.”  He *loved* Joe in sales because of the clients Joe brought into the company but showed no respect, at all, for the folks in HR who kept Joe staffed with sales staff when he went through people like Kleenexes because he was so hard on them. There was no respect for everyone in finance, who made sure billing to clients was timely and followed up when payments weren’t received. 

This boss created an environment where earned respect and owed respect were badly out of balance. When only earned respect matters and there is very little owed respect, team members who aren’t superstars become very, very discouraged.

Soon, you’d overhear shorthand lingo around the office like, “well, if you want him to agree to do that, you better get Joe to pitch it to him.” Or, “I saved us thousands last year on delayed payments but, I’m no Joe so, of course, I didn’t get so much as a thank you.”

Contrast that with a director at a health authority I heard about from a staffer who raved that this director knew everyone by name on her team at the health unit and on the ward at the hospital. Everyone respected this director, who moved into management after years as a nurse, because she recognized not only the big important things, but the day-to-day dedication of various support staff. She was genuinely interested in everyone, took the time to check in with everyone on her team and even celebrated the smaller successes of support staff. You didn’t have to be a NICU nurse or helping to deliver babies to feel valued and want to go above and beyond.

This director is an example of a leader who offers both earned respect (the good job individual nurses did with moms) and owed respect (treating everyone with quiet dignity and setting a tone and an expectation for a baseline of respect for everyone on the team). We can see how respect, as one of the key leadership behaviors, has a ripple effect and is copied throughout the team when it comes from the top.

It’s a balance that can be tricky to achieve because too much of one of the two types of respect can be detrimental because the fallout is frustrated team members. 

What happens when there isn’t enough owed respect?

  • Only recognizing the high fliers can leave others feeling unmotivated and demoralized
  • An abusive culture, a culture of disrespect and incivility 
  • Overall mood drops, people feel unhappy with their job or role
  • Micro-managing

What happens when there isn’t enough owed respect, yet lots of earned respect?

  • All of the above, plus
  • People who should be working together see each other as competition (and excessive competition is quickly toxic)
  • There could be temptation to steal credit from peers

What happens when there isn’t enough earned respect (either all respect is absent, or owed respect overshadows or eclipses earned respect)?

  • People feel their extra effort isn’t recognized and some will begin to question whether their effort is worth it (reduced individual motivation)
  • High fliers will look elsewhere for work
  • Major contributors may feel frustrated and unappreciated
  • A culture of “minimum required effort” may develop

What happens when there is a base of owed respect shown to everyone and healthy earned respect in place?

  • A positive culture of people supporting each other and interacting with civility
  • Overall employee satisfaction increases
  • A relatively consistent level of effort and output is achieved
  • High fliers are challenged, but cooperative, and everyone is motivated to contribute to company success

Before you dismiss an imbalance or lack of respect as merely creating some sour grapes, consider the impact on productivity. In her HBR article, Rogers said, “80% of employees treated uncivilly spend significant work time ruminating on the bad behavior, and 48% deliberately reduce their effort.”

Respect really matters and workplaces that get it right reap many benefits:

As a leadership coach, I firmly believe that it always comes back to learning how to manage different personalities. When you understand personality, you get what makes each individual feel motivated/complacent/unmotivated. 

Here are some tips to help you build the right balance of owed and earned respect:

Make sure everyone feels respect in your workplace. From the most junior to the most senior and everyone in a support role, all people need to feel valued and worthy of basic dignity. This can be accomplished by something as simply getting to know your team members by name because you build stronger teams by developing relationships

I remember someone saying once, “You treat people on your way up the way you would if you were on the way down.” How you treat those who work under you will affect how your team members treat their subordinates and your clients or customers. Do you make time to answer questions? Do you listen, really listen to people? Do you see the little things as well as the big things? Other actions that cultivate respect include delegating and supporting your team through tough situations.

Recognize that there could be variations in respect behaviors. What works in one environment could be perceived as rude in another so the approach has to fit the reality (and it could vary between departments at your workplace). How you apply the elements that build relationships and foster respect and trust have to make sense within the norms of the workplace. For example, you don’t want to disrupt the rhythm of the workday by making small talk during a time or period that everyone needs to be focused and working. Be aware of different personality styles, and things like who thrives with quiet, private conversations and who likes to be part of a more animated and open discussion.

Once you have owed respect figured out for your workplace, consider earned respect. The researchers have demonstrated that the balance has to be right to be effective, so how you reward team members for performance is ideally fair and tied to deliverables. In practice, this could include things like celebrating success, praising exceptional contributions, awarding bonuses or other incentives. (Note: the research is clear that praise and attention from a leader frequently mean more than money.)

There’s always enough of both owed and earned respect. Consider respect from an abundant mindset, and you’ll agree that it’s impossible to run out of respect. You can offer owed respect to everyone, across all levels and departments. Similarly, you can still offer earned respect when and if it is due for meeting or exceeding expectations. Sure, you might have a finite bonus budget or salary pool, but you can still celebrate the big successes by building a company culture of growth and happiness

You’re never too busy to acknowledge team members with respect. When owed respect is the default behavior, it’s going to be there even under heightened stress (things like listening to understand, offering common courtesies and showing gratitude for help). It’s also well worth making time for moments to offer earned respect because failing to do that, as we’ve discussed, has serious repercussions for motivation and even retention of the high fliers on the team. 

The best gestures of respect are authentic. Feigning interest or half-hearted attempts at offering praise will be seen as such and become meaningless. Similarly, if praise is too lavish and constant or if everyone gets the same reward for varied effort, team members won’t feel valued. Have you ever worked with leaders who only offer owed or earned respect when others are watching (especially more senior folks)? Insincerity is never received well. Having said that, a little fake it til you make it can get you started if acknowledgement and respect feels foreign.

Coach’s Questions:

Have you ever worked where respect (or a lack thereof) was a problem? Are there ways you can improve how owed respect and earned respect are shared in your workplace? What is something new you’d like to try this week?

Why celebrating wins with your remote team is important

We’ve talked before about rememberingamid the deadlines and the pressures and the non-stop busy-nessto celebrate wins with our team members.

It takes a little extra effort to celebrate wins in a meaningful way when you have a remote team or manage a mix of on-site and remote workers especially if you are, like most of us right now, scrambling to adapt to managing remotely while helping staff transition to working remotely in response to the COVID-19 crisis.

The last thing you might be thinking about is celebrating wins! But now, when people are feeling uncertain and worried, it’s particularly important to pause and take note of all your folks who are doing their best to work hard and the ways they are making a difference.

No matter what’s happening in the world, cultivating a company culture of growth and happiness pays big dividends. Feeling appreciated and valued is great for retaining your top performers and dedicated workers (and they talk to other people, so it’s also good for recruiting!). It fosters a sense of loyalty and makes people want to work hard. And, let’s face it, it’s just good for everyone’s mental health, if we can boost spirits.

When you are thanking people (in person or remotely!), remember that a cookie-cutter approach never works as well as tailoring employee recognition to what each individual values and what makes them feel valued.

Because you’re not running into your remote workers in hallways and you can’t drop by their desks for an informal check-in, you need to make an effort to build connections and go out of your way to really communicate gratitude when it’s warranted.

Celebrating wins

Here are a few ideas for celebrating wins with your remote team members: 

Make time for kudos

When you have a video conference call, set aside time to acknowledge different ways your remote workers are contributing. Recognizing their effort and dedication will mean a lot, particularly when they don’t get impromptu moments of your time in the hallway or lunchroom. A few words to acknowledge the times people go above and beyond or pull off the extraordinary will go a very long way for morale (and with this COVID-19 crisis, we can all use some extra feel-good moments!). You can also express your gratitude for small and large wins in emails, text messages and even when you’re editing a document someone submits for your approval. Remember some folks appreciate public recognition, others prefer private.

Eat together

People who work together often celebrate together over a meal. You can still do this with your remote team members (and experts say takeout and food delivery are still safe during COVID-19 – and restaurant owners will appreciate your business now especially). Be creative! You can send everyone gift cards (to use when they wish) or arrange for their favourite comfort food to be delivered by a meal delivery service (Skip the Dishes, DoorDash or Uber Eats are popular most places). You could also order custom cookies from a local baker or other treats to enjoy over coffee during your next online meeting.

Send some swag

When you want to recognize hard work and effort, consider sending folks some company swag. Nothing says I’m part of a team like matching shirts, ball caps or hoodies (just make sure you check to get everyone’s preferred sizing first). You can also order useful branded gifts like water bottles, notebooks or wireless chargers or other tech devices.

Personalized gifts

As you get to know the folks on your team, you’ll get a sense of who likes coffee or tea or who loves to see the latest films. Take notes! When they’ve done something that you want to recognize, and if your organization can afford it, send them a gift card for or tickets to something that they’ll really enjoy (with a heartfelt note of gratitude from you). If you can’t afford that, try sending a thank you note and in it mention you remember they like X or Y and suggest a movie you’ve watched on Netflix, or a book you’ve read, that they might enjoy. 

If someone is passionate about a particular charity, the company could make a small donation in their name or you could offer extra paid time off to people who would love nothing more than extra vacation (now, so they can have days off with the kids at home, or later when travel gets back to normal). 

When you are able to select really meaningful gifts or send thoughtful, personal recommendations, it shows that you appreciate their work and take the time to choose something meaningful to give them in thanks.

Commemorate work anniversaries or other milestones

Remote workers like to have their milestones remembered the same as people who work onsite. Celebrate their important dates and accomplishments the same as you would anyone else’s, but keep in mind that while some folks love a big splash and shout out in front of everyone there are others who prefer a quiet one-to-one thank you and acknowledgement. It might take a little more effort to get to know your remote team members, but the best way to build stronger teams is to build stronger relationships.

Party on

You can celebrate wins with your remote team by throwing a big online bash (with music and maybe some competitive online games). Be creative! It doesn’t have to be an epic online party; short and sweet is fine when it’s heartfelt. When we’re through the need to self-isolate, perhaps it will be time to start planning to bring everyone together for an in-person meetup or an offsite meeting. Having an opportunity to meet in real life on a company-paid trip is great for team-building and showing gratitude for the hard work of your remote team.

Coach’s Questions: 

What are some of the ways you’ve been celebrating wins with your remote team? Are there opportunities to show gratitude that you’ve missed? Who might be needing a bit more attention from you this week? What can you do differently to involve your remote workers in celebrating accomplishments?

 

HR advisors – are your org leaders getting support to lead through the COVID crises? We’ve created a special priced short term coaching package to give them massive support, quickly. Coaching through uncertainty.

 

Keeping your team engaged during online meetings

But how do you know who is engaged in online meetings?

Many of us have been using remote meetings for some time, while others have had to quickly ramp up in response to the COVID-19 crisis. 

As we discussed the other day, there are essential tools that help you facilitate remote meetings. But how do you make sure everyone is following and participating?

Here are 9 ideas for keeping folks engaged during online meetings:

Be prepared

Don’t wait until five minutes before a meeting to set up your technology. If you’ve never used a platform, do a trial run with a friend or coworker in advance so you’re familiar with how it all works. What do you do if someone is disconnected? How do you mute? How do you share your screen? How does chatting work?

Give everyone else who is going to be involved ample time to prepare for the technology as well. Email participants the login details and a URL link to the platform so they can install software if applicable and test it all out on their end. 

On the day you have an online meeting, run through everything at least 15 minutes early to test that everything is working (your audio, video and camera settings). If you want to use screen sharing, make sure that you have whatever you want to share open and readyand other tabs closed in case you share other things inadvertently.

Pro tip: Hosting a video teleconference instead of an audio call not only ensures people are paying attention and not multitasking with their phones on mute, but it builds your team. Being able to see each other makes an online meeting much more personal than listening to a phone call.

Involve your participants in advance

It’s human nature that we feel more like getting involved if we have a say in something. If you can, find a way to get people participating before the meeting. You might do something serious and work related (like asking for your team to submit topics for discussion) or you could do something fun (like asking people to submit the craziest news story they’ve read recently — like this story of an astrophysicist who got magnets stuck up his nose trying to invent a coronavirus device). In these uncertain times especially we could use a little laughter!

Login before anyone else

It’s your meeting, so be a good host and log in a few minutes early to welcome people as they join the call. This way if you need to introduce participants, you can. You’re also there to handle any issues immediately if people have trouble joining, or reach out to stragglers who may have forgotten the start time.

Break the ice

You’re not meeting in the hallway before a meeting, so make sure your agenda starts with an icebreaker. It could be a simple check-in with everyone to see how things are going, or perhaps something fun and interesting like zany news stories. If you have people joining in from different time zones, consider having them share a favorite photo of where they live. Make the most of this opportunity to build connections and reassure your team during uncertain times.

Meeting rules

Years ago we established meeting rules where I worked: Meetings had to have agendas with action items (there’s no need to hold a meeting just to have a meeting!). We also had a timekeeper and someone to take minutes so the chair could focus on running the meeting.

For an online meeting, consider delegating the role of tech support to another team member so that, as the leader, you can focus on chairing the meeting. Let someone else help with connectivity issues. 

Another thing that’s helpful, particularly if it’s a large group, is to have someone else assigned to handle live chat if you’ve got that enabled for participants. This person can answer questions if people miss parts of the conversation or make sure you don’t miss important questions or comments. It can be very distracting (and difficult) to effectively lead a meeting while keeping an eye on live chat.

Pace yourself

Remember that, depending on connectivity, some people may experience a lag in the connection. Talk slowly and clearly so that everyone can follow along and pause after you share important information so that everyone has a chance to absorb what you say.

As you work your way through the agenda, take time to poll the participants and see what everyone thinks. When you hold an online meeting, it helps to stop and ask if anyone has questions or concerns more deliberately than you would if you were around a boardroom table. 

Planning an agenda that breaks up discussion points with graphics or visuals will also help to keep everyone interested. As we discussed in our last blog, you can use tools like Poll Everywhere to make discussions interesting and give you immediate feedback from everyone.

Focus, focus, focus

Long, rambling, multi-item meetings were probably the bane of your existence even before we moved to online meetings. Now, more than ever, try to keep meetings focused on one key topic whenever possible.  Now is not the time to simply take the old rambling agenda from your weekly meetings in the boardroom and use it for your weekly teleconference. Try instead to narrow the topics, keep the meeting shorter than usual and help people to focus on what’s important.

Virtual meeting, real humans

While you should try to keep virtual meetings shorter than in-person meetings, there will undoubtedly be times when an online meeting still has to take a little longer than you would like. If your meeting inches past an hour, and you know you’re not ready to wrap things up, have a break. People might be fine with five minutes, or they might want 10-15 minutes to use the restroom or grab a drink. Check in and take the break they need. 

Keep the conversation going

After the meeting, send out the slides you’ve shared, reminders of who has agreed to which action items, key takeaways from the discussion and ask for folks to share their feedback with you.

This helps to keep the momentum of your meeting going. Feedback will help you know if your participants had any issues or concerns with the online meeting so you can make the experience better and more inclusive for everyone going forward.

Coach’s Questions:

What has worked well to engage team members during online meetings? What could you do differently or better? What will you try with your next online meeting?

 

Next up: Why celebrating wins with your remote team is important.

The essential tools for facilitating remote meetings

If the COVID-19 crisis has thrown you into working with some or all staff online, we’ve got some ideas to help you quickly adapt and improve your productivity. 

Even those of us who have been working remotely for a while benefit from finding new tools and ideas!

At Padraig, we have a team spanning four time zones and we frequently work remotely with clients. As we discussed briefly in our 9 necessary tips for working from home blog, using available technology can make working remotely seamless and successful.

Here is a round-up of our favorite essential tools for facilitating remote meetings and how to use them well.

To get everyone on the same page before the meeting:

It’s much easier to have successful remote meetings if you and your team are able to work together and collaborate remotely so that everyone is clear on tasks, deliverables and timingsand has everything they need to be prepared for a meeting without having to dig through email chains. (Note: we are NOT being paid or supported to endorse ANY of these products we’re simply trying to share with you some ideas of tools we use, before sharing ideas on how to lead great remote meetings).

At Padraig, we use Asana and it works well for us for project planning and juggling multiple deadlines across time zones. It’s intuitive to use and you can quickly see weekly priorities, who has been assigned a task and when tasks are due (with the flexibility to chat about issues and share documents). As a leader, I particularly like that I can organize my team members by function and see at a glance what tasks I’ve created, what I’ve assigned to others and what’s been completed recently.

We use Google Documents for our work because they’re easy to share and users can be assigned authority to edit, make suggestions or read only. You can also track changes. Having said that, we also use Dropbox for most of our storage needs but also Sync when required for Canadian privacy regulations.

There are many other options available. For instance, we have clients who use Trello to manage teams and workflow and others who like Slack for its ease of sharing calendars and availability. Whatever tool you choose, having a centralized platform is crucial for organizing a group of any size remotely. 

If you build a place for general work conversations and banter into whatever project management platform you’re using, then when you hold meetings people can focus on the agenda’s action items. For example, if you set up work groups based on function in Asana or Trello, you can add a group for business-related discussions (a great way for everyone to start the workday is to check for updates or share where they’re at with projects!) and another for non-work-related discussions (where you can share motivational or funny memes or topics to get everyone through the day together and feeling like they’re on a team).

Pro tip: If you establish a group, or intranet site, to show who is who on the team (with photos!), it’s great when you’re onboarding new team membersplus it makes everyone feel they are working with people and not faceless contacts. You’ll see the benefit of this when you get online for a meeting. 

Running the meeting:

Have space for general office discussions & banter. In a regular office environment, staff can chat and mingle and then be fully focused on work when they’re called into a meeting. When you’re working remotely, the meeting is an opportunity to check-in, which can be important especially right now with the COVID-19 crisis. Team building is important, after all. But watch the time and be ready to convene the work part of the meeting before you lose your window for action items.

Running an online meeting means you have to also pause more often. If you’re used to talking and people jumping in when they have a point to make, it’s not going to work as well virtually. Folks who are hesitant to interrupt in person will likely be lost in silence on a call or teleconference. Whether you’re leading the meeting, or participating, pause more frequently, after each thought, to allow others to speak. Despite our advances in technology, you still can’t talk over each other all at once. Perhaps that’s another benefit of working remotely?

If you’re the leader of the meeting, poll the room more often than you would in a face-to-face meeting.  Go through the roster of participants and ask them what they think or if they have any questions, comments or anything to add. If you’re using a webinar software (more information below) you might have the option to “raise your hand” when you wish to speak.

When you’re not physically together in a bricks and mortar office, you have to work at encouraging collaboration (and that is accomplished by building stronger teams!). Check-ins with individuals and your whole team are just as important if not more importantwhen you have remote staff. It can be as simple as asking: What are your priorities today? Who needs help from a team member? What accomplishments can we celebrate? How can I help?

Technology to hold an online meeting:

In the not-too-distant past, our only options for connecting with team members remotely would have been landlines or cell phones. Now we have a variety of apps available to facilitate not only audio but video teleconference. 

If you work for a large organization, you may have a technology that is available to everyone already. For smaller companies or teams that are new to this remote work life thanks to COVID-19, you can Google and find many different options with a range of features.

We use Zoom and it works very well for us as a small organization. It’s easy to set up a meeting and invite others (and it’s free for calls up to 40 minutesif you pay you can book longer online conferencing with additional features). Best of all, it’s proven to be very reliable for us for audio and video whether we’re connecting via the smartphone app or laptop. Andbonus!Zoom automatically adjusts the time zone of a meeting that is scheduled so it matches your own time zone (just make sure your computer’s time zone is accurate!). 

We’ve also heard great things about GoToMeeting, AnyMeeting, Google Hangouts and Slack. Another interesting tool, by the way, is Poll Everywhere for Slack, which lets you quickly get feedback from a group. You can use it before a meeting, to get quick feedback (even anonymously!) during a meeting and to collect useful data.

Most of us find remote meetings where people see each other are often much better, so turn on that video whenever you can!

Other great tools to keep in your remote meeting toolkit:

You may not need all the technology, but sometimes it’s helpful to know what else is available for specific tasks. Things like: 

Loom: One of our clients has a global team, so getting everyone from all time zones together isn’t really feasible unless someone is up in the middle of the night. Loom is a handy screen and video recording tool, which is ideal for answering questions, providing feedback or creating a tutorial for something you need to show several different team members (saves you time when you only have to do it once!). People rave how easy it is to use, even if you want to record your screen and webcam at the same time. Additionally, you can share the videos you create with an inline link.

CloudApp: Similar to Loom, CloudApp is a fast and easy way to share screenshots or screen recordings with others (complete with annotated comments) via an automatically generated shortlink. All you do is hit Ctrl + V to paste the unique link wherever or however you want to share it.

Milanote: If you work with visually creative folks, this is a great tool to use for things like brainstorming, storyboarding or collaborating. You can drag and drop all kinds of things, like images or comments or linksbut it doesn’t look messy.

Now is the time to explore what’s available and put tools to work for you as you manage your virtual team. If you have other great tech finds or tips to share with us, please comment below!

Coach’s Questions: 

What can you do differently to make remote meetings successful? What are you excited to try? What have you noticed since working remotely that isn’t working well — what can you do to shift it?

 

Next up: We’ll be looking at ways to keep your team engaged during remote meetings and then why celebrating wins with your remote team is important.

9 necessary tips for working remotely from home

With the world’s leading health officials and most world leaders calling on everyone to “self isolate” or “social distance,” many of us are working remotely from home in response to the Coronavirus outbreak.

If you’re new at this, trying to get your team members online and keeping the workflow on track might feel overwhelming. But even for those of us used to working remotely, it’s sure not feeling like business as usual in the midst of COVID-19.

How do you stay focused, on track, connected and engaged with your team through these uncertain times?

Tips for working remotely from home

At Padraig, our team is composed of great folks across four time zones and we often work remotely with clients all over the globe, so here are our nine necessary tips for working remotely from home:

Establish a dedicated workspace: It helps to have a spot for work that is separate from where you sleep or spend your after-work hours because otherwise you’ll feel like you never leave work. Ideally, find a room or desk (or table) in an area that will be your work zone. Stock the area with what you needoffice supplies and techso that you’re ready to sit and get to work without wasting time setting up each day. When you’re done work, you can shut everything down and enjoy time away from work. 

Create a routine: The trouble with working from home is that the lines between home and work can become very blurred! You can be flexible (that’s the bonus!), but some structure helps not just you but those around you respect your work time. Making your cup of coffee or tea and sitting down to work at regular times makes the workday predictable. Set weekly goals and then figure out the daily tasks you need to accomplish to stay on trackand make sure you talk with everyone in your household to establish ground rules and expectations about your workday (and theirs if applicable!). When you work hard and stay focused, it’s amazing what you can accomplish in a short period of time. When you’re done work, call it a day and don’t go back to check on “just one email” or look over something. Enjoy your downtime so that you are refreshed for the next day. Achieving work/life balance is perhaps even more important when you’re working from home.

Dress code positives: It’s so tempting to just live in your pyjamas all day, but many of us who work remotely from home find dressing up (okay, or just getting dressed!) helps with having a work mindset. Now, we’re not saying you have to pull out that power suit! But it helps you shift from relaxing to work when you’re ready to be suddenly pulled into a video teleconference. In other words, are you showered, groomed and wearing something that you wouldn’t mind your coworkers or clients seeing you in? (And Pro tip: Keep a dress shirt or blazer handy. Then, if you let things slide, the one day an urgent video conference comes up, you can still look pulled together even if you’re wearing your pyjama bottoms or yoga pants!)

Continue to take brain breaks: If you were working in the office, you’d step away from your desk every now and again to get a snack or drink, use the restroom or chat with a coworker. It’s just as important to take regular (short!) breaks when you’re working remotely. You might even want to set up team “breaks” or eat lunch together by video teleconference to check in and stay motivated with your colleagues. Since it’s arguably a little easier to lose track of time when you’re on break at home with myriad distractions (Netflix, social media, other humans who aren’t working while you are!), the Pomodoro technique we discuss in our tips to stay focused blog can be particularly helpful to work in sprints, take breaks and stay on task.

Get some fresh air: Staying inside 24/7 is not conducive to thinking clearly! Build in some time during your day to get outside. Even while physically distancing from people who aren’t in your household, you can go for a walk or run, do some exercise or yard work in the backyard or even check your emails on the balcony. Getting some Vitamin D and a change of scenery is as important for our mental health and is it for us physically while we shelter in place during the pandemic. 

Make the most of technology: Set alarms to remind you of important deadlines and prompts for conference calls. You can share documents, edit and track changes and use collaboration tools (we like Asana and Google Docs) to keep everyone tracking personal deadlines and working toward common goals. There are also several very reliable platforms for video teleconferencing that let you connect quickly with multiple people and share screens. We’ll have more tech tips in upcoming blogs, so stay tuned.

Creative scheduling helps parents with young children: I’m not a parent, but I work with many people who are. Working remotely from home has a different set of challenges for parents with young children. Professionals I know who have little ones recommend getting up early to work for a few hours before the children are up (though I’m told sometimes the little darlings hear mom or dad and get up, too!). It may take time and practice to figure out what scheduling works best for your family and connecting with your team members. Other strategies to try include getting children busy and tired in the morning, so that you can work a few hours during afternoon nap or quiet time, setting tasks and activities for preschoolers and primary schoolers to enjoy nearby so they’re working while you work, tag-teaming with a partner so you take turns working/parenting and (no surprise!) working a couple of hours later at night once the children are asleep. 

Working remotely and parenting older children: Families everywhere are adapting to having everyone home during uncertain times. Clients with school-age children and teens tell me they’re still figuring out this new normal. While screen time can allow for parents to work uninterrupted, many colleagues are making the most of quarantine to have time for board games, impromptu dance parties, sports in the backyard and creativity. Getting into a routine of working while the kids are engaged in something and then taking breaks together (ask them to show you the latest TikTok dance challenge!) can be helpful and make memories. Set tasks or daily goals and then celebrate together with a family meal and movie night.

Be flexible and break things down: All of us working from home benefit from being able to roll with the unexpected. It’s common to put more pressure on yourself when you’re working remotely because, subconsciously, you want to prove you’re being productive and responsible. Right now, whether you live alone, with a partner, pets or a big family, we’re all facing uncertainty with the terrible things unfolding and the worry about COVID-19. Some days are going to be better than others and some days you might feel very unproductive. That’s okay. This is when it’s helpful to focus on your weekly goals. If you can’t tackle a big chunk of paperwork or a complicated spreadsheet today, what can you do? Write some emails, call some clients and work through some of the smaller action items. Try to keep moving forward with work, but give yourself permission to take care of yourself and those you care about.

Coach’s Questions:

What helps you stay productive when you’re working remotely from home? What could you do differently or better? What can you do today to make working remotely better for your team?

Coaching Assistance

At Padraig we’re conscious of how many of you — our clients, friends, blog readers and other colleagues are working through the new reality of working remotely, managing others working remotely and juggling a new level of business and family balance. We’re posting new blog posts every few days to try to help and answering your emails as fast as we can.

In these last few days we’ve heard from some of you looking for some short-term coaching assistance as you tackle these challenges. Normally our starting package is for 12 sessions with a coach over 6 months. But, we know you want some help right now just to get you through the changes you’re dealing with, and we know that like us, you and your employers are facing cash challenges. We want to help.

We’ve created a special priced short term special priced coaching package to give folks support immediately.  Please click here for more information.

Leadership tips for managing virtual teams

More and more leaders are managing virtual teams – a reality many of you have just been thrown into it in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and trying to “flatten the curve” of the outbreak.

Technology has made telecommuting a norm, and several leaders I know manage folks who work remotely all the time. At Padraig, our talented team is geographically dispersed across four time zones. Even if you’re new to this and feeling overwhelmed, it can work really well. 

Stats show that well before COVID-19 was a concern, more than 40 percent of North American employees work from home at least part of the time and that number has continued to grow steadily. 

Even before Covid-19, there were many benefits to telecommuting, including:

  • Recruitment: It’s possible to hire the best and brightest talent from anywhere in the world to work on your team. 
  • Work-personal life balance: Flexible work arrangements attract team members who need to care for children or aging parents and to many others for a variety of reasons. More than 50 percent of employees look for opportunities to use their time more efficiently.
  • It’s a key perk: According to a recent survey by Gallup, over 60 percent of millennials were already seeking out workplaces that offered flextime. (It’s also a draw for Gen Xers and other generations!) 
  • Retention: Workplace surveys show that the majority of people said being able to work from home is a bigger draw than a raise.
  • Productivity: A study by Stanford University showed that people who work remotely are far more productive than their in-office counterparts, producing results that were equal to an extra full day of work per week.
  • Health and wellness: Researchers also found that telecommuters don’t burn out as often as those who work onsite. They’re also not sharing germs!

Well, those last two points may not apply immediately in our current situation with COVID-19, the skills we learn now as remote leaders will serve us well.

The biggest challenge for us, as leaders, is to make sure that we are successfully managing virtual teams. But how do you motivate and connect with staff you don’t see in person?

There are several strategies that can help you with the unique challenge of managing virtual teams:

Find ways to make sure remote team members feel connected and included.    If you still have some staff onsite, communicate with and consult remote workers any time that you’re consulting with those onsite — make it part of the culture. (Benefit: hive mind!) It’s easy for telecommuters to feel isolated, but if you make a point of including them via videoconference or teleconference then others will follow your lead.

Be available. You don’t have the option to stop and chat with virtual team members in the hallway, so build in some times to connect in other ways. Establish regular check-in times because one-to-one meetings build a solid culture of engaged employees. Ask for feedback and how you’re doing to support them as remote team members. What works and what could you improve? What do they need from you and the organization?

Be responsive. It’s very easy for remote workers to feel isolated, so make an effort to answer queries from remote workers promptly. This way they won’t feel that being out of the office is a hurdle to them being heard, valued and “seen.” Right now, in these uncertain times, your team members need to be reassured and feel that they’re kept in the loop.

Get to know your remote workers as individuals. Not only do you build stronger teams by building relationships, but effective employee recognition considers the individual. You’ll get a sense of how team members work over time (sort of 24/7 or late at night or early in the morning). Figure out when their “office hours” intersect with your own and who would like to own or lead a collaborative project.      

Use technology to span the distance. When you have a meeting, turn that camera on! Where tone can be misinterpreted by email or text, a video call helps to give context to your discussion. It’s also much more humanizing to see someone’s face on Skype, Google Hangouts or Zoom (or whatever platform you choose!). It’s the next best thing to being together in person. If it’s a group meeting, start with icebreakers or a round-table check-in for team building. Something to discuss? Share screens and chat about it because it’s much easier to work through misunderstandings or objectives this way than by emailing back and forth. And, check-in frequently with the remote staff during the meeting. It isn’t always easy to jump in or interrupt when you’re the one forgotten participant online. If you work in a large company or for the government, you probably already have this technology available. If you’re a smaller organization like we are, you can Google many options. We use Zoom, while we know others who use GoToMeeting or AnyMeeting. 

Have a regular video teleconference where everyone on the team dials in. This way, there’s no us-versus-them feeling of the remote workers and the onsite folks. With folks working from home perhaps suggest they stop in the kitchen for a mug of coffee or tea and a snack for the meeting. Start with an icebreaker that encourages people to share how they’re doing– maybe even sharing a photo from outside of work and saying a few words about it. 

Communicate openly and precisely. When you’re talking about your expectations, don’t be vague with remote workers. They’re not in person with you to read your facial expressions, watch you interact with their peers or see how you handle clients. Be very clear about what you expect them to produce, from quality to precise guidelines to dates and times for deadlines. Consider things like when or if you want a progress report and if you have an expectation for someone to reply to a call or an email within one working day. (Also, did you miss our last blog? We offered tips on how to reassure your team in uncertain times.)

Consider using a project management system and collaboration tools that keep everyone on the same page. We use Asana at Padraig and some clients use Trello boards to manage deadlines, projects, and day-to-day work. Whatever you choose, using an online project management system helps to keep everyone informed about the various parts of the process and on task. Document sharing saves the back and forth on emails and helps to ensure everyone is working from the same draft. Model friendly, cordial interactions online so that people remember they’re dealing with team members and treat them similar to how they would face-to-face. (Hey, Greg, could you pass this to Anna to proofread when you’re finished? Thanks!)

Create a shared calendar. Encourage folks to include personal milestones to the shared calendar as well as work-related deadlines and events. This way, people feel more connected and get to know each other outside of the office. (Happy 50th, Anya! How are your kids handling social distancing, Sanjay?))

Remember remote workers need to feel valued and appreciated, too. Just because they’re out of sight, don’t forget to show how you appreciate and recognize the contributions of your telecommuting team members (and there is a difference between recognition and appreciation!). As you get to know your remote workers as individuals, you’ll get a sense of how they like to be recognized (quietly in a private way or in a bigger way in front of the team). When someone isn’t in the office regularly, sending a parcel with a handwritten card and some company swag might make them feel less disconnected from everyone else. 

Watch that your remote workers don’t burn out. Sometimes team members who work remotely feel they must be available at all times. Encourage them to set healthy boundaries for when they are available by phone or text — and when they’re not — and your support will influence the interactions with their peers. Trust that your remote team members will get the job done and everyone will feel reassured your focus is on goals and not activity. 

Once we’re through the other side of the pandemic, try for a face-to-face meeting periodically. In the future, when you are travelling and can arrange to meet somewhere, take them for a coffee or lunch. Host a regional meeting and bring people together, or fly everyone somewhere for a team meet up if you can afford it. You could plan to have a client event and bring your remote team members out for it – getting the most value for marketing and team building.

Coach’s Questions

Have you ever considered the differences in managing virtual teams and onsite workers? What are you going to change this week? What other strategies can you incorporate to embrace and manage remote workers? If you’re not set up yet for remote workers, which strategies would work best for you as you move into this realm?

How to reassure your team in uncertain times

No one can predict right now what will happen in the next few weeks or months. That uncertainty, of course, contributes to enormous anxiety and fear in people. While many of us are doing everything we can to “flatten the curve” of the outbreak, it isn’t easy to keep soldiering on.

Some of us work with remote teams already, while others are scrambling to transition to having as many staff as possible work from home. Still others have had to lay people off, are working with skeleton staff or trying to keep essential workers as safe as possible. 

During uncertain times like these, people look to leaders for guidance and hope. This is when effective leadership shinesand ineffective falters. That’s a particularly daunting reality for those of us in leadership positions. I understand how you might be feeling. Being expected to lead a team through triumph AND adversity can be terrifying.

(And even if you’re not in a formal leadership role right now, being able to communicate during times of stress and uncertainty are going to show you’re ready to be a leader.)

Here are nine steps you can take to reassure your team despite all the uncertainty:

Take a minute: You might feel the pressure to act and do something FAST FAST FAST, but pause to collect your thoughts and take a deep breath before you jump into any interactionwhether that’s writing an email, making a phone call or video teleconference or talking to a team member. (Reviewing our four practical tips for mindful leadership might be helpful right now!) Stress begets stress. If you can take a moment to become more calm and collected, your leadership will be more reassuring for your team members and colleagues.

Remember everyone reacts differently: If you regularly follow our blog then you know that we work with leaders to understand personality differences. When you’re reaching out in a time of crisis, it’s more important than ever to understand your audience and what motivates or alarms them. Think about what your team members might be worried about (which may be different than what you’re worried about), what unknowns are troubling them and what information will be encouraging to them. When you can anticipate their concerns and questions and offer reassurance and answers with empathy and compassion, your team will be more likely to hear and trust what you have to say.

Trust the experts: You don’t have to be the expert about this Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, but you can refer your team members to the best and most credible sources of information. Do some research, communicate the main points in clear language and share links to national public health and local health authorities, who are all keeping their main websites updated with the latest information. (While avoiding the constant recirculating of dubious “news” sites announcing the latest atrocity OR the latest “cure!”)

Be confident (even if you don’t feel it!): We’ve spoken previously about developing your executive presence, and this is definitely a time when having a strong executive presence really matters. You’re not going to have all the answers, but you can still communicate uncertainty with confidence. While you can’t control everything, you can appear in control. Stay in touch and update your team with what you do know (“While we’re watching to see what happens, what we do know at this point is…” or, “I know this has been raised as an issue, so let me check into that and get back to everyone”). When you are responsive, available and communicate regularly, people will feel that they’re in the loop and that you are watching out for everyone on the team.

Provide some structure: Many people flounder in times of uncertainty. Having some sense of control is very comforting and reassuring, so focusing on what is being done/can be done and giving your team some action items is empowering. Take charge, but with compassion. When you communicate with them, you can talk about what you’re doing and you can recommend things for them to focus on (even if that’s just making social distancing a priority and focusing on their loved ones). Choose your words carefully to give a real sense of stability amid the chaos: “Right now we are going to take these steps to keep things going remotely” and, “I’d like you to take these steps.” If staff are working from home, give clear direction on what remains a priority, and what doesn’t.

Communicate frequently: You know how dead air on the radio or TV is seriously unsettling? Nothing is going to make people worry more right now than no communication from their leader. Send regular updates to everyone, and communicate even if you don’t have any updates. Checking in with your team members (ideally one to one, occasionally) and reminding everyone that you’re all in this together and that they matter is extremely important when people everywhere are feeling isolated and uncertain about the future. 

Be human: Work concerns aside, connect with your team members by showing that you understand what they’re really worried about on the home front. Some of your team members may have partners who are out of work, so financial concerns are very real. Others will have loved ones who are vulnerable to this infection or front-line workers in essential services who are worried about infection. Some might even have immediate family or friends afflicted with COVID-19. Many will be trying to juggle new realities with children home, elder care, etc. Sharing your concerns and acknowledging some of your own anxieties on a personal level will invite others to share, which allows you to show compassionate understanding. People respond to leaders who can relate to them not only professionally, but personally.

Build your team up: It’s definitely not business as usual, but this is a time that you can build stronger relationships with your team. There are many ways you can do this (today’s technology is wonderful!). Some leaders are calling video-conference meetings so everyone who is working remotely or off work can just check in and share what’s happening for them. You can invite the parents on your team to share resources that are helping them keep children busy and entertained (and tips for how to work from home with young children!) and how to buoy the spirits of high school or college kids who are worried about their school year. 

Put the social in distancing: Maybe you can challenge people to some online games or to share their top picks for movies or TV shows to watch. Look for opportunities to help each other, with recipe suggestions or where to find some toilet paper (!) or Tylenolor sending meals to a team member who is housebound or cares for an aging parent. Encourage everyone to be present (even while they’re distancing!) and your team will come through this crisis stronger.

This all feels like uncharted territory, and, of course, for most of us, it is. Just keep communicating regularly and confidently with your team so that when they look to you for leadership and guidance, you’re reassuring them and leading them forward. 

And, if YOU need someone to talk toreach out to us.  Send me an email at coach@padraig.ca  I’m seriouswe coach leaders every single day through all sorts of issues and challenges. I too am working from home and I would be happy to try to help (this isn’t a sales pitch, I’m happy to respond to your emails free of charge!!)

Coach’s Questions: 

How are you feeling about the uncertainty? How might your team members be feeling? What can you do differently to help your team? (Remember, differently doesn’t necessarily mean “more.”)