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.”)

 

Practical approaches to avoid poor performance from your team

One of the harder aspects of leadership is effectively dealing with poor performance.

It might be that a team member is:

  • Not pulling their weight
  • Not meeting deadlines
  • Creating conflict or involved in conflict with someone else
  • Chronically late or absent
  • Not meeting sales targets
  • And the list goes on…

As a leadership coach, I hear how difficult this is for some clients. Let’s face it, it can be really awkward to figure out how to have a performance conversation with someone who is underperforming. And sometimes we know to brace ourselves because that conversation is just not going to go over well to start.

Many leaders really only deal with poor performance at the annual performance review – and even then, how many of you know poor performers who left performance reviews thinking they were doing just fine?!

Some folks put off having a serious conversation about poor performance until things are at the breaking point.

But what if, instead of REACTING to poor performance, we as leaders could CATCH IT EARLY or even PREVENT it from happening in the first place? 

Think of poor performance as a fire. If you let it burn, it will spread. If you extinguish a fire quickly, you can minimize damage (in contrast with waiting and hoping for the flames to burn out and then finding the entire building or block is on fire).

A sub-performing member of your team has an effect on everyone. It’s also not really fair to let someone on your team blunder along until things are out of control or beyond an easy fix.

It’s far better to intercede early than to wait and hope for the best.

PRO TIP: If you understand personality styles (we like to use the Everything DiSC model), then you can figure out how to approach a problem in a way that the person will listen and be motivated to improve.

Take time to consider root causes

Before you talk to a team member about poor performance, you need to consider why they are having trouble. How you approach someone can vary depending on whether performance is caused by:

  • Illness or a personal issue
  • An inability to do the work (this could be that the team member has a knowledge gap and needs training or mentorship, lacks resources or that the task is beyond their ability)
  • Having no motivation or a poor attitude (maybe considers the task beneath them or outside their scope of practice)

If you can figure out what the cause of the poor performance is and HELP THE EMPLOYEE ADDRESS IT, you can turn a bad situation into a good one. Not only that, but you’ll develop an employee who is a real asset and most likely a loyal supporter of you as a leader.

Check your anger, disappointment or frustration at the door

Depending on the circumstances, it might be difficult to try to understand what’s happening for someone who is performing poorly. We recommend approaching any situation like this with an empathetic approach.

Why empathy? Because research into workplace relationships shows that employees feel leaders who are warm and understanding are much more effective than those who demonstrate anger or other negative emotions. Empathy builds trust, and trust is the cornerstone of a high performing and successful team.

This does not mean you can’t feel negative emotions, nor does it mean you have to plaster on a smile when faced with a challenging situation. If you read this blog regularly, you’ll know we recently talked about how to manage anger and frustration in a way that’s helpful to your team.

If this is the nth time a problem with poor performance has occurred, and you’ve used this strategy of being empathetic thoroughly, then perhaps it’s time for a different approach.

In his article The Focused Leader for the Harvard Business Review, Daniel Goleman discussed three types of empathy that relate directly to leadership:

  • Cognitive Empathy: The ability to understand a different perspective from your own and being curious enough to find out more about a different point of view.
  • Emotional Empathy: ­­­­The ability to not only read and recognize other people’s emotions but relate to them and feel it, too.
  • Empathetic Concern: This is the ability to move beyond emotional empathy and sense what other people need from you.

As leaders, it helps to know when to be empathetic, caring and focused on improving things for the employee so they improve things for the organization (and themselves).

Being able to do this without blinders on means knowing when to move from Cognitive Empathy (understanding the poor performer’s perspective) and demonstrating Emotional Empathy (really relating to them) to Empathetic Concern (knowing how to approach the situation to move things forward).  

There are myriad examples of when having a leader who could have gotten really angry or punitive instead reacts with empathy and helps a team member solve a poor performance issue.

One that I remember hearing is a high-level manager in health care who was trying to stay on top of deadlines but was missing several days of work. She got the dreaded call to see her director for a conversation.

Instead of the director pouncing on the deficiencies, she asked what was wrong. She knew this was out of character and asked what was happening. The manager, who had been trying to carry on as if everything was fine, shared that she was juggling work and a senior parent with a cancer diagnosis.

This was a good 20 years ago, before we had such agile technological solutions, but the director and the manager were able to figure out a way for her to do some work remotely and flex her time so that she could take her ailing parent to treatment and meet her work commitments.

Sometimes, meeting folks with compassion and understanding makes room for honest conversations and the opportunity to work together on solutions.

Often, team members who are struggling know that they are not performing well. Some leaders will be inclined to think the employee is lazy, incapable or freeloading off their peers. However, they’re more likely embarrassed, stressed, hoping no one says anything or reluctant to ask for help. They will never forget the leader who approaches them with understanding and empathy – and offers the tools, resources or coaching to improve the situation.

Tough guy or compassion for the win?

While there are high profile leaders who liken being tough to being successful, research shows the opposite is true.

In 2016, Development Dimensions International (DDI) released their findings from a global study conducted over 10 years. They analyzed real behaviors and performance results of more than 15,000 leaders from 300 companies around the globe.

DDI reported that leaders who listen and respond with empathy rate 40% higher in:

  • Overall performance
  • Coaching others
  • Engaging others
  • Planning and organizing
  • Decision-making

Think about that: Listening and responding with empathy was the number one leadership skill that determined success worldwide.

When you use empathy to approach a team member about poor performance, it’s helpful to define responsibilities and expectations for their role, mapped against both company goals and their own personal goals.

We like to use the DiSC Management profile to help figure out employee motivators, so you can adapt your approach. Motivators are another aspect to consider and the employee might not even be able to articulate what motivates them, so learning to read body language, watch where they are comfortable and happy, etcetera, can go a long way.

This approach will earn not only their trust and loyalty, but you’ll have their buy-in. It’s a win-win because you’ll know what to expect and how to support their weak areas and they will feel valued and supported.

Five tactics for avoiding poor performance

In addition to having emotionally intelligent, empathetic performance conversations, you can help your team members avoid poor performance by:

  1.     Scheduling regular one-to-one check-ins. This might take a bit more time to start, but it often pays off later. Be prepared to really listen and talk about how they’re doing, what they’re doing and if there are any issues. If you sense trouble, be prepared to help the team member clarify expectations and responsibilities and identify ways their work could be supported.
  2.     Not swooping in with solutions. Listen, be a sounding board and ask the team member to brainstorm solutions. What do they think they need to accomplish something? This will help you determine whether someone is motivated to improve and it gives your team member the opportunity to grow and stretch. Follow-up to see how things are progressing in case you do need to offer more help.
  3.     Identifying smaller steps. When you want to help someone perform better consider whether the goal needs to be broken down into smaller goals and/or whether it would help to have milestones attached to a timeline. Often, having work expectations set out in a more manageable way helps a team member turn around their performance (especially if they are dealing with outside stressors such as health problems or family issues). Again, don’t do all the work. Involve the team member in breaking things down, identifying priorities and setting goals they can reach successfully.
  4.     Watching for success. Celebrate when you see things on the upswing by thanking them for their hard work and perseverance. Note what they’re doing well so they feel appreciated, supported and motivated to keep improving. Are they asking for help when needed? Do they need continued supports or skills development?
  5.     In time, evaluating how things have gone. After a few months, is this employee on a new trajectory? Or are you finding the same issues are coming up again and again? There are times that despite all your best efforts – and all their best efforts – things are not any better. If it really isn’t working, it’s time to move to an Essential Conversation before, if necessary, moving to formal disciplinary actions.

Coach’s Questions:

Was there ever a time that you were met with empathy and compassion  – or were not  – when you were struggling? In hindsight, can you think of times when as a leader you could have used more empathy to address poor performance? What can you start doing now to avoid poor performance from your team?