'I ask them to bring their drink of choice to our meeting," one of my coaching clients told me this past week, describing how she conducts her virtual one-to-one meetings in our new world of remote working. "This allows me to show up with my own glass of wine," she confided, chuckling.
The introduction of a more personal beverage selection into the business meetings (conducted after five o'clock, I am assured) has seemed to prompt a more intimate atmosphere in which her team members feel freer to divulge more of their personal lives.
"One team member shared the home schooling challenges he and his partner are struggling with, with their young children," my client said. "Another woman has revealed the painful ordeal of the break-up she is enduring with her husband while they are self-isolating under the same roof.
"It's going to be strange then, isn't it, when we eventually go back to our offices and no longer communicate like this?"
"Wait a minute," I said. Let's examine that notion for a moment. Your team members are entrusting you with sensitive vulnerabilities. Receiving and maintaining such a high level of trust demonstrates a higher level of leadership.
Do you really want to try to put this genie back into the bottle or would you rather find some way to preserve this special atmosphere?
Which brings me to today's point. After six weeks of remote working, I and other business forecasters are projecting numerous things will not revert to the way they were. Many remote workers will not return to their offices or desks, fewer executives will travel internationally for meetings that can be more efficiently conducted virtually, and more audio-only sales calls will be stepped up to video-conferencing.
Yes, the modes of business interactions and communications are dramatically changing. But, as illustrated by my client's conversations with her team members, we are also witnessing a dramatic change in the manner of our communications.
Quarantine is prompting a communications leader shift. The more we can acknowledge it, the more likely we will be able to codify it.
1. We're collectively getting real
From CEO to front-line worker, the complications of our 'self-isolationships' are requiring us to move out from behind our personal protection comfort zones. Toddlers or teens are hollering at us from beyond our screens. Difficulties with partners or room-mates have prompted some of us to initiate social-distancing guidelines inside our own homes.
Unlike pre-Covid restrictions, we feel comfortable talking about these difficulties with pretty much everyone. We're getting real, really fast.
2. We're collectively experiencing a wide range of emotions
Now that we're working, cooking, drinking, binge-watching, exercising, eating, crying, praying, dancing, cursing and laughing with the same people every meal, every day, the aggravations, anxieties and even warm feelings of contentment from a reflective stroll are smacking into us wantonly.
The noise from our tumult of emotions is softened, however, by our awakened awareness that others - our colleagues, our bosses - are experiencing them too.
3. We're entrusting ourselves
For those reasons, then, we feel more comfortable in discussing our situations with people who we might have once been more guarded. Last week, for instance, during my very first prospecting call (video-call, of course) with the head of learning and development for a large financial institution, I smiled as she unleashed a torrent of exasperation over her pre-teen who simply refused to do any more homework and had retreated into video games instead. "I can relate," I said.
We are in a global trust-fall. As leaders, we cannot catch someone today only to pull away from them tomorrow.
4. We should create new protocols
As CEOs and management teams are preparing new rules around social distancing, and intensive cleaning in preparation for re-entry, so too should protocols and guiding principles be established to ensure our heightened communications, combining with the more encouraging and nurturing leadership approaches being established, continue to be honoured and protected.
Some organisations have installed special frameworks to provide support for remote workers during this time. 'Rant buddies' or 'support mentors' have been assigned to employees. These alliances can be ongoing. Employees have been mobilised to innovate in team-building, sales and services ideas. Any such special incentive programmes should continue.
What we are learning about ourselves and others during this time will benefit and enrich companies and their employees for years to come.
Committing to a continuation of transparent and trusting communications, and to enhancing the teams and infrastructure you are establishing now, will go a long way toward ensuring the emotional and mental well-being of your workforce continues.
Another proven way is to encourage your workforce to tote their favourite adult beverage at your next business meeting. Or perhaps not.
With corporate clients on five continents, Gina London is a premier communications strategy, structure and delivery expert. She is also a media analyst, author, speaker and former CNN anchor. @TheGinaLondon
Write to Gina in care of SundayBusiness@independent.ie
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