The change to remote/digital working has put pressure on leaders and staff across various sectors and settings. Remote working has some significant advantages on the old way of interacting, with many enjoying less commuting time and more focussed meetings, however, Fosslien et. al. (2020) suggest that people are struggling with zoom fatigue and feeling more isolated. There are several possible reasons for this. One, it is very easy to get distracted and do other things whilst you are on a zoom call, reducing our genuine engagement with one another. Two, we lose out on the essential information that we take for granted in face to face communication, we miss out on social cues and body language that aide relationship development. Three, our natural genetic make up favours face to face connection (Cacioppo cited in Brown, 2018), so extensive time spent interacting on virtual calls fails to satisfy our basic human need for connection.
So what can you do...
Managers can think through the ground rules for new ways of working. How might roles within their teams change? What are the overt, as well as hidden expectations about workload and the amount of time spent physically present in the office? What channels will people use to communicate, and how often? Will there be any changes to performance management processes? At a time of uncertainty and as new working practices bed in, employees need to be clear about boundaries and expectations.
Build psychological safety
Employees need to know that they can be themselves and express their views without fear of negative consequences. Power is more pronounced in a digital working environment. Leaders have a role to play in helping managers become more aware of the power dynamics in the virtual space and how this affects the way people speak up – or stay silent.
Hold open forums
Meetings quite naturally tend to focus on the business aspect of organisational life. We discuss goals, action plans and financial results. But employees also need informal spaces where they can talk openly about their personal experiences of hybrid and any anxieties about what the ‘new normal’ means for them. Leaders could consider facilitating open forums where employees can share what may be difficult emotions around the changes and talk about what’s working – and what’s not – when it comes to hybrid.
Don’t avoid conflict
Avoiding difficult conversations is easier in the virtual space. But if issues are allowed to fester, people become anxious and stressed, productivity declines and morale and motivation can take a downturn. Leaders can help by offering managers training in how to manage conflict and handle difficult or challenging conversations.
Train managers in virtual working styles
Managing people in the virtual space is not the same as leading a team in a conventional face-to-face environment. Leaders cannot assume that managers automatically know how to do this well. Our recent research highlighted that managers are hungry to learn new skills around how to maintain effective connections with dispersed teams.
Connecting virtually requires a great deal of adaptation and efforts by everyone. Please acknowledge good virtual behaviours/practices. For example, use of the chat function, maintaining focus/concentration
About the author
Guy Lubitsh (younger sibling) is an organisational psychologist and Professor of practice at Ashridge Executive Education/Hult International Business School, where he teaches and consults on leadership and organisational change. His work spans sectors and industries including; Novo Nordisk, BskyB, World Health Organisation, Diabetes UK and British National Health Service. This often involves coaching and assisting senior executives on how to improve organisational performance through increasing their ability to improve personal impact and connecting with others on individual, team and organisational levels. Guy trained in organisational consulting at the Tavistock Centre in London and is a visiting Professor at the Interdisciplinary Centre in Herzlia. He lives in North – West London and continuously adapts his personal communication style, to connect with his two teenagers and wife. In his spare time, he enjoys yoga and always seeks opportunities, to sail in the Mediterranean Sea.
Books by Guy Lubitsh
Further details on how to connect in a virtual environment, can be found in ‘Connect – Resolve conflict, improve communication and strengthen relationships’
This content has been created by authors in their personal capacity. Any views, thoughts and opinions expressed belong solely to the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Pearson.