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Binomial is an innovation consulting firm helping clients be disruption-ready
May 15, 2020
How to create psychological proximity within your teams working from home
As mentioned in Part I of this two-part article, it is important for leaders to enable strong team synergy to keep teams performing well. It can be easy for employees to feel disconnected during work-from-home arrangements, so this article provides some tips that leaders can use to help forge stronger relationships within your team.
It was found that frequent employee check-ins are important for creating the right environment to build rapport between leaders and staff. Checking in with your employees regularly gives you opportunities to make sure that working from home does not affect their productivity, make sure they are able to stay on the same page as the rest of the team and check on their mental well-being. You can start with reminding them to take mental and physical breaks or participate in non-work activities once in a while.
You can support your employees more by collating a list of mental health programs (you can check out here and here) they can consider or suggesting coping mechanisms if they are experiencing mild anxiety. Now is a time when employees look to their leaders for help with their physical and mental well-being and those who feel cared for by their organisation will likely be more engaged.
If you are not sure of the right timing for the check-in, consider doing it every morning. Doing so first thing in the day can help employees be clear on the tasks they should embark on for the day and get them mentally ready to get things done. It does not have to be formal — a virtual morning coffee session for leaders and employees to have quick discussions for the day would work.
For example, General Assembly started having a video chat room which is open to all employees to join every morning for a chat over coffee with other employees in the company, while everyone is stuck at home. Meg Randall, Director of Product Delivery for General Assembly’s tech team said that coffee breaks help her mentally start her day.
“It’s just small talks that last for a few minutes, but it’s a nice ritual if you’re craving that human connection every day, which I have been.” — Meg Randall, General Assembly.
While virtual meetings are typically planned to get the work done for the company, setting up virtual meetings for non-work purposes to allow your employees to connect with one another on a personal level can be helpful for team bonding. It is now a trend among companies to hold virtual hangouts after working hours to allow everyone to get to know one another better.
One such example is HubSpot which conducts virtual happy hours at 6 pm daily on weekdays for employees to join in for a drink with their colleagues while connecting with them through conversations via Zoom. During hangouts like this, employees are strongly discouraged to mention anything which is work-related.
Definitely, it is not compulsory for virtual meetings like this to include alcoholic drinks. There are many different ways to engage your employees virtually such as participating in online games or quizzes when employees get into friendly competition with one another or watching a movie together. Yotpo Inc., a New York-based e-commerce marketing tools platform, even encourages its employees with musical talent to hold virtual concerts for the rest. Virtual hangouts can be conducted however you like as long as it allows you to connect with your team outside of work.
While it may be difficult to gather your employees for an hour just to connect with one another through activities, you may want to consider incentivising employees for doing so. Someone I spoke with shared how it was difficult to get employees to participate in their company’s weekly run (when everyone would run, walk, or cycle together) until the company started to let anyone participating head off earlier. It can be a good way to increase your employees’ participation in virtual team bonding initiatives and increase their level of engagement with the organisation.
You can also encourage or facilitate the setting up of interest groups that connect team members with the same interests. Identifying common interests was found to be one of the easiest ways to forge close relationships between colleagues. Having personal chat groups for non-work related matters can also encourage employees to speak up more and know more about their colleagues through his or her interests.
Meditation has been widely acknowledged as a great way to reduce stress and ease tension, so you can encourage staff to facilitate or lead meditation sessions using simple guidelines. It would be a great way for employees who are currently stressed to learn how they can better deal with stress from other colleagues. There are also meditation classes on the internet, and staff can either join in or create their own meditation routines.
Alternatively, employees can also opt to workout together virtually as it was also found to be an effective method for stress relieving. The crux is to find a workout at a level that most people can participate in (nothing too difficult) and send out the video link or workout plan beforehand, so colleagues who have injuries and cannot join can know. The last thing you want is people getting an injury from the team workout!
Aside from connecting employees over common interests, you can also want to hold regular or weekly virtual brown bag lunches whereby employees can embark on informal learning opportunities together over lunch. This can be an alternative method for connecting employees via common interests and does the magic through fostering a culture of learning and knowledge sharing within your company. It should not be about work all the time and you should encourage your employees to learn and be curious about different things together.
There are many free resources available online such as Coursera and EdX or a few good paid ones such as Masterclass which you can check out while deciding what to learn every week. If you want to make the sessions more interesting and engaging, you can invite guest speakers to do a sharing about a topic. The session may then conclude with internal sharings among employees on what was learnt and what people found interesting from the video or sharing.
Lastly, it is also important to hold short discussions for employees to share any key learning points he or she has gained during any part of his or her working journey.
It would also be a good time for your employees to raise up any difficulties they have been facing and get tips from other colleagues. This will not only help employees learn and feel better about themselves, but it also makes them feel they are important to the company.
I hope this two-part article has highlighted areas where leaders can help staff during the coronavirus crisis. It is difficult to predict when the COVID-19 situation will end and what changes will happen after that. However, it is important that leaders do what they can, with the operations of the company and with employees, to adapt and thrive in the ‘new normal’.
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