How we are staying connected when we’re apart
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I’ve always been a people person and enjoy the energy of meeting face-to-face with others. So, when we shifted to working in a virtual environment almost a year ago, it was a hard adjustment for me, and I know a difficult transition for many of my colleagues as well.
When the world went into “lockdown,” I had been in my role at Takeda for less than a year, and in-person interactions with colleagues across the oncology business had been a top priority for me and my leadership team. Working from home meant we could no longer take the pulse of the team by walking the halls or reading physical cues in a conference room. Like others around the globe, we were compelled to find new ways to stay connected and keep everyone engaged at the same level as before even though we remained apart.
While Covid-19 has brought challenges unlike any we have faced before, it has also provided us with opportunities and leadership lessons that will guide us as we navigate a new, hybrid world of working together.
Equip leaders to effectively engage in a virtual world
Research shows that highly engaged teams deliver significantly better results, yet many leaders have struggled to connect virtually with colleagues. It’s hard to show warmth and personality in a digital environment. Too often, team interactions become rote and impersonal. To drive engagement, virtual leaders must show their teams that they are accessible and available to support them on both a personal and a professional level.
TIP: To help leaders become more effective in guiding virtual teams, stress the importance of more frequent touchpoints — such as weekly one-on-one meetings or informal office hours — and lead by example. Prioritize regular check-ins with your leadership team members, just as you expect them to do with those they manage. It’s also important to set goals and hold individuals accountable with clear deadlines, which can help improve prioritization and organization.
Maintain a genuine human connection
In a remote world, video or phone meetings are your only opportunity to connect with colleagues on a meaningful level. Gone are the days of asking people about their day or weekend over morning coffee or when passing each other in the halls. I have always believed that taking the time to ask personal questions and listen to how people are doing emotionally is just as important as checking off every item on a formal meeting’s agenda. And this is even more important to remember in today’s environment. That’s why I’ve made a few important tweaks to my day-to-day, building more time into my calendar to catch up with people — often devoting as much as half an hour to talk about our lives outside of work — and spacing calls to avoid feeling rushed and to maintain my energy.
TIP: Remember, your energy impacts others — so make sure you’re giving every conversation the focus it deserves.
Use video when possible, but never shame others for turning it off
When interacting with colleagues in person, it’s easy to convey enthusiasm through non-verbal cues and facial expressions. However, in our current virtual world, it is up to each leader to find alternative ways to set the tone for the organization. I’ve personally found that the best way to demonstrate my energy and passion is to be on camera as much as possible, though I recognize that this approach doesn’t work for everyone. At times video can be draining instead of energizing, making it essential to strike the right balance.
TIP: Use video frequently, but don’t make it a requirement. While there is absolutely no shame in taking a break from video when needed, more often than not, people will follow your lead, turning cameras on and becoming more engaged in conversations as a result.
Don’t take yourself too seriously, take what you do seriously
There is nothing light about the pandemic, or about fighting cancer. But that doesn’t mean you can’t see the humor in the everyday — whether it’s a dog barking through your conference call or your makeshift office that used to be a closet. When you’re able to laugh at yourself and with your team, the energy can fill the virtual room and make people feel less isolated. Research has also found laughter is linked with higher motivation and productivity.
TIP: Have fun! Send colleagues a meal from a local restaurant to share a virtual lunch. Hold an ugly sweater contest. A little levity and humor can go a long way in building a team and a happy, energetic work environment, especially when working remotely.
While this has been an emotional and challenging year for all of us, it also provides a great opportunity to change the way we conduct and approach work for the better. It’s up to each leader to chart the path to a new normal, leveraging all that we’ve learned in a virtual environment to stay connected, energized and engaged with colleagues in a new, hybrid world.