"communicating at work"

Mon 6 April 2020
As remote work grows in popularity, the need for keeping individuals in-tune and engaged in the company culture increases substantially.

Remote work removes many of the inconveniences associated with going into work like commutes and distractions, but it takes away a key component to what makes company culture…connection!

This article serves to show a key way companies can go about maintaining and even improving the level of connectivity between employees as their work location becomes remote.

Before jumping into suggestions on maintaining and growing connectivity of employees as their work location becomes remote, let’s observe how employees connect in an office environment.

In our research on facilitating horizontal mentoring relationships for employees, we have learned that 68% of engaged employees that don’t work remotely believe that there are communication barriers between them and other employees. This is a critical statistic because this shows that even engaged employees feel that they are silo’d off from other employees, even if they work in the same office. 

Reframing this point, most people don’t know what their counterparts in other departments do for their work and the conversations they do have are typically superficial (e.g. sports, weather, fashion, family).

As more people begin to work remotely, this is going to get worse because employees are going to lose the little interaction they do have with each other. All communication is going to be work related and the emotional identity employees have of being a member of the company will soon fade.

Just to be clear, the emotional identity employees have of being a member of the company is the company’s culture! Once that is gone, there is no more culture!

One key to keeping remote employees engaged in the culture of the company is to set aside time for employees to have intentional conversations with each other.

These conversations are not superficial while also not completely about work. These conversations are free from the workplace hierarchy (e.g. title has nothing to do with what is and isn’t shared in these conversations). These conversations provide a platform for employees to share what they are working on with another employee, learn obstacles the other person is facing, ask clarifying questions that they don’t normally ask or get asked, and identify ways to find breakthroughs at work – emotionally, operationally, mentally, or physically.

These relationships create empathy between employees. These relationships breakthrough communication barriers between employees. These relationships build a greater sense of identity employees have with the company. 

This is called horizontal mentorship.

Optimal horizontal mentorship means:

·        Pairing employees together based on shared Work Orientation – or their shared workplace value system.
·        Providing meeting agendas to drive the conversations towards building rapport and being vulnerable.
·        Collecting feedback and learning what tangible outcomes were created every few months from meeting.
·        Switching mentor pairings every 6-12 months to continually build a web of connection between employees.
·        Everyone participating is willing to be open-minded enough to learn from somebody else regardless of their age or experience, willing to ask questions, and willing to share past mistakes.

When horizontal mentorship is implemented optimally, all employees, especially remote employees, feel a greater level of connectivity and identity with their company.
Mon 8 June 2020
A shift is taking place in management. Today, more people are working remotely than ever before. Managers that are (usually) staunchly opposed to letting employees work remotely are being forced to let down their guard and take the chance. But once people are allowed back into the office, will these managers still be open letting their employees work remotely?

 

As we all adjust to these changes in work, this article will help by sharing some tips that professionals can leverage with their supervisors to continue to work remotely, even after things start going back to normal (a term used loosely).

 

The biggest hurdle most managers face when it comes to allowing remote work is trust. Managers may be hesitant to admit it, but they convey this information in their word choice and explanations.

 

For example, I interviewed a professional who commutes 3 hours every day to work. 3 hours every single day! He knows he can be just as productive at home as in the office. But when he brought this up, his manager dismissed the idea, responding, “we allowed one person to work remotely one time and it completely backfired.”

 

Managers that don’t fully trust their employees often cite one-off events they’ve heard from other colleagues to ‘inform’ their decisions for managing their employees. 

 

These divisive, stubborn decisions are based on a limited sample set with a completely different set of people! Why do they do this? Their answer often boils down to fear of “getting burned again”. The simple fact is that people are inherently resistant to change. Until the pain or pressure overcomes this resistance to change, they will continue to choose the familiar path (i.e. inaction) over uncertain outcomes that require action. Their risk-averse approach can lead their direct reports to think that their manager is prioritizing their own comfort over taking a chance to give their employees flexibility. 

 

This is human nature! 

 

The best managers override this natural tendency. Unfortunately for many people, their manager may not share this open-minded approach to work.

 

Here are some tips for building trust with your manager so you can eventually stake a claim that you deserve to work remotely.

 

Be open about your obstacles

 

Vulnerability is a powerful way to build trust with your manager. If your goal is to work remotely full-time (except when necessary) but your manager opposes it, be open about the obstacles you will face working from home. Let’s be fair: these choices do have potential downsides. An honest assessment is a powerful tool for tempering your manager’s fears. If your pitch pretends there are zero downsides to remote work, you will be leaving the manager forced to come up with their own assessment of downsides because we all know that if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.  

 

They will begin making assumptions about your capabilities and how working remotely will affect your productivity. And if they started out skeptical, their assumptions are going to draw from this pessimistic outlook and distort reality, thus dashing your hopes of remote work.

 

By being open about the obstacles you face working remotely, you build trust. You work together with your manager to brainstorm what the obstacles are and how you can overcome those obstacles. You empower your manager to be on your team and empathize with you. You flip the script and the manager becomes a teammate instead of the barrier between you and your goal.

 

Pro tip: Dr. Robert Cialdini in his book Pre-suasion discusses the best way to deliver obstacles. He mentions that if you are going to deliver an obstacle or a weakness, that you should follow it with the terms “but”, “yet”, or “however” followed by reasons you can overcome that obstacle or weakness. From a psychological perspective, it forces the listener to focus on the last thing you said, not the obstacle itself. For example, “Working at home will definitely have distractions like the television, but I have turned my second bedroom into an office strictly for work and that will help me separate me from the rest of the distractions in my house.”

 

Share your motivations

 

Why are you interested in working remotely? If you don’t share this, they may assume that you are up to no good. I learned some insight from a body language expert that I believe is relevant to this situation: you build trust with your hands. If somebody can’t see your hands (e.g. one was behind your back), the biological and instinctual assumption is that the hand is hidden for nefarious purposes. 

 

When you don’t show your hands, or in this case, the motivations behind why you want to work remotely, the natural assumption a manager may have is that you hid them for a reason. 

 

Everyone has reasons for the actions they take, even if they aren’t immediately apparent. Showing that your motivations are reasonable and sensible is critical to your manager being open to supporting your goal of working from home. 

 

A quick note on this, your motivations should be mutually related. If we look at the example earlier in the article about the guy commuting 3 hours every day for work, that reason alone will probably not move the needle for a manager. The reason is that it only provides benefits to you and not to your manager. Instead, if you can say that you could work more effectively and be even more productive, but that the 3-hour commute can drain your energy. This provides a clear, mutual benefit to the manager – greater productivity from their employees.   

 

 Create fail-safes 

 

Fail-safes are self-imposed regulatory guidelines for you to follow while working remotely. These provide indicators showing how productivity has changed compared to working at the office. Fail-safes provide your manager a clear metric they can use to decide whether to pull you back in. The manager’s fear is that if she allows you to work from home and your productivity falls then it will be difficult to have that conversation with you. This difficulty could lead to you getting fired or quitting, which your manager definitely does not want to have happen. 

 

Fail-safes allow your manager to look at the data, consider your output and self-imposed guidelines, and make a case for whether remote work is effective without letting their emotions or biases influence the decision. It is just data; either you hit your goals, or you didn’t.

 

Part of these fail-safes should incorporate the communal component of being physically present at the office. Some managers may not be concerned about your productivity but instead are concerned by the impact it may have on the team dynamic and company culture. One of your fail-safes should address how you will schedule regular, frequent conversations with colleagues, both in and outside of your department. These conversations should be about the obstacles that you and your colleagues are facing without being explicitly work-related. These types of conversations are the foundation of horizontal mentorship, and you would be creating your own network of horizontal mentor relationships within your company.

 

Ultimately, you may find out that working remotely doesn’t work for you. But for some people, it makes a massive difference on their productivity and their emotional health. If you follow these 3 steps, you should be able to make a strong case for why you should be allowed to work remotely.

Mon 13 July 2020
As a leader, your goal is to empower your people to operate optimally and enjoy the work they are doing. One key skill for achieving that goal is the ability to promote active listening and communication among your team

In the past, managers tried to get their teams to listen by micromanaging, providing constant reminders, and having frequent check-ins. All of these nit-picky activities cost time and energy for everyone involved.

As it turns out, it really doesn’t pay off. Instead, they ended up with a culture of mindless rule-following and stymied innovation. Those cultures are predicated on “what has always been done in the past.”

In these scenarios, leaders stress out because they perceive their teams’ lack of performance as a lack of listening, both to leadership and to each other. However, what happens, in reality, is that the culture of “do what I say” creates employees that are trained to not speak openly about problems and solutions with the team when the boss doesn’t allow it. It’s not that they can’t think on their own; they choose not to for fear of rejection or repercussions. 

How can you tell if you are building this type of repressive team culture?

Ask yourself, how often do your people challenge your ideas? Do they ever question you face-to-face?

If the answer is minimally or never, you are building a culture that stymies listening and communication, and subsequently, leads to loss of innovative thinking on your team. 

If this sounds like your team, fear not! You are not stuck in this position forever! You can start making progress today on improving your team’s cohesion, listening skills, and innovation. 

Humans are social animals by nature. That makes us perceptive, and we react to what we are sensing from the people we are around, even if we don’t consciously acknowledge it. 

We can learn from other highly social animals as well. For example, a few weeks ago my dog Sunni was recently attacked by another dog. 

After getting attacked, my fiancé, understandably, was nervous taking Sunni to the dog park. While my fiancé wanted Sunni to play and exercise at the park, Sunni seemed too anxious and refused to get more than a few feet away from her. Sunni could sense her nerves and blatantly disobeyed her requests for Sunni to go and play. Even though Sunni could probably tell my fiancé was saying to go play, she picked up on her owner’s anxiety and chose to ignore the commands and stay close.

The point is that just like Sunni picks up on her owner’s feelings and responds accordingly, your people will pick up on your feelings and respond to those, even if what you are saying is different.

Unfortunately, you can’t just order your people to “come up with innovative ideas” or ask them to start questioning your decisions. Feelings and body language are much more powerful than words. If your people don’t sense you are being authentic when you ask to have a more open, inclusive, innovative, and attentive culture, the message will fall on deaf ears.

Your people can tell when you are stressed out, and your stress doesn’t make them work any faster or better. In fact, it is likely to make them worse because, as a leader, your stress is shared with the team. Your people may not respond or act the way you want them to because their fear of stressing you out even more, all of which creates a feedback loop chock full of stressed-out bosses, unproductive employees, communication barriers…which unsurprisingly makes you more stressed.

The best remedy for this is vulnerability

Share with them what is on your mind and what concerns you may have. Nine times out of ten, fear of the unknown outweighs the fear of the known. When you keep it to yourself, and your people sense you are stressed, they will come up with their own thoughts on what might be stressing you out, which is its own novel source of stress.  

When you make your concerns and stressors known, you invite others to empathize with you and help you rally around the problem at hand. 

If you are vulnerable with your people, they are much more likely to reciprocate and be open with you. Your understanding of their challenges will help you build empathy for their work. 

Eventually, your people will build a greater understanding of why you are saying what you are saying and more willing to ask you questions if they are confused. Empathetic, effective communication is the key to building a strong team, and vulnerability will help you build trust and listening skills all across your team.

Building Mentor Connections Through Work Orientation

Kickstarting Mentorships For Fulfilling Careers