A large portion of NT Concepts has been working remotely for over a month now, and I’m starting to feel that many of us are settling into a steady rhythm. I also believe that my immediate team has been communicating and working together even more effectively and efficiently than we did before the COVID-19 health crisis disrupted our daily routines.
My hypothesis behind this newfound efficiency is pretty simple. We’re not wasting time and effort on quite as many unnecessary or repetitive daily tasks and decisions (e.g., choosing an outfit, commuting in traffic, or just deciding when to leave to avoid traffic). It’s streamlined our days and freed up time and decision-making power. And that’s afforded our team members an increased measure of focus to address the more pressing and important tasks at hand. Besides, none of us are sidetracked by a desire to wander around the office (a habit that I am very fond of), which then distracts others.
I brought up these musings to a coworker, observing that it seemed like everyone was more connected than we’ve ever been. She gently reminded me that not everyone is experiencing the same high level of clarity, focus, and connectedness that I am during this time of unprecedented separation. She gave a list of valid reasons.
There are those among us who thrive in collaborative, social situations where ideas can be examined, challenged, and built upon. Many feel like a solo endeavor limits their ability to produce work as efficiently or easily as they did in the traditional office setting. And for some of these people, the isolation actually causes frustration, in addition to the feelings of being disconnected—both socially and professionally—from their teams. Many of us are homeschooling our kids. Some of us may be caring for a sick family member. And for others, just trying to get to the grocery during pre-allocated hours (which may be mid-day) can be a source of guilt.
At this point, we know that we’re going to continue on like this for the next few months. With that in mind, we started to think about the importance of recognizing each person’s distinct situation. Some of us work better in isolation and others feel like we’re disconnected and not accomplishing tasks as efficiently as we normally would.
To create an environment where we can continue to advance our people and our business, we need to enable each person to customize their most productive approach to work. Remaining poised and capable of staying on the front edge of making decisions requires us to connect and collaborate in new ways. My colleague and I took a moment to consider how we can bring people into the process now, recognizing their specific aptitudes and challenges, and how what we do now will position teams and people to be more effective collaborative units going forward.
In pursuit of this goal to position each individual and our teams to be as effective decision-makers as possible during this time, we have strategized a three-pronged approach:
- Set a time for every purpose
- Create a process for sharing information
- Determine decision-making standards
Ways to customize and optimize for each member of the teamThese three considerations take into account that some people may be working more productively from home than they did in the office setting. For those individuals, we want to ensure that we don’t add back any tasks, decisions, or distractions that were interrupting their productivity. On the other hand, for those who have a challenging work-from-home environment, either because they are distracted by other tasks (or people) or because they struggle to focus in an absence of in-person human interaction, purpose and clearly set standards are equally vital.
A time for every purposeRecognizing that communication is important, take care not to interrupt the flow of someone’s focused work or create unmanageable expectations. As a team, schedule times during the day when it is expected that people are available via phone, messaging platforms (for us, it’s Teams), or email — and other times when it’s acceptable to turn off those channels to minimize distractions. Remind everyone that that taking a pause during the day to take care of loved ones or a household task is acceptable—we are no longer living in a 9-to-5 world, and people who manage others need to keep this in mind.
A process for information-sharingMake an effort to put extra clarity in place about how you and your team plan, gather, share and record information. With quick, in-person conversations no longer possible, the information exchange can seemingly be hampered. Don’t let that hold up your team. Find out how people like to communicate—it can be a simple text message, email, or chat message. Carefully document and communicate context, requirements, progress, roadblocks, and needs with coworkers and managers. It can feel like a burden to write extra information or schedule additional calls, but teams that adhere to this pattern can avoid costly mistakes and misunderstandings down the line. As a side benefit, you may find that some of your team members thrive as an organizer. If you’re putting guidelines in place for exchanging information, someone will have to manage them. This responsibility might be fuel and purpose for that individual who welcomes every opportunity to connect with teammates.
A decision-making standard
Whether the decisions are fast and urgent or more strategic and drawn out, it’s often necessary for teams to work collaboratively toward an outcome. With the individuals on those teams distributed, success hinges on standards for timing, deliverables, and other measurements of decision-making progress. Put diligence into making sure that timelines, record keeping, and reporting outcomes help people feel like they are working together.
Empower leaders to work with individuals and teams across the spectrum
We’re all adapting to new work patterns as a result of the new and varied work environments (and our natural responses to them). That is a reality we can’t control. What we can do is work together to guard against falling into patterns of disorganization or disconnection that interrupt productive communication and decision-making.
The first step for leaders is to have a clear picture of the current benefits and struggles that each individual they are responsible for is facing. This is really nothing new. The difference is that it’s more important now to customize your approach when dealing with people and recognize that not everyone has the same needs and desires. This can be summed up in three points:
- Identify how people work best and how they need to work so you know the right approach.
- Make a conscious process of connecting with people individually, on a regular basis.
- For each team member, consider their personality, role, lifestyle, and home environment.
Doing these things is a team effort that is guided by the leader. Particularly in the time of economic fear, people want to know their role and feel a sense of control. By creating and managing a virtual environment that keeps people organized, clear about their place in the decision-making engine, and connected to one another in ways that work well for everyone, you’ll not only have a happier team, but you’ll also have a more productive one.
The success of our endeavors now and in the future rests on the rigor with which we bring people into the decision-making process. This is true even — perhaps especially — during uncertain times like these. Consider how your efforts in this work are strengthening your team and contributing to our shared value of supporting each other. Our success will be reflected in more personalized support systems and deeper connections as coworkers, laying the groundwork for the new normal afterward.
Chris Gros is NT Concepts’ talent maker. With an infectious leadership style that inspires innovation and action, he continuously improves our approach to professional development by challenging our status quo: how we listen, how we learn, and how we problem-solve together.