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September 8, 2020

How to appreciate your employees remotely

While technology has enabled many organizations and businesses to continue during the pandemic, leaders need to be more intentional than ever about listening to their remote employees, appreciating their efforts under extreme circumstances, and sharing positive reinforcement.

Steve Campbell is founder and CEO of pro-voke in Portland.

Here are some simple approaches every leader can use.

Plan spontaneity. What’s missing for people is the chance to bump into each other in the hallway or wander into the cafeteria, see a familiar face, and pull up a chair without intention. Even virtual happy hours are planned, so they don’t always replace the random chance to connect, which most people value in creating community in the workplace.

Find ways to create that one-on-one or small-group space for those on your team without an agenda. If it’s a virtual cup of coffee or a few check-ins on the calendar, less formal time often leads to greater connection and greater creativity.
Infuse empathy. Take the time to really appreciate that people are going through a big range of emotions, both personally and professionally. Aside from COVID-19, lots of life events that would have been shared widely at the office are now taking place absent that audience and energy. Ways of celebrating, mourning and missing people have been turned upside down.

Today, it’s even more important to try to get a sense for what’s going on for others, then to take care to meet them where they are. While it was more natural to just ask how someone was faring at the beginning of the pandemic, we’re still encouraging clients to keep asking. It’s not a linear process. People are going to feel the impact of the world around them or the change to their work environment at different times and in different ways.
Encourage visibility. It comes naturally for some people to extend their voices, their presence and their personality in a virtual world. For most others it takes intention and practice. In a face-to-face world, people who are physically in the room, feel like they’re participating, even if they’re not saying a word. Virtually, they become invisible…sometimes even just a couple of initials on a patchwork quilt of monograms. Engagement suffers from this. Lightly structured facilitation of virtual meetings can also even out the participation so that the usual suspects who jump right into the conversation don’t overwhelm or limit the group's diversity of thinking.
Beware of harsh hard stops. At the end of face-to-face meetings, it’s common to see participants checking in with each other, continuing a particular thread of a discussion, or reinforcing the points each other made in the session. Virtual meetings end with a single push of a button, shutting everything down all at once. This can leave some people feeling incomplete, and for others to wonder if they were really heard. Taking the time to create a couple of minutes of space before slamming the conversation to conclusion can add a lot of value to a discussion. It takes more curiosity than simply asking,“Does anyone have any questions?" But it can make a big impact.
Understand that “virtual” doesn't mean “any time.” For some, work-life balance has gotten tossed about in this new world. Without “time on the property” or "normal” work weeks, the lines between when to connect and when to wait have been blurred. While not deliberate, this can have unintended consequences. Many feel like others are hanging around and just as available as they might be at any given moment, so they ring up their colleagues. Weekends and evenings have become fair game for less urgent matters. Leaders would do well to introduce some new guiding principles in this regard. Encourage people to stay connected to the business and each other, but also allow for an occasional “gone fishing” sign to be appreciated and respected.

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