She said to me, with a smile that was more visible in the corner of her eyes than anywhere else, "I feel calm. I know what I need to do and I'm ready."
You would think I gave her some sage wisdom, but in fact, I did not. The advice was very, very simple. Over 90% of the call was WAY more difficult than giving advice.
In workplaces all across the globe, our typical social interactions have dramatically shifted. We've gone digital - and while there's some real value in a no-commute, keep-on-your-slippers workplace, there are some important costs of the shift.
These costs can be assuaged with some intention, and in two somewhat simple (simple and easy are different, remember!) maneuvers, we can demonstrate leadership to our teams when the need it most.
And they need it now.
"[Humans are] profoundly shaped by our social environment and that we suffer greatly when our social bonds are threatened or severed," says scientist Matthew Lieberman in this article about how we're wired.
Social bonds are certainly threatened in this new digital movement. But more importantly towards solutions, he also suggests that "praise and an environment free from social threats are also powerful motivators."
Motivators, they are, and motivators they shall be! :)
Let's get to it. Here's two things you and your team can do to help relieve stress - whether it be related to money, parenting, family, health, not getting up from the chair enough, or anything else:
1. Host Empathy Sessions (Otherwise known as Check-Ins)
Not unlike your review meetings, or your check-ins, these are all about your people being human. They need attention, they need connection. It's part of being human.
For those that are tasked with managing others, taking the time each month to spend 1-on-1 with each staff member may sound like spending all week on calls. While it does seem daunting, and may even feel like it's off coursing some of your week, there's some real value to you, your team and the business overall.
An empathy session is more than just a check-in; it's a tactical ace.
An empathy session is more than just a check in; it's a tactical Ace for your team to feel praised and unthreatened, from the above statement about how to motivate them. Instead of feeling the need to power them through, or provide the right words, lean into the "question-as-a-response" conversation starter.
This may require you to be incredibly intentional about how you set up the call. My advice would be to do these three things:
A. Schedule the call and in that initial invite, share the intention clearly. You can share that you'd like to create space to listen and see how they are doing, beyond the simple tenants of how their work is doing. Acknowledge their human. See their humanity.
B. When you first get on the video or voice call, rephrase the intention. "I'd love to create just a little window of time to be open, listen and support you. I know we have working relationship, but we're people, and I want to support you. I may not be able to solve all your problems, in and out of work, but I can show support for you and be here for you to listen."
Here's the hardest part (C). Actually listening.
If someone tells you about how hard it's been managing work and a kid at home, but you don't have kids, keep listening and fight the urge to reply. If you need a tip, reiterate what was said. "I hear you, and while I don't know what it's like to experience that, I can imagine it would be a challenge." Sometimes, that can be enough.
Empathy begins when we see someone's strength through their circumstances (not compared to our own). It succeeds when we can acknowledge that the shoes they are walking in are different, and that as another human being doing the best they possibly can, we appreciate them nonetheless.
2. Engagement Video Calls (Not your Typical ZOOM Call)
Just because we're alone doesn't mean we have to feel alone. Creating some engagement activities can bring up the team spirit, which is good for business. It's good for your team's morale individually, too.
You've got video tools, sure, but adding some engagement can go a long way to how your team feels about them.
At Ortus Academy, we had team members that didn't know each other, and had never met. It was a challenge to think about how we could possible 'have a team' without ever being able to meet, and our efforts to create an experience was unexpectedly good.
Here's some ideas that work well even in a digital environment to get your team out of their seats, engaged in communicating, or taking action with a teammate. These all vary based on your team or group size, but can be deployed at any level. We ran these infrequently just to change it up and make sure everyone felt connected. If there was ever an indicator that someone felt disconnected, we immediately scheduled one of these (or jump on an empathy session right away!).
Tip #1: Use the chat, polls, and tools!
Ever said something to the effect of "I need a change of scenery!" The rules apply to calls too. Move people's attention to a different place, get them typing, thinking responding. We start all of our webinars and workshops by asking people to share something they are grateful for, and it's created some interesting new energy in a zoom call. But it also gets people into the conversation without any needed over-talking.
You've got polls that do the same, hand raising buttons, and all kinds of tools, no matter what software platform you use. Get active with them.
Pro tip, open an empty video 'room' and play around with the tools. Then you get bring it to your team.
Ask questions that stay within your company's boundaries, but allow someone to be themselves. Maybe it's a quiz about polar bears, or a fact-finding google mission to embark on. There are lots of options, it may take some planning for those that are new to it.
Tip #2: Make it a game!
Between "would you rather" and other games of the mind, you can come up with playful ways to engage with your team and provide a little mental break. These games take less than 10 minutes, and can be a great add on to start or end a meeting.
Play is just as important to adults as it is to kids
Despite this sounding juvenile, there's plenty of research that says play is great for adults. Among some of the benefits is stress reduction.
You can come up with some easy games. Most of them stem around getting creative and being brave in your own personality. We tried a few like this:
If you were to lead a parade riding any real or imagined animal playing an instrument, what would you ride in on and why?
What is your favorite _________? Let people express themselves with their favorite movie, piece of clothing, personal passtime. Set some boundaries first, but this can certainly open up a lot of healthy dialogue, especially in a show-and-tell manor. "Find a meme from your favorite movie, and we'll see who can guess it!"
Find an online personality test, and talk about it? What are the pros and cons of that personality? We've got a money personality test here!
Tip #3: Bring on the scavenging!
Getting people out of their chair has lots of benefits, including a laugh. What can you create as a scavenger hunt? Maybe your team needs to find several Blue items, 4 total, that can fit in your hand. Or maybe it's something that you've never ever used. Or maybe it's a branded item with your logo on it. You can race for time or you can just enjoy sharing the story.
We love to get stories interwoven into this kind of exercise. We may have our team find something in their house that reminds them of their favorite trip, and tell us what it makes them think of. Or, we invite them to find something they feel represents something they love to do outside of work.
The possibilities are endless!
As you can see, there are cost-effective ways to make team connections real.
In a time when financial stress is deeply impacting people, among other stressors, taking the time to connect with your team can have wonderful effects.
Take care of your people, and you'll be more prepared for any challenges that come your way.
We're human. We get stressed. And if our team can show how much we are valued while we are stressful, we will certainly show up and play hard when we're back operating at 100%.