Humans are social animals and we need interaction with others. During the pandemic, co-workers are seeing less of each other face to face and some are concerned about loved ones’ health. Restrictions on gatherings and rules for mask use and social distancing in the workplace make the current business climate challenging.
Communicating in ways that engage teams may require some creative thinking.
Zooming In or Zoning Out?
Companies are trying different approaches to business operations, scheduled meetings and in-person appointments and experiencing the strengths and weaknesses of different communication platforms.
Zoom seems to have swept the competition since both small and large businesses were already using it for video conferencing and training. It was a ready-to-go, familiar platform and COVID-19 made it go viral.
Zoom works well as designed—a web enabled conferencing platform that’s easy to download and start using right away. It was not designed as a robust collaboration and project management tool. Users get bored and distracted sitting in Zoom meetings.
Microsoft, Cisco, Google, Apple and other tech firms are working to provide higher quality user experiences as they expand virtual meeting products. Businesses can choose from a range of free or easily affordable options. In a May 14 blog, Zapier, a web and mobile app integrator, recommended these available tools according to their various strengths:
• Zoom for large video calls
• Google Meet for G Suite users
• GoToMeeting for its professional presentation features
• join.me for a free and functional option
• Webex for whiteboarding
• Slack for calls and the team chat app.
And it is an exploding industry with more options being rolled out that allow for customization. For example, SilverTech, a Manchester-based digital marketing and technology company, is partnering with Akumina, a Nashua-based intranet and employee experience platform developer, to design their own virtual workplace platform that integrates information across multiple systems into a mobile-friendly, personalized dashboard.
Some enterprises are channeling in-house manual processes to business process outsourcing (BPO) vendors, specialists who digitize and/or automate those processes. For example, outsourced digital mailrooms replace in-house mail processing centers. Locally, New England Document Systems in Manchester helps companies go almost entirely paperless and gain faster access to their data and documents.
Accountability vs. Big Brother
Copious home distractions pull employees away from work: Chores, kids, spouses, neighbors, pets, food and entertainment. While companies don’t want to be hall monitors, employees must understand that they are as much on the job at home as at the office or shop, and accountable.
So how can a company encourage (and enforce) a strong at-home work ethic? Frequent, purposeful communication is key:
• Take time for one-on-one meetings with everyone, virtually or in person.
• Recognize each small victory and give positive affirmation at every opportunity.
• Publish and distribute branded work-from-home success guidelines.
• Provide the tools and training employees need to be productive remotely.
• Consider sending each employee a branded company kit, such as laptop, dock and camera along with office supplies.
• Body language is crucially important to interpersonal and team communications. Take review meetings and brainstorming sessions offline, safely, whenever possible.
Keep Social Ties and Fun Alive
Instill the firm’s brand style and culture into virtual team building and social events:
• Unplug regularly to meet outdoors for company hikes, beach outings or picnics to stay personally connected.
• Encourage smaller teams to meet off-line occasionally for socially distanced walks or coffee klatch to get creative, discuss strategy and improve tactics.
• Hold virtual business-after-hours events by partnering with a local brewery. Have the same variety of beers sent to each employee’s home and invite the brew master in for five minutes to describe the brews.
• Host regular virtual luncheons with a favorite takeout meal delivered to each employee where possible.
• Try a virtual chef competition; have groceries delivered to each team member for a recipe to prepare at home and show the finished plate on camera, followed by a tasting critique.
• Set up games and competitions as virtual meeting icebreakers: Work trivia, most interesting artifact in the house, your youngest photo, best Zoom meeting background or branded apparel fashion show.
Focus on Results
Measuring productivity and success may need some new metrics as overhead costs and employee logistics change. The bottom line is still the bottom line. Do not look at the number of trackable work hours but instead focus on actual results. Communicate often with employees and keep the company culture alive.
Chris Duhaime is creative director of Pivot Creative, a digital strategy firm in Manchester. He can be reached at 603-540-8822 or email@example.com.