It’s the day before our team meeting at Opportunity Lab and, as a way to prepare for it, I reflect on the latest book I read and some of the insights I gained from it. I’m excited to share these insights with my colleagues, whom I know are also avid readers; I’m glad to know that we share a passion outside of work. I know about my team’s interests because since the lockdown, we’ve adopted a practice of beginning each team meeting with a check-in on topics outside our immediate business agenda. These check-ins have led us to discuss our favorite childhood stories, our meditation routines, favorite hiking trails, kids’ virtual school experiences, and many other topics. As a company that wasn’t new to operating remotely, we were prepared for this aspect of the COVID-19 era; still, like many others, we’ve had to address the challenge of needing to work more closely together through a crisis which has us physically further apart. We realized that without consciously creating a space where we could share and connect as human beings, we ran the risk of losing the team bond we’d cultivated while spending time together in the office. Now, in our virtual check-ins, we give each other glimpses of our home lives and we feel like we’re growing, learning, and connecting more as a result.
It’s in our nature to seek human connection under normal circumstances, and in periods of sudden change and adversity, people find comfort in coming together. Matthew Lieberman, the author of Social: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Connect, argues that “we are profoundly shaped by our social environment, and we suffer greatly when our social bonds are threatened or severed.” Our society has now passed the half year mark of social distancing, and many have developed their own sort of routine to get their work done remotely. In speaking with business leaders across industries, however, we are finding that employees are getting progressively less engaged–with their teams, and with overall company cultures. So how should companies maintain productivity and foster innovation among their remote workforce, while maintaining the level of connectedness and care expected of a conscious business?
Our company is built on the premise of seeing opportunity in adversity. Having grown up amid the constant political and economical instability of the Soviet Union and the post-Soviet era, I’ve come to develop a skill set for handling uncertainty. Later in my career, the financial crisis of 2008 inspired me to work on helping clients effectively navigate change. In 2020, we developed the Share Lab program – a simple yet impactful tool that helps companies breathe new life into weary virtual teams. The key components of the program, and what we see as prerequisites to successfully engaging employees during the lockdown, are:
- Provide a safe space for employees to reflect on their current situations, and to identify, develop, and express new perspectives on them. It is impossible to work through change without first acknowledging what’s happening around us. Living through a pandemic is scary and overwhelming, and may look very different for many people; perhaps someone in your team has found a great way to organize their remote day, while someone else is unclear on how to prioritize their responsibilities. Hearing diverse perspectives not only helps the team stay connected, but also increases awareness of individual experiences and often sparks creative ideas.
- Empower employees to embrace vulnerability, practice gratitude, and connect with their colleagues on a personal level. While helping conscious business leaders manage impact and profitability, time and time again we evoke the Power of Vulnerability. As a society, we’ve worked exceptionally hard to maintain some level of normalcy: to focus on work, to support our families, to stay civically engaged, and to take care of our physical health. Most of us are experiencing some level of fear and anxiety. Having the opportunity to feel through this uncertainty and accept it, and practice gratitude with a group of people we spend the major part of our day with, can be healing and comforting.
- Provide leaders with an opportunity to enhance connections with their teams. Now that organizations across the globe have been operating remotely for quite some time, we’re seeing more and more new employees – including new leaders – struggling to build rapport with their teams without the ability to go out for lunch or a team outing. Employees are expected to integrate with their new teams, or maintain strong relationships with existing ones, without the opportunity to connect in a less formal setting. How much do you know about your employees’ experience of the pandemic? What things are crowded out or left unaddressed when emails or video chats are limited to specific work agendas? Prioritizing active listening, difficult topics, and judgement-free environments can truly guide a conscious leader through giving their team the support it needs.
Our clients now lead the way in supporting their employees by bringing Share Lab to their organizations. Liana Scobie, VP of Financial Performance and People Operations at TerraCycle said, “Our employees greatly enjoyed the new way of meeting, and being reminded of the importance of conscious leadership. Utilizing the tools Opportunity Lab gave us, we will continue to practice Share Labs across the company”. Michael Amkreutz, CEO of Adorama, adds: “The Share Lab program has been key in helping our leadership team stay in touch with what our employees need.”
With 58% of US workers continuing to operate remotely at least some of the time, our personal and professional lives are more intertwined than ever. The consequences of the COVD-19 pandemic are devastating and there is no clear end in sight. Let us stand up to this global challenge as a conscientious and united business community – a community that prioritizes the emotional well-being of our employees, leaders, and customers, even if that means just taking time to connect over a colleague’s favorite book. We will all be better for it.