As we find ourselves in a different kind of hybrid working world - going into the office more regularly but with many meetings, presentations and networking events still held virtually, it's so important to make the working environment not just cohesive, but warm and collaborative. A survey by the ONS revealed that the biggest positive to come out of homeworking since the pandemic has been the work-life balance, whilst challenges of collaboration were the biggest challenge. So how do we build connection with others and make sure everyone feels seen and heard? Here are seven simple tips.
1. Make space for everyone
It’s easy for introverts to get left behind in larger groups, and this can be heightened in a virtual world, where conversations can feel somewhat disjointed and unnatural. Meetings can easily become dominated by one or two powerful voices, making it hard for the less confident members to put their ideas forward. The more introverted amongst us tend to keep more back as we don't think it's worthy of interrupting someone, so end up sitting silently behind our screen. This often leads to valuable ideas being lost.
To keep team relationships strong and boost morale, the meeting chair should make sure that everyone has the opportunity to speak. Rather than addressing the whole group with a more general "what does everyone think about that idea?", make a point of asking specific people for their ideas, then thank them for their insight before moving on. This makes everyone feel valued, confident and supported.
For team members who don’t feel confident to speak up, there are plenty of other ways to engage. For instance, in the private chat or over email after the meeting. The more this is encouraged, the more the team will feel like a real team.
2. Boost wellbeing
A great way to add wellbeing into your work routine is by creating space for a regular activity during work hours, where the team can escape from their to-do list and feel motivated, empowered and connected.
It works by nominating a different team member to choose the activity each week, making sure everyone gets to have a go, and has plenty of time to prepare it. Block out a 30-minute slot in your calendar where your team can join a Zoom call. At the beginning of the call, get the nominated team member to introduce the task, then spend 15 minutes guiding the team through it. This should be something empowering and thought-provoking (not necessarily work related!) that sets the team up for the week ahead. At LSW we've covered everything from journaling prompts and meditation exercises to fun quizzes and letter writing. Here are some ideas to start you off.
A step further...
At least one in six workers experience common mental health problems, including anxiety and depression. If you want to show your team that their wellbeing is important, why not send a Pause box by Mind? Each box is beautifully packaged, with a notebook, personalised gift message, reflection card and 5-minute activity, encourage staff to spend more time looking after themselves,
3. Invite them into your world
So often when giving virtual presentations, the speaker is met by silence and a sea of switched off cameras. It can be very depleting and the energy can go downhill quickly. In real life, this wouldn't happen - we never used to have the luxury of muting ourselves or hiding our faces while we attempt to multitask!
Love it or loathe it, leaving your camera on is key to connecting and building rapport in a virtual world and being present. Leaving your camera on shares a little bit of you, inviting people into your space. Whilst this might feel vulnerable, it's part of connecting fully and authentically.
Think about what your background says about you - could it be a starting point for connection? If not, how can you make positive changes to 'curate your square'? This small square, or rather rectangle, is all you have to showcase yourself and make yourself memorable, so give them something recognisable and take some time to curate your background. Add a plant or flowers, books or artwork - but whatever it is, make sure you have something that relates to you and makes you memorable.
4. Let your body help you
Body language is a huge part of communication and in the virtual world this is often forgotten about - they can only see your face, so what's the point in using the rest of your body?
Believe it or not, your eyes, body and gestures have a huge impact on how you come across virtually, not to mention how you feel on the inside. Even if it's an audio call, people will still hear if you’re slouching, unanimated and frowning. All of these invisible details affect the sound of our voice. Pay attention to your expression next time you are on the phone and see how your voice changes. When you engage your entire self, the listener on the other end might not consciously think about it, but subconsciously they will know you are present, engaged and enthused by the conversation.
Make an extra effort to give some warmth and positivity to others on the call, so that they feel reassured that you are open and attentive to their words. Gestures, nods, eye contact and facial expressions are all ways to do this - and remember that a smile can go a long way! By making the speaker feel more comfortable, they will be more likely to do the same for you when it's your turn to speak.
If you find it nerve-wracking speaking to a group in a virtual environment, make sure you sit with your shoulders back and your feet grounded. These simple adjustments to your posture send a message to your brain that you confident and relaxed.
5. Incorporate social moments
One of the things we miss out on when we work from home are the informal little moments as you wait for the kettle to boil. It’s these moments of respite and small talk that keep us motivated - whether it’s remarking on the weather, a weekend catch up or a podcast recommendation. As well as giving us a chance to take our mind off work, it’s also an opportunity to share our worries and listen to others.
Purposefully create space for this. Allocate 10-15 minutes at the beginning of your meeting for everyone to say how their weekend was and what's going on in their world. Don't forget about the other social activities too - team lunches, pub quizzes and away days are all excellent ways to boost team morale.
6. Stay open and responsive
Be curious and compassionate - dare to say the ideas you may not be sure of, and encourage others to do the same. All manner of gems can be created this way. Using “yes and” encourages building and collaboration whereas “no but” can close down or stultify a conversation. Practise using both of these when you disagree, to see how the former opens up avenues for collaboration where none existed before.
A good way to incorporate openness into your routine is to create time in your meeting for each person to share any foreseeable roadblocks. These are things that might get in the way of progress being made. This gives everyone a forum to share things that are troubling them, and also gives other the opportunity to support that person to overcome the block. It's amazing how often someone nearby has the ideal solution but we wouldn't have known it had we not asked! This simple tool lets people feel supported and combats feelings of isolation and overwhelm.
7. Create a communication charter
A communication charter is a hugely useful tool for teams, especially if you are working virtually. Taking some time to establish what you would like from your team and manager in terms of communication, and then writing down what you are willing to commit to, is an incredibly valuable exercise. This will truly reap dividends for the staff and overall business. Here are some questions to consider:
What communication commitments would you like to have when in meetings to keep things feeling positive, robust and effective?
What social moments do you need to feel connected?
What face-to-face meetings do you need to feel connected?
Which communication modes would you like to use in which circumstances?
Is there anything else that feels essential to you for staying connected when communicating virtually?
Remember - teams are living systems, they need to be nourished and nurtured to be high performing and feel good to be part of! A collaborative virtual workplace is essential for every business and as the society in which we operates changes, so too does teamwork. We hope these virtual workspace tools help you upgrade the connection between you and whoever you are communicating with, whether they live on the next road or 1,000 miles away.
Want to improve the way your company communicates internally and to the world? Whether you work remotely, face-to-face or a mixture of the two, check out our custom courses for business and we’ll help you build a collaborative virtual workplace.