The world has changed - in many ways beyond recognition in the last 9 months - and a huge percentage of people are now working remotely. One of the most important things about work are the relationships - the contact we have with our colleagues. The camaraderie, feeling of being part of something bigger, that matters, that everyone can contribute to - and then there’s just the simple delights of enjoying the social aspect of work. So what happens when that goes? When you are left with the bare bones of the job spec itself, and the watercooler moments are gone - the post-weekend catch-ups, popping out to Pret, the kindness of someone making you a cuppa - and let’s face it the gossip.
In short - while working remotely brings many perks - it puts a pressure on working relationships, and ensuring that everyone feels held, connected and a part of something. At London Speech Workshop - this is particularly interesting. For a few reasons.
For one, we are a communication company. We analyse relationships and communication, trying to solve the challenges of connecting and communicating that come up in the professional world.
- How do you forge strong connected, motivational relationships remotely?
- How do you make sure people feel part of a team when you only get to see them through Zoom?
- How do you support a team, ensuring you pick up anyone who is struggling, through a time when the world is being turned upside down?
- How can you get a proper sense of how they're doing?
Secondly we are in a stage of growth (one of the lucky ones) and so we have hired 5 new people since March 2020 - and I've not met any of them face-to-face. Odd right? And we are about to hire more still.
So we’ve canvassed the team here - old and new - to explain how they think we’ve done in staying connected and communicating despite the challenges. We hope it might give you some thoughts and tips and spark some ideas you can adopt or apply in your working relationships.
Emma, our Founder
I think somehow, Covid and lockdown has made us a more connected company than we have ever been. It's an odd thought, but as a team that includes coaches who rarely work with each other, it's helped us to come together. The first thing I did was put in a weekly (which later turned to fortnightly) meeting with the entire team - coaches and head office. It had 3 clear parts. The first, everyone got to say how they were, and we encouraged honesty and support. Then everyone shared a green light - something beautiful from the week from their work. This uplifted the spirit like a balm, and finally we’d give office updates and any news.
We also put a renewed focus on monthly socials - and last month did an innovative LSW delicatessen evening - which people loved! I think even psychologically knowing that we are investing in connecting has been good for the team.
In addition, we’ve become much more aligned in terms of our ethical footprint as a company - we all felt a desire to 'give back'. We tried various things from the beginning of lockdown - principal coach Sam ran a fabulous free daily warm for a month, I hosted a free key worker coaching event and we’ve launched our BAME bursary scheme. I think for everyone to know that we are trying to do what we can to help in some way has been helpful.
Jamie, Principal Coach
I've always believed that our greatest gift as a human species is our potential to communicate in a sophisticated way. One of the joys of being a Coach at LSW is that I get to work with clients every day trying to release that potential. So this pandemic has seemed especially cruel. The very thing which defines why human beings are so special is being taken away - our ability to communicate. Social distance is isolating in so many ways.
This is why I'm so proud of the team’s response to Covid19. Not only have we been finding new and innovative ways to share our method online, we've also been adapting to this new way of interacting within our team. Leadership makes a huge difference here. Almost as soon as the pandemic started and the lockdown was imposed, we scheduled weekly Team Meetings (via Zoom, of course!) And these meetings weren't just 'here's the day's news, here are your admin updates, now everyone get on with it' - they took a very different turn. At each meeting, everyone on the team was asked to do three things. First, give a 'green light' - share with the team something that was going well at work. Second, say how you were feeling that day. It was made really clear that you didn't have to say you were fine if you weren't. It was absolutely OK to say you were struggling. And third, any questions regarding the business and the transition to online working. It worked brilliantly.
I feel like I know my fellow Coaches and team members so much better now. We are, quite simply, more of a team. That this should happen in the middle of a pandemic, when communication for many has been so difficult, strikes me as very telling. It underlines the importance of connecting and reaching out and sharing honestly - which is exactly what LSW tries to teach every day.
Penny, Head of Marketing
It’s crazy to think that I haven’t seen any of the team since March, because they still feel like the people I spend most of my day with (the fun bit that is, before the kids get home from school!). I like to think that we’ve done a fantastic job at staying in touch and making sure that each and every team member has felt supported by the team around them. We had a colleague shielding from the start, and then one of our coaches got Covid-19 badly at the beginning of the pandemic - it made us all realise how real the situation was and I think it helped us open up to one another. There was a stage in my earlier career when I would have been mortified if I'd burst into tears in front of my boss, or had to admit to feeling overwhelmed or defeated by a day of juggling homeschooling and work. But fortunately for me I work for a communication expert… and we realised early on that honesty was the only way.
Even more fortunately, I work with a whole team of brilliant communicators - so I can learn from the best! And we've done exactly that, regularly checking in for hints and tips on how to do it better. Eye contact on Zoom calls, yes it IS a thing - you don’t get the benefits of a 'face-to-face' meeting if you’ve got your head down writing notes! If you want people to connect when talking to you, you have to look like you're interested and listening - smile, nod, acknowledge their points. It takes effort, but it's worth it.
Matilda, eLearning Course Manager
For me, the social part of work has always been important and we’ve looked for ways to keep this going - a quick ‘what did you get up to this weekend’ tells you an awful lot about your colleagues and is so important in building productive working relationships. And bearing in mind I have many colleagues I’ve never met face-to-face - it’s more important than ever. Our client manager Jen had a brilliant idea this week that we should have a virtual coffee break - and the caffeine & gossip fix is already firmly in the diary!
Jen - Client and Office Manager
I interviewed and started at LSW during this funny time, so I've never actually met anyone I work with in person! Having regular Zoom team meetings helps me to feel connected to the team and I enjoy hearing what everyone else is working on, as it helps give me an insight into all the different projects we're doing. I consciously pick up the phone and call or leave voice notes to the team more than I ever did pre-pandemic as that helps us connect too. We've recently begun having a weekly lunch meeting where all work talk is banned and we just act like we've nipped out for lunch together and chat about whatever's going on in our lives, such as moving house, TV shows, DIY etc! I really enjoy that as it's a chance for people's personalities to come out more and it helps me to get to know everyone in a different way.
Laura - Assistant Client and Office Manager
I've never started a new job virtually before. I've never done a whole interview process virtually before. But here we are, in this strange new normal, having to muddle through while the world rights itself. Joining London Speech Workshop in the midst of a pandemic was a bizarre experience because my first commute was to my living room, and I had to try and think of ways of how I would connect with my colleagues - when I hadn't even met them.
There can be a lot of pressure when starting a new job, let alone in these strange times. Are you saying the right thing? Are you being professional enough? Friendly enough? You're trying to get to know people - busy people - and so you need to some squeeze getting to know them into the mix as well as learning how to do your job.
The things I've found at LSW that have helped me to feel connected with my colleagues is having regular video call check ins. I chat with Jen, my manager, daily on Zoom - even if it's just a quick check in at the start of the day, which really helps to feel more connected. We've started doing weekly lunch meetings with no work chat so we can get to know each other on a personal level. I was a bit nervous before our first team social, but they are themed around a discussion point, which really helps the Zoom anxiety and it gives everyone the opportunity to shine. I'm already looking forward to our next one to get to know them all better... plus it's the Christmas Party... so there should be something to discuss around the virtual watercooler afterwards!
Our Top Tips For Connecting Your Team Remotely (& face-to-face actually):
1 - Create a real & acknowledged space to share - one where people get to say how they are and what is going on in their lives, the good, the bad and the ugly. This helps people to feel fully engaged, like they don’t have to hide away parts of themselves or put on a brave face, which leads to more authenticity, connection and engagement. Which also happen to be the core components to our communication equation... funny that!
2 - Small talk is big - five minute of chit chat at the start of a meeting is not a waste of time. It may seem small - but it isn’t - it's serving a very important purpose. That of connecting. It should be encouraged.
3 - Invest in socials - we've started doing them monthly. Try and bring in a few original or quirky ideas to mean that there is some structure and that everyone gets to share (not justthe loudest voices). We did LSW delicatessen - where everyone had £15 to spend on culinary delights at their local deli and then share it with the team.
4 - Listen - it’s more important than ever to listen and listen well. Listen to the words, the intention. Hear what is going on beneath the words - is the speaker, happy, nervous, excited, awkward? And then tune in to what they need. This all helps build connectivity.
So there you go. Our take on staying connected a Friday afternoon. We hope you find this helpful
The LSW Team
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