Maintaining Connection in a Virtual Environment

By Jamie McDaniel, Canadian Management Centre

Maintaining Connection in virtual environment Image

Feeling connected to other people is critical to our sense of well-being.  Pretty obvious-sounding – right?

While it might seem obvious now, it wasn’t until recent advancements in neuroscience that many of us in the leadership development field began to appreciate just how critical connection is to employee engagement, productivity and retention.  Armed with these insights, Talent and HR professionals along with their leaders have worked hard to enhance organizational cultures in ways that build increased connection, understanding and community among employees. Enter COVID-19.

Many of the mechanisms we leveraged to create this sense of connection have been either removed entirely or compromised considerably in light of social distancing requirements. The silver lining however is that we’ve been forced to use our creativity to leverage technology to build new ways to connect. And in the process, we are learning more about the power of authenticity and vulnerability to build connection during difficulty times.

According to Decision Wise, there are 6 ways to increase connection and engagement virtually. Of the 6 methods outlined, “Manage Workload and Engagement”, is, in my opinion, the most critical. And while it is not a strategy for connecting virtually per say, it is a critical strategy for building connection in this current, virtual environment. Because right now, and for the foreseeable short-term, many employees are confronting the possibility of burnout. The long-term stress of dealing with change, loss, financial uncertainty, shifts in workload, role and/or responsibility, not to mention home schooling, is taking a tremendous toll on mental health, productivity and engagement. While leaders can’t often remove the sources of stress, there are two factors mentioned is this article that leaders can influence that make a difference: “meaning” and “impact”.

Meaning - do your employees have a sense of what their current contribution and value is to the team? As organizations have been forced to pivot and re-evaluate priorities and work, some employees have lost connection to their purpose. Losing a sense of purpose is a sure way to lose connection to your work, team members and to the organization, not to mention a complete drain on energy.

And then there is impact - which is closely linked to meaning. People need to see and feel that they are making progress, that their work is leading to real results. During this pandemic some employees have had the opportunity to increase their impact through the creation of new products and services while others have felt grossly underutilized. It’s critical as leaders that we continue to find ways to strike a balance so we can avoid burnout for some while ensuring everyone feels that they’re an important, contributing member of the team. Monitoring this balance is made harder by the entirely virtual environment. So take the time to check in frequently and to ensure that those check ins revolve around meaningful, transparent conversations that allow for growth and creativity as we look to partner with our employees to find solutions to the tough challenges ahead.

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