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How to foster social connection while being physically apart!

Compared to the months before the pandemic, the percentage of people working from home daily tripled from 10 to 28 percent [1]. According to a survey conducted by the German Federal Ministry of Labor in 2020, two thirds of the employees would like to continue working from home after the pandemic at least some days a week [2]. Minimized ways to work and improved levels of concentration are named among the benefits, while a majority of the employees miss the physical contacts with their colleagues. The optimum state for most workers would be a joined model, working from home some days and being physically present in the office on other days. Companies are no longer tied to the idea of location, which raises the question: what brings people and teams together?
What nearly every company experienced throughout the past ten months is working together by using digital communication tools. They, in most cases, managed to establish virtual conference channels and enable the shift from office to remote work within a brief amount of time. Even though few might still be struggling with those tools, this is not the major challenge remote or hybrid teams face nowadays.

How to foster social connection while being physically apart!

Compared to the months before the pandemic, the percentage of people working from home daily tripled from 10 to 28 percent [1]. According to a survey conducted by the German Federal Ministry of Labor in 2020, two thirds of the employees would like to continue working from home after the pandemic at least some days a week [2]. Minimized ways to work and improved levels of concentration are named among the benefits, while a majority of the employees miss the physical contacts with their colleagues. The optimum state for most workers would be a joined model, working from home some days and being physically present in the office on other days. Companies are no longer tied to the idea of location, which raises the question: what brings people and teams together?
What nearly every company experienced throughout the past ten months is working together by using digital communication tools. They, in most cases, managed to establish virtual conference channels and enable the shift from office to remote work within a brief amount of time. Even though few might still be struggling with those tools, this is not the major challenge remote or hybrid teams face nowadays.

The Role of Leaders

It follows that leaders were challenged to find new ways of bringing their employees closer together and of HR departments to help assuring that workplace atmosphere remains good or improves. The question that arises here is what can leaders do in order to encourage their teams to join forces and collaborate personally despite the remaining physical distance?
The acronym PERMA is a model originated in the field of positive psychology [3]. It stands for „positive emotions, engagement, relationship, meaning and accomplishment“. Seligman points out, that this is the base for flourishment of people. To break this down, positivity in communication, engagement with your team, fostering relationships between the team members themselves, creating meaning of work and accomplishing success are the main characteristics of this approach. So what can leaders do in order to improve PERMA?

The Role of Leaders

It follows that leaders were challenged to find new ways of bringing their employees closer together and of HR departments to help assuring that workplace atmosphere remains good or improves. The question that arises here is what can leaders do in order to encourage their teams to join forces and collaborate personally despite the remaining physical distance?
The acronym PERMA is a model originated in the field of positive psychology [3]. It stands for „positive emotions, engagement, relationship, meaning and accomplishment“. Seligman points out, that this is the base for flourishment of people. To break this down, positivity in communication, engagement with your team, fostering relationships between the team members themselves, creating meaning of work and accomplishing success are the main characteristics of this approach. So what can leaders do in order to improve PERMA?

P: Consider it your leadership task to create positive emotions in your team. Small gestures are often enough, such as bringing a cup of espresso to a colleague or employee who is under pressure at work or, in times of virtual meetings, ask employees how they feel and show that you care. Small friendly gestures on a daily base are more effective than “the big show” once a month.
E: Provide a framework in which the employees can use their strengths. For this purpose, it is necessary that everyone in the team is able to acknowledge his or her own strengths.
R: Top performances can only be achieved in a team. Fostering good relationships is just as important at work as it is in private life. If you want to experience “Big Potential” yourself and in your team, support others in reaching their goals.
M: Especially in dynamic times, it is important to know the reason for your doing. Take the time to explain to everyone in the team why the upcoming change is necessary. What benefits will the customers, the company and the employees gain from it? Be a “sense maker”.
A: If goals are achieved, this should be “celebrated”. This strengthens the self-efficacy and the team spirit. Regular recognition is also beneficial for small sub-goals. Studies have shown: High performing teams receive more feedback from their managers than low performing teams!
A sixth pillar was implemented recently, due to the rising relevance and threatened issue of health.
H: As a leader, you need to be aware of the well-being of your employees. You have to show that you care about their physical state as well as their mental health following the current circumstances. This is a major contributor to your team relations as well as your working atmosphere.

P: Consider it your leadership task to create positive emotions in your team. Small gestures are often enough, such as bringing a cup of espresso to a colleague or employee who is under pressure at work or, in times of virtual meetings, ask employees how they feel and show that you care. Small friendly gestures on a daily base are more effective than “the big show” once a month.
E: Provide a framework in which the employees can use their strengths. For this purpose, it is necessary that everyone in the team is able to acknowledge his or her own strengths.
R: Top performances can only be achieved in a team. Fostering good relationships is just as important at work as it is in private life. If you want to experience “Big Potential” yourself and in your team, support others in reaching their goals.
M: Especially in dynamic times, it is important to know the reason for your doing. Take the time to explain to everyone in the team why the upcoming change is necessary. What benefits will the customers, the company and the employees gain from it? Be a “sense maker”.
A: If goals are achieved, this should be “celebrated”. This strengthens the self-efficacy and the team spirit. Regular recognition is also beneficial for small sub-goals. Studies have shown: High performing teams receive more feedback from their managers than low performing teams!
A sixth pillar was implemented recently, due to the rising relevance and threatened issue of health.
H: As a leader, you need to be aware of the well-being of your employees. You have to show that you care about their physical state as well as their mental health following the current circumstances. This is a major contributor to your team relations as well as your working atmosphere.

Following this approach, long-term remote team building has the possibility to enable a positive spirit and atmosphere and improve the flourishment of your team. The key here is that leaders need to find a way that works for them and their team. The important point is not which kind of team event you suggest, but how you manage to constantly keep your team connected, how you provide open communication and how you enable criticism, improve satisfaction and plan virtual agendas. Online connection and contact cannot replace real physical meetings but, if done properly, can make both, you and your team members contented.

Following this approach, long-term remote team building has the possibility to enable a positive spirit and atmosphere and improve the flourishment of your team. The key here is that leaders need to find a way that works for them and their team. The important point is not which kind of team event you suggest, but how you manage to constantly keep your team connected, how you provide open communication and how you enable criticism, improve satisfaction and plan virtual agendas. Online connection and contact cannot replace real physical meetings but, if done properly, can make both, you and your team members contented.

What really counts when working remotely

Precisely, what companies and especially leaders have to learn and constantly improve are values like trust, openness, honest communication and positivity. Those latent constructs cannot be adapted overnight; it takes time, creativity, skills and courage. Poor communication results in higher stress levels, conflicts and unsolved disparities within the team that, in the end, lead to potentially unsatisfied customers. As a leader, it is your responsibility to implement tools and develop mindsets that solve those issues, or, even better, diminish them right from the beginning. Trust is one of the main attributes that enable the shift towards a well-functioning remote work environment. Openness is another important aspect: Opening up is a critical issue since it comes with emotional vulnerability. Nevertheless, it is a requirement in order to succeed. You may not be able to accurately see how many hours your employees work, nor be able to see how often they get distracted or take a break longer than they would in the office. You need to rely on the outcome of their work; if goals are achieved, do not count every minute, because what really matters is the result. It is important to show your team that open communication, expressing problems and honesty is nothing to fear.

What really counts when working remotely

Precisely, what companies and especially leaders have to learn and constantly improve are values like trust, openness, honest communication and positivity. Those latent constructs cannot be adapted overnight; it takes time, creativity, skills and courage. Poor communication results in higher stress levels, conflicts and unsolved disparities within the team that, in the end, lead to potentially unsatisfied customers. As a leader, it is your responsibility to implement tools and develop mindsets that solve those issues, or, even better, diminish them right from the beginning. Trust is one of the main attributes that enable the shift towards a well-functioning remote work environment. Openness is another important aspect: Opening up is a critical issue since it comes with emotional vulnerability. Nevertheless, it is a requirement in order to succeed. You may not be able to accurately see how many hours your employees work, nor be able to see how often they get distracted or take a break longer than they would in the office. You need to rely on the outcome of their work; if goals are achieved, do not count every minute, because what really matters is the result. It is important to show your team that open communication, expressing problems and honesty is nothing to fear.

Show your employees that you listen to them, that you do not mistrust them and that you aim to solve issues together. To accomplish these goals, four core aspects should be the guidance for any action: Ask your team, inspect and adapt, deliver every sprint and meet people at eye level. It is important to keep in mind what has to be considered when building teams remotely. To ease the start and face what should be on top of your priority list, five bricks can help.

Wie können Führungskräfte den Wandel vorantreiben?

“By the very nature of your position, you can help individuals and companies begin to heal by taking actions that demonstrate your own compassion, thereby unleashing a compassionate response throughout the whole organization“ [6]Hierbei gilt, sich als Führungskraft einzugestehen, dass die Krise nicht mit einer top-down Strategie überwunden werden kann. Durch Einbindung der verschiedensten Charaktere, wie hier exemplarisch aufgelistet, können optimale Strategieansätze und Ideen kollektiv umgesetzt werden. Es genügt nicht, kurzfristige Krisenbewältigungsstrategien zu entwickeln, die immerzu nach Analogien der Vergangenheit suchen. Eine langfristige, strategische Resilienz muss in ihren Ansatzpunkten über das bisher bekannte hinausgehen, hinterfragen, welche Begebenheiten, MitarbeiterInnen und Konzepte benötigt werden, um zu denjenigen zu gehören, die am Ende einer Krise auf der Seite derer stehen, die es geschafft haben.

Five bricks to start with when building a remote team:

1. People are priority: Try to understand your employees, let them know, that they can talk openly to you if they have a conflict or problem. You need to demonstrate your understanding and broad-mindedness!
2. Trust until refuted: You should not start with mistrust; trust in your team as long as your common goals are achieved.
3. Implement your own meeting culture: How often do you meet with your team, which channels do you use besides the implemented conference tools, how do you manage to update each other on a regular base and which rules and opportunities apply?
4. Show empathy: This new remote working model is a challenge for everybody in the company. Be aware of their unusual situation, they need time and understanding to adapt to this situation.
5. Communicate honestly and openly: This is important in both directions: bottom-up and top-down. Clear and sufficient communication is one of the keys of improving working atmosphere. Provide feedback both ways and show that you care!

Five bricks to start with when building a remote team:

1. People are priority: Try to understand your employees, let them know, that they can talk openly to you if they have a conflict or problem. You need to demonstrate your understanding and broad-mindedness!
2. Trust until refuted: You should not start with mistrust; trust in your team as long as your common goals are achieved.
3. Implement your own meeting culture: How often do you meet with your team, which channels do you use besides the implemented conference tools, how do you manage to update each other on a regular base and which rules and opportunities apply?
4. Show empathy: This new remote working model is a challenge for everybody in the company. Be aware of their unusual situation, they need time and understanding to adapt to this situation.
5. Communicate honestly and openly: This is important in both directions: bottom-up and top-down. Clear and sufficient communication is one of the keys of improving working atmosphere. Provide feedback both ways and show that you care!

bludau_weiss_anthrazit_345 Kopie

Digital Leadership in practice – are we there yet?

As a leader, especially in times of lacking physical contacts with your employees, it is your responsibility to assure collaboration, cooperative co-working, exemplifying values and frankness. If you act according to the values you expect your team to follow, they will be more likely to do so. If your attitude appears impartial, open-minded and credible, your position and the relation to your employees is likely to improve. Nevertheless, technological competences, structural and organizational skills, dealing with uncertainty and your team members’ emotions are challenges you need to face. You can hardly prepare for those new confrontations timely. Thus, try to prepare yourself for how to confront you and your team with these suddenly emerging problems. Not in order how to solve them, but which mindsets and approaches can help to demonstrate joint effort and integrity.
To manifest two possible aspects of building remote teams, the below items were included in virtual team building workshops. It is important to find out how each team member feels and how the current mood throughout the team occurs. To ask a question like this and ease the start, each person chooses a picture that suits his or her feels. Afterwards, aligned to on-site team building, several steps help to evaluate and form collective goals. Depending on the topic and the size of teams, this can take place in the group or in smaller breakout sessions. Throughout the workshop people can collaborate and develop approaches and ideas they want to follow in the future. Digital tools enable to accompany the entire process and provide a solid base for open communication, creativity and positive atmosphere. After defining goals, plan strategies and exchanging ideas, the workshop ends with evaluation. Each team member can position their confidence regarding the results and the implementation and those aspects can be discussed. This is one example for virtual team building agendas. It demonstrates that, despite the difficulties, bringing people together is no longer tied to the idea of location or an office. It requires frankness, open-mindedness and creativity but it can lead to inspiring outcomes that improve the team spirit!

Digital Leadership in practice – are we there yet?

As a leader, especially in times of lacking physical contacts with your employees, it is your responsibility to assure collaboration, cooperative co-working, exemplifying values and frankness. If you act according to the values you expect your team to follow, they will be more likely to do so. If your attitude appears impartial, open-minded and credible, your position and the relation to your employees is likely to improve. Nevertheless, technological competences, structural and organizational skills, dealing with uncertainty and your team members’ emotions are challenges you need to face. You can hardly prepare for those new confrontations timely. Thus, try to prepare yourself for how to confront you and your team with these suddenly emerging problems. Not in order how to solve them, but which mindsets and approaches can help to demonstrate joint effort and integrity.
To manifest two possible aspects of building remote teams, the below items were included in virtual team building workshops. It is important to find out how each team member feels and how the current mood throughout the team occurs. To ask a question like this and ease the start, each person chooses a picture that suits his or her feels. Afterwards, aligned to on-site team building, several steps help to evaluate and form collective goals. Depending on the topic and the size of teams, this can take place in the group or in smaller breakout sessions. Throughout the workshop people can collaborate and develop approaches and ideas they want to follow in the future. Digital tools enable to accompany the entire process and provide a solid base for open communication, creativity and positive atmosphere. After defining goals, plan strategies and exchanging ideas, the workshop ends with evaluation. Each team member can position their confidence regarding the results and the implementation and those aspects can be discussed. This is one example for virtual team building agendas. It demonstrates that, despite the difficulties, bringing people together is no longer tied to the idea of location or an office. It requires frankness, open-mindedness and creativity but it can lead to inspiring outcomes that improve the team spirit!

Autorin: Anna Feller

Verweise:

[2] https://www.dak.de/dak/bundesthemen/sonderanalyse-2295276.html#//
[2] https://www.bmas.de/SharedDocs/Downloads/DE/Thema-Arbeitsrecht/kurzexpertise-homeoffice.pdf?__blob=publicationFile&v=4
[3] Seligman, M. E. P. (2011). Flourish: A New Understanding of Happiness and Well-Being – and How To Achieve Them. Nicholas Brealey Publishing.

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