During this unsettling time, when more people than ever are working remotely, many people are feeling isolated. Virtual meetings tend to focus on deadlines and data, leaving little time for team members to loop each other into their personal lives. Although the question "How are you doing today?" comes up, it usually elicits only brief responses—and the conversation then turns to the work at hand. Instead of treating remote gatherings as merely work-related meetings, leaders need to include in them a dimension of relationship building. Not only does getting to know team members address isolation concerns, but it can also yield several other benefits.
When "gathering together" involves staring at boxes of faces on a screen (and switching between speaker view and gallery view doesn't do much to help people feel closer to each other), leading virtual teams can present many challenges to connection. Learning about each other can help with community building, and one great way to do this is to ask interesting questions and listen carefully for everyone's responses. Possible questions include:
The goals identified through these check-ins should have the following characteristics:
- What is your favorite food for dinner?
- Where do you spend time when you want to escape your home office?
- What words might describe your state of mind?
Opportunities for Innovation
When team members get to know—and trust—each other, they become more willing to listen to others' ideas, step outside of their comfort zones, and take more risks. They also become more likely to share insights that they think could create a better approach to a project. These exchanges of ideas often serve as launch points for greater innovation.
Relationships with each other enable teams to build a culture in which each person feels valued. To grow teams successfully, leaders must prioritize people over projects by encouraging team members to listen actively to each other, to ask each other meaningful questions to make sure everyone is really okay, to respond with respect to different perspectives, and to keep open hearts and minds.
Getting to know team members is not just a good idea during pandemic-related times of physical distancing and isolation, but a good practice to incorporate all the time. When people connect with each other, they work together better. And when they work together better, everyone benefits.