With Covid-19, and the sudden need for social distancing, many businesses have been thrust into the unfamiliar territory of how to manage their day-to-day operations in an online environment.
For those that run “knowledge-base” businesses, this at first might seem easy. You have interactive collaboration tools, such as Zoom or Microsoft Teams, and you feel confident you can make a go of it. And it will work, for a period of time.
But running virtual operations is not just about having the technology, it’s also how you use the technology.
Maintaining company culture is just as important to business operations. We often don’t think about corporate culture until we realize it has slipped away. People aren’t as friendly, aren’t as supportive, aren’t as team-oriented. People become less engaged.
It is really easy for businesses, especially knowledge businesses, to focus solely on maintaining productivity in their use of online collaboration tools.
I challenge businesses to think just as much about how they are using technology to promote their culture and create opportunities for real engagement.
For the past ten years, I have worked exclusively in an online work environment. My business even created an online platform. Through this process, we studied the pros and cons of various technologies, and we chronicled our experience of working in this type of environment.
While my company is small, these five challenges we faced are universal. How well you overcome them will be critical to how successful you are in working while social distancing.
Sharing experiences amplifies those experiences and increases a person’s absorption in that experience. How are you using your technology to create shared experiences? What kind of online experiences can you even create? How will you mimic those monthly birthday celebrations you used to hold in the break room, or those quick water cooler conversations?
2. Balancing Meaningful Exchange with Productivity
It is incredibly hard to speak up using video technology, both technically and socially. Think about your collaboration exchanges online. Are you focused solely on the productivity of disseminating information, checking in? How are you taking the time to invite the conversations that build trust and rapport among your team?
3. Multi-Tasking During a Meeting
We all know that multi-tasking is the blackhole of productivity. I am terribly guilty of this. Long meetings where I’m allowed to mute and turn off video means I’m checking my email and social media instead of paying attention. Does your technology (and how you use it) make it too easy for participants to multi-task? What steps and protocols do you have to minimize the ability to multi-task during meetings?
4. Self-Consciousness Inhibits Participation
Glossophobia is real! Jerry Seinfeld once said “At a funeral, most people would rather be lying in the casket than delivering the eulogy.” In a study we did in 2015, over half of the video conference participants felt self-conscious when speaking, with 20% feeling “extremely” self-conscious. Just because you moved online, doesn’t mean people lose this self-consciousness, and for some online technology may increase their self-consciousness. It is important to invite conversation from ALL participants, especially the introverts like me who typically need a little more coaxing to participant, and a little more time to process the chaos of other people jumping in.
5. Facilitating Equal Participation Among Diverse Groups
As business owners, we know unconscious and implicit bias in meetings can impact group dynamics and collaborative participation. This is true and real life, as well as in most online technologies. Just as in real life, it is important to be aware of these bias and proactively facilitate engagement and interaction among all participants.