Good communication has always been critical to a successful business, with regular check-ins one of the best ways for managers and employees to keep the lines open.
So, while social distancing has become a central pillar of health and safety management in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, it is crucial that we still find ways to connect in the workplace.
Kelly McLuckie and Jenni Ross-Janett, NTI’s change and culture specialists, gave us some insights on ways to bridge the gap in a socially distanced environment.
Listen and learn
The first and most important thing to make crystal clear with your team – and to appreciate yourself – is that these regular meetings are conversations, not briefings. Each side should listen, and learn.
It’s not about checking that your team has ‘done its homework’ (which sends a message: that you don’t trust them to handle changes in the way they work). Rather, it’s about maintaining genuine connections within the team. And that means listening to concerns and complaints, then addressing them constructively.
In short, catch-ups are about maintaining a connection, not ensuring perfection.
As such, having a bit of fun within a broader team environment can be encouraged too – using apps and modern communication tools to maintain the broader sense of community in the workforce.
“The use of WhatsApp and Messenger groups, as well as Facebook pages, can help maintain that sense of team,” Kelly says.
Make the connection personal
However, while you want to maintain team harmony and a sense of comradery, there should be a balance between group chats and individual one-on-one conversations.
These discussions are an opportunity to bring up personal issues, which means they are essential. Listening to your team members and hearing about the things they find easy and hard, that they like and don’t like, is crucial. It’s the best way to learn how they’re coping, how things might be improved, and how you can provide leadership. As such, you should schedule them in advance, to make sure you and the team member can put aside time to have a proper conversation, whether that means six minutes or sixty.
“In the transport businesses, the leaders tend to work different hours, so you need to try and do all the catch-ups with employees when it’s convenient for them,” Kelly says. “Don’t just call someone when you’ve got five minutes to spare, and they’re likely in the middle of something.”
It’s also worth remembering that while emails can be an excellent tool for communication, given the convenience they offer, they can sometimes be all-too-convenient to ignore.
“One company I work with actually said to their leaders, ‘You cannot send emails on Fridays. You want to go talk to somebody, you get up out of your office, and you go find them’,” Jenni says.
“Get up and go talk to your staff to build relationships.”
Riding in the front seat of the cab
The other advantage of communicating with old-fashioned face time instead of FaceTime is that it shows you’re not just interested in your business, but that you want to be involved and understand first-hand the changes your team are going through.
“I knew an operator who took over a business, and he was very analytical, never went out to the guys. They actually complained that they never saw the owner,” Jenni says.
“That business went into the ground.”
Jenni recommends not only having one-on-one chats but also making an effort to get in the cab with a driver when they’re on a new job, saying there are multiple advantages:
- It’s an informal setting, where the drivers felt more comfortable about opening up, which helps build strong relationships.
- Even though it’s not a performance review, drivers tend to do a better job of looking after trucks if they know management will be getting in the cab from time to time.
- It’s a great opportunity to do some incidental, informal training.
People fear what they don’t understand
Given the hit coronavirus has had on the economy, as well as the vast difference it’s making in societal interactions, changes at your place of work are inevitable.
Some of your team members may be anxious about these changes. Once you’ve heard their concerns you should do more than simply acknowledge them. Instead, show you’ve really listened by taking the time to explain why the changes are needed.
“The ‘why’ is very important for decision making and for the speed of change because it makes people feel empowered,” Jenni says.
“Explaining the ‘why’ will help your team understand why you’ve made these rules.”
Kelly agrees, saying, “Keep coming back to the big picture as best as you can and how it links together.”
But perhaps the best way to get real buy-in from your team on the changes taking place is to make them active participants.
“People go along with a plan if they were involved in helping create it. There’s a sense of ‘I understand what’s going on, I’ve been part of it’,” Kelly says.
“People buy into it way more this way than when they’re only given limited information.”