While it may sound counter intuitive, today’s always connected world requires leaders to focus more on connectivity – social connectivity. Today’s technology allows workers to be “connected” at all times, however, it is important that you focus on a level of social connection strategy for you and your organization. Through this “always connected world”, business is becoming more and more flexible with how employees work – working from home, working remote and virtual offices are all concepts that are being adopted in today’s world. In reality, some successful companies are 100% virtual. This is great in providing employees autonomy and an ability to set their own hours (as long as they produce results and achieve objectives). However, it is important to understand that in order to sustain a strong level of productivity, employees need a level of social connection.
Research shows that people need social connections to be productive – actually to survive. This is important in our work lives as much as it is in our social lives. In a 2012 article in Psychology Today, Dr. Emma Seppola summarized her studies by saying that social connections “create individuals who have higher self-esteem, are more emphatic to others, and, as a consequence, others are more trusting and cooperating with them.” While Dr. Seppola’s study wasn’t focused on remote or virtual employees, it does provide a linkage between social connections and positive performance.
In today’s environment, leadership can become too remote from their teams allowing the employees to lose connection. Not only do they lose the social connection with the organization, they also lose connection to the purpose, strategy and vision of the organization. Without the ability to have casual conversations at the water cooler or routinely take lunch breaks with different members of the team, employees can quickly become distant. This distance causes less engagement and therefore, less productivity.
Leaders need to learn to operate differently with a remote organization. There is a different level of effort that is needed to ensure continued engagement and stimulation. You can’t simply follow the old rule of “Management by Walking Around” anymore, you need to change the game.
Here are a few ideas to ensure your employees maintain a level of social connection –
- One on One calls – set a regular cadence of one on one calls with each team member. The purpose of this connection isn’t for the employees to feel like they are being grilled on performance and providing updates, although that can be a part of the conversation. The purpose of these calls is to simply engage – talk about whatever she wants to discuss. Ensure they are not structured meetings and are allowed to flow naturally.
- Call – Don’t Email – it is all too easy to send a quick email to ask a question or provide some guidance to others. However, it is important that you resist this urge for the “simple” and talk to your employees. Pick up the phone and call. It is sad to say, but these types of conversations often happen so infrequently, that employees “fear” calls from their management.
- Encourage employees to directly engage – the social connection doesn’t always mean that leaders need to be a part of the engagement. Leaders should encourage their teams to interact with each other and people from other organizations – in person or over the phone.
- Video Calls – there is a multitude of free technology on the market that allows for video calls. Take advantage of this technology to have video calls with your team. The simple addition of seeing the other person leads to even stronger connectivity.
- Face to Face meetings – if at all possible, make it a point to allocate a budget for face to face meetings. The problem if you don’t set aside a budget in advance and commit to holding the meetings, it doesn’t happen. This can be difficult due to travel costs and logistics, but if possible, a good face to face conversation is helpful.
It is important for leaders and organizations to change and adapt to the new connected world. Understand that connected (by technology) doesn’t always mean being connected to the organization and engaged with its success.
Wayne Irwin is a Director at Intel, responsible for Markets and Channel Acceleration for their Internet of Things Group. He has held a number of Director roles with Intel, and was previously the President (Americas Region) for Acision and President & General Manager (North America) for LogicaCMG. Follow Wayne on Twitter.