I’m on the road a lot. In fact, as I write this, I’m about 2,500kms away from home sharing what I have learned for the Northern Territory October Business Month. And, as anyone who has to travel for work knows, you often feel isolated and not part of the team.
I’ve learnt how to adapt to being on the move and can now work from anywhere, but one of the things that comes to mind constantly is how technology has the power to connect as well as disconnect us. I can be in my hotel room and have as many as six conversations happening at once (via email, Slack or any social media channel), but I could just as well be sitting in an office surrounded by a hundred other employees and be so caught up in my inbox that I don’t have the time to say hello to the colleague next to me. My daughter is in Istanbul and I can pick up the phone and call her (although I don’t know if she’ll appreciate that right now, as I don’t know what the time difference is) but we WhatsApp every hour – sending pics and messages, including each other in what is going on. Is it because she is on the other side of the planet that I make such an effort. How many parents with children metres away are all on their devices and no one talking to each other? I watched the movie Men Women & Children on the weekend – it became even more apparent – this potential disconnect.
And so the technology can be a powerful connector, but if we’re not careful with how we use it, technology can be isolating too.
These days, we’re meant to be more connected than ever; we’re practically tethered to our phones. That means that for many companies, employees are “always on”. Chat and emails are installed on personal devices, and people can respond to us any time — even during the commute home. This can make for a flexible work environment, but as leaders we can run the risk of expecting too much without actually giving enough to our people in return.
Even with the best communication platforms or software, a business will fail if leaders can’t create real connections between their people. We’re wired for community (just ask sociologist, and one of my favourite authors Hugh Mackay, or Dr Brene Brown, who both say community is a fundamental human need). This applies to our workplaces, just as much as it does to family or friendship groups.
People crave real connection. If we want to support our people in reaching their potential and giving their best, then we need to support them in addressing that need. People who travel frequently or work from home need to know what’s going on with the rest of their team. In her article Telecommuting Is the Future of Work, Meghan Biro wrote about the rising number of employees working from home and businesses hiring “virtual employees” — contractors or freelancers who never actually step foot in their employers’ physical office. She also says that not all companies can thrive in this set-up.
As leaders, we need to build trust amongst people by creating opportunities to share information freely and frequently. This comes by creating rhythms where people can expect to exchange information, be it through a weekly report, a company meeting or a 1-2-1. When we can’t do it face-to-face, technology can be a great conduit, especially for roaming or virtual employees.
The software built inside RedBalloon, Redii has meant that no matter where I am I can see what people are doing, how they are recognising each other – and I can be a part of that too. By creating both an expectation and opportunity to see the value of every individual’s contribution, regardless of what team they’re in or where that are.
Having a publicly visible news feed where people’s accomplishments are on the wall helps me see what people are doing. It connects me to the day-to-day accomplishments and efforts, and reminds me I’m still part of a greater community, even though I might not always be around. Ask any executive how important visibility is to them. Ask any employee the same, and you’ll soon realise that community (as well as highly productive, highly successful teams) are built on trust and transparency. So it makes sense to invest in a platform like Redii where people connect, share stories, and build a workplace culture, despite not being physically present with one another.
Even though our world feels like it’s getting smaller, I think social isolation can still be a massive problem for a lot of people. Unless you are connected to something greater than yourself, and you have genuine relationships with the people you’re working with, it’s easy to feel alone.
We can solve this problem with small steps, as long as we take the responsibility to take the challenge on ourselves. Building communities starts with individual relationships. You don’t have to get complicated, you just have to be consistent. Start by saying hello and making eye contact with people. Use the first few minutes of the day or meeting to ask how people are (even if it’s on the phone).
Then move up and create opportunities for people to connect with others beyond their immediate team; hold a company lunch and encourage people to stay and chat. Share stories of accomplishment somewhere accessible, so people off site still get visibility of what’s going on.
Authentic recognition can help start a conversation and help people connect their time at work with something meaningful. It fosters a sense of community in your workplace that builds solidarity and resilience within growing teams. Instead of looking out for one’s self or competing for resources, people are in it to support each other and work collaboratively.
You can read more about how to build a more connected, committed business: here is a link to down load the e-book Building Your Dream Team – 9 things you should be doing to unite, engage and empower your people.