Working remotely certainly has its advantages — for employers and employees alike. Beyond the simple fact that remote working capabilities keep businesses up and running even during tumultuous times, people also tend to be more productive and have a better work-life balance when working from home. According to one study, 40% of workers experienced increases in productivity at an average rate of 7%. Another study found even more significant improvements, with 77% of workers showing productivity gains and 30% doing more work in less time when working from home.

While most people have adjusted to such an arrangement, remote work does have its downsides. The artificial nature of interacting virtually has led to team breakdowns. People don’t feel as connected. A recent study supports this idea, with 72% of workers saying they don’t socialize enough when working remotely. Another 33% report feelings of loneliness. The digital realm isn’t as conducive to relationship building. This presents a challenge for leaders and their teams.

In a strictly virtual environment, it becomes much easier to focus more on the business at hand and less on relationship building. People miss out on the myriad micro-interactions that naturally occur in in-person settings. Those interactions foster connection and rapport, which help to fortify relationships between leaders and their teams. With time, a lack of relationship building can leave a culture floundering. Even when trying to recreate bonding experiences through videoconferencing, it still doesn’t do as much to maintain culture. Moreover, excessive use of videoconferencing can lead to a phenomenon known as “Zoom fatigue.”

A recent Stanford study found that the amount of eye contact involved in “Zooming” is highly intense and exhausting. People are staring at each other all the time. And for the speaker, the intensity of having all eyes trained on them can be extremely stressful. Videoconferencing also reduces people’s mobility, which can impede their cognitive performance — and that’s not even accounting for the increased cognitive load required of such interactions. Nonverbal cues and gestures can be difficult to read virtually, and people often overcompensate by exaggerating their movements during video chats. This requires the use of more “mental calories.”

Could Executive Coaching Solve Your Virtual Problems?

While there’s no quick fix for these problems, executive and leadership coaching can bridge this virtual gap. It provides the opportunity to examine leadership practices and adapt them to foster engagement, collaboration, and a sense of belonging in a virtual environment.

One of the main benefits of executive coaching is the chance to reflect on what you’re doing now versus what you were doing when everyone was in the office. With executive coaching, many leaders realize that they have stopped several of their team-building activities but are not replacing them with virtually adapted solutions. This inadvertently creates relationship and team-building deficits.

How Executive Coaching Can Help You Renew or Build Authentic Connections

As with anything in business, what works for one company won’t necessarily work for the next. It takes a little trial and error to arrive at a solution for those problems you’re experiencing with hybrid arrangements, but the six following tactics are often good places to start:

1. Go out of your way to make genuine connections.

It’s up to you, as a leader, to set the tone for employees. Take the time to genuinely and authentically connect with people. In one example, a client habitually called his team members to acknowledge their contributions or challenges, resulting in an overall increase in the engagement and performance of the team. There’s something to be said for hearing the sincerity in someone’s voice versus reading those same words over chat.

2. Acknowledge employee contributions.

It’s always been important to acknowledge contributions. However, you no longer have the option to call a team meeting for a quick congratulations. Instead, it takes more effort to celebrate successes. While hosting a virtual recognition event is one option, consider using other forms of appreciation, such as a gift card, care package, or handwritten thank-you note.

Recognize people’s hard work, show appreciation, and make it personal. After all, employee productivity, engagement, and performance are 14% higher in organizations that make an effort to show appreciation compared to those those that don’t.

3. Skip the video.

There’s no getting around meetings. They’re a necessity, but not the video aspect. Conduct some meetings without the expectation of being on screen. Better yet, make a return to the old-fashioned conference call. Either scenario allows people to move around, improve cognitive performance, and expend fewer mental calories during meetings.

4. Evaluate the number of meetings.

Meetings can be a drain on productivity. Useless meetings can be even more of a drain, going so far as to damage engagement and morale. Resist the urge to schedule a meeting just to have a meeting. Rather, evaluate its necessity by going through a checklist:

  • What is the purpose of the meeting?
  • Does the meeting provide key operational or strategic value?
  • Is it a time-sensitive matter?
  • Is the topic better for a small group discussion?
  • Which team members need to be present, and why?
  • Is preparation from attendees necessary for the meeting to be productive?
  • What’s the ideal outcome?
  • Does the agenda reflect the purpose and desired outcomes for the meeting?

Answering these questions first can help you limit the number of unnecessary meetings throughout the day and ensure your employees are using their time effectively.

5. Find the right balance for your people.

Finding the right balance between virtual and in-person is essential. Let’s say, for example, your team is near the office. Once a month, schedule a day when everyone shows up in person. You’re still providing the flexibility people expect, just with one day where the team gathers in one physical place to encourage collaboration and build relationships with colleagues.

6. Foster career development opportunities.

While development discussions are nothing new, research from LinkedIn has found that 94% of employees said they would stay at a company longer if it invested in their learning and development. And with employees wanting career advancement opportunities and looking for greater meaning at work, the time has come to prioritize these discussions. Get development talks on the calendar and return to the days when you offered employees development opportunities — even virtual ones.

Talking alone can’t create career development. However, when you act on the ideas expressed in these conversations, that’s when you truly give people more control over their future. It also affords your employees a bit more autonomy in the workplace, leverages their talent, and increases their motivation and engagement as they’re directly involved in their advancement.

Next Steps

Remember, people leave managers, not companies — and by managers, we’re talking leadership in general. It’s all about ensuring each team member feels valued, seen, and heard. In the virtual environment, this might take more time and effort on your part, but prioritizing leadership development is well worth it in the long run.

At bluSPARC™, we’re here to help. We can guide you holistically through the organizational development process and help you effectively boost workplace retention, performance, and communication with in-office, remote, and hybrid teams. If you’re ready to transform your approach to leadership, contact our team today.