How to be a more human colleague in a virtual world

Spending the day sitting behind a screen and sending emails can lead to our workdays feeling somewhat impersonal. We speak to Caspar Craven, author of Be More Human, about how to reclaim your humanity and start having meaningful interactions again

It might sound a bit science fiction-y, but has our new way of working (remotely, behind screens, via email rather than face-to-face) caused us to forget how to be human? And what impact might this be having on our teams and our businesses? What might we gain if we could tap back into our more human side – and how can we go about doing it?

1. Understand why your team should care
Most companies have a mission. Very few are on a mission. Invest the time and energy to work towards your team being on a mission. How do you do this? There are several ways. Ask each team member, why do they work here? Really, why are they here?

It’s far too easy to be someone who just puts in the hours and gets paid. It’s far more engaging to understand what’s driving people. I’ve come to realise that people only do things for their reasons and not your reasons. Ask people and, if they feel safe, there’s a good chance they will share them.

If you’re at the stage where you’re planning ahead and seeking to energise and enthuse your team, go further and ask the team what it is that if you achieved as a team would make them feel proud. Getting emotional engagement in the direction you’re going means you are far more likely to be on a mission.

2. Be aware of what builds trust and what erodes trust
Trust is the glue that sticks a team together. Without that glue, you have no team. You just happen to have a group of loosely connected people.

Prior to Covid-19, getting this right for some teams was hard enough. Lack of self awareness, lack of understanding other people were for sure some of the contributing factors. In the ‘old’ world, it took work to make sure high-performing teams were attentive to what was building or eroding trust.

Add in a world where the only communication is 2D via a screen rather than 3D in person and you’ve lost a ton of communication cues. The risks of eroding trust went up.

The answer lies in the open conversation around what builds and what erodes trust and getting the team to agree how you continue to build trust. You can either do this yourself or get a facilitator who is good at spotting the cues of people who need to be encouraged to get more involved.

With the team creating the ways to make sure you build trust, they’ll likely be more creative and find ways that suit the team best. I’ve noticed that different people favour different communication channels – some love the phone, some hate it. Ditto Zoom, Teams, Slack, WhatsApp, etc, etc. Have the conversation and find what works best.

3. Focus on what you want to see more of
It’s a human trait I’ve noticed to focus on things that are wrong. When it comes to building teams, especially diverse ones, constant focus on what’s wrong isn’t helpful. Especially when people have lots of time alone for gripes to grow arms and legs.

With your team, get good at spotting micro details of things that go well and share them with others. You shape a culture by the questions you ask and the conversations you regularly have. Make it one of your conversations to encourage people to share what they’ve seen others do well and equally things that each person has done that they are proud of. You’re going to talk about things so why not steer it towards things that you want to see more of?

Getting teamwork right was tough enough before – at its root is understanding human behaviours, both yours and those around you. Add in a virtual world and it’s more imperative than ever to focus on and hone these skills. They aren’t just good for work, they are good for home life, too – in fact any area where you have a group of people. Above all, remember to ask what a human would do in this situation!

Caspar Craven is a leading authority on achieving Big Bold Goals through high-performance teamwork. He is also the author of Be More Human: Re-thinking the rules for High-Performance Teamwork.

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