Written by: Forbes
I miss going to conferences, and it’s not just because of the networking and social opportunities. This is where I received part of my “continuing education.” Executives from major brands, industry experts and thought leaders shared their wisdom at these events. I took notes, interpreted the information, and wrote articles and books based on what I learned.
COVID-19 has forced everyone to adapt. It shut down—temporarily—the conferences we loved to attend. Many of us look forward to going back to these events when we can safely congregate to share ideas and brainstorm between general sessions, over a convention center lunch, a cocktail reception or a customer dinner. But, smart companies and organizations didn’t just give up on creating these networking opportunities. Many went virtual with their offerings.
Still, without these conferences, how can you gather a dozen customers together for a group dinner? You can still do it. You just have to do it virtually.
As an example, recently I moderated a series of customer wine-tasting events for Centrical, a company specializing in employee engagement and performance. (I recently featured Centrical in a Forbes article about how to make WFH employees love their jobs.) The Centrical team invited some of their customers and prospects to online (Zoom) wine-tasting events. These intimate gatherings (about a dozen to 15 people) started off with introductions and wine-tasting and eventually morphed into powerful discussions about the issues and opportunities surrounding the work-from-home (WFH) economy many of us are experiencing. What follows are some of the “ah-ha” moments and takeaways from that event.
Keep in mind, the attendees serve in leadership roles from a variety of companies in a variety of industries including retail, manufacturing, healthcare and more. While some of their comments were general to all employees working from home, many were focused on the customer support employees who are used to being in larger support centers where they had plenty of interaction with fellow employees, managers and supervisors. The list should give you some conversation starters around the WFH economy we find ourselves in today.
1. The right working environment is crucial. As leaders, we are likely privileged to have a nice home or workspace. When we send our employees home to work remotely, many of them live in small homes and apartments and may share a small living space with a large family. Some even share their computer with others.
2. Create an option for employees for when the Internet or power goes out—or when the employee needs to get away from the family. One of our guests referred to this as an “overflow location.” This can be an office that’s properly set up for social distancing and provides what the employee might need to work on a temporary basis. In other words, there needs to be a backup plan.
3. Consider how you train your employees. Classroom training has shifted to remote training. How effective is it? Some of our guests found remote training to be a serious challenge versus others who found it to be just as, if not even more, effective. In short, some companies adapted better than others. What works in a classroom setting must be modified, sometimes in a big way, to work well in a remote setting.
4. While most of us focus on the front-line employees, we should expand our focus to include supervisors and managers. They experience just as much, if not more, pressure than others. They are disconnected from their employees that they typically see face-to-face. They must develop new capabilities and skills to learn to supervise, manage and coach from a distance.
5. Motivation and recognition become more important when you can’t look your employees in the eye and congratulate them for something they did. Create more frequent opportunities for a “virtual high-five” where employees are recognized for their accomplishments.
6. Create a consistent cadence of virtual team meetings. Try to mimic the in-person meetings virtually. Cover what you would normally cover. Make it easy and comfortable for employees to give feedback, ask questions, share frustrations, and most importantly, share their wins with the team. This is a good time to deliver those “virtual high-fives” for employees who deserve recognition.
7. Employees may or may not miss the social engagement from working together in one location, but they all still need to feel as if they are part of a team. Create virtual team-building activities that motivate, unite and engage your employees.
8. Within your group of employees, there will be some who have the expertise or know more than others about a particular product, feature, problem resolution, etc. Let these “subject matter experts” mentor those who need help. Give them opportunities to present at your employee meetings. Learning from peers is enjoyable for those who are learning and fulfilling for those who are teaching.
9. And this goes for all leaders, whether you’re remote or in-house. It’s your management that will make any work environment successful. There must be a strong connection between leadership—which includes executives, managers and supervisors—and employees. Nobody should feel as if they are left stranded on an island alone. It’s easy for that to happen remotely, but it is also possible in an office environment.
10. And, finally, while this one wasn’t discussed by the leadership at our events, all of this ties into employee fulfillment. We must work hard to keep employees motivated, involved, connected and engaged. What’s happening inside an organization with employees is felt on the outside by the customers.
There’s an old proverb that says, the more things change, the more they stay the same. We’ve faced some big changes in the past year but our goals should remain the same—keeping employees engaged and happy, despite the challenges of social distancing and remote working conditions. Consider what you and your employees enjoyed most about working together and create virtual ways to replicate the same atmosphere. And remember, happy employees equals happy customers!
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