So here you are…
Your team is all working from their homes, as are you. The work still needs to be done, and meetings still need to be had, but what’s the protocol when meetings have to be done from home?
It’s true. Your management task list has not gotten any smaller, now that work has shifted to remote. As a manager, you are expected to keep productivity going and that means meetings have to be scheduled in, regardless of distractions at home. What can you do?
Embrace the distractions.
As a Management Trainer and Coach, I’ve counselled managers for years to get to know their team members — not just as workers, but as whole people, including a little about their personal lives. Those lives come with stuff. And that stuff is colliding with work, right now.
· Let’s begin with the biggie: Children. Not only do we have to stay home, but so do our kids. Schools and daycares are closed, which means parents need to tend to their children. Classes have moved online and, while teachers are still delivering course material, it’s certain children will need at least some supervision to ensure their school work is being done. This all means we have to accept that parents trying to work will have their attention divided frequently.
· Pets crave attention too. I have two dogs who are very used to me working from home. They are generally pretty chill, until the letter carrier comes. At that time, every day, my dogs turn into snarling, crazed werewolves and tear around the house barking and growling. It’s hard to just ignore that if I’m in a meeting. Pet owners can try to circumvent these occurrences, but those animals can be pretty persistent. Hey — we’ve all seen the videos of cats crawling across computer keyboards.
· Other household members sharing a home workspace can prove pretty distracting too. There is the noise factor, as everyone is talking at once. There may be music or other sounds in the background which makes concentration difficult, or there’s activity which looks far more urgent than what’s going on in the meeting they’re supposed to be focused on. I’m lucky and have a dedicated space in my home for my office, which includes a door that can shut out noise coming from elsewhere in the house. Not everyone has that luxury, and managers have to accept that.
· With all those people in the house, interruptions (like shoulder tapping) can be pretty common. When my parents visit, they like to pop in and offer me cups of coffee or ask when I’m going to take a break. They are well-meaning, sure, but it’s challenging to stay focused at times like those. Now, in this time of social distancing, I don’t have interruptions from them, but I do from other members of my household…
· And then there’s multi-tasking. This happens in board rooms too, but it’s a lot easier to hide in a virtual meeting.
Managers — you know these distractions will occur (heck, they’re probably happening in your home too). So, cut your people a little slack. They are adjusting to their new work environment (again, you are too) and are really stressed about the impact distractions are having on their work. What they need right now is your understanding, and maybe some coaching on how they can reduce distractions.
Rather than get bent out of shape about distractions during a meeting, try the following:
· Make sure your meetings are as efficient as possible. What really needs to be discussed? Pare the agenda down to those key items. Impose a time limit on the meeting and each topic, and hold true to those limits. Distribute the agenda ahead of time and ask people to come fully prepared. If you communicate that preparation will cut down the total time spent in the meeting, you might even get cooperation!
· Ensure you are fully prepared for the meeting, including how to use the features of your meeting software. Technological issues still plague meetings everywhere, even though we’ve been at this a few weeks already.
· Educate your people on the various tools available with the meeting technology. If everyone knows how to mute their microphones and turn off their video, that will reduce the audio and visual distractions for the rest of the meeting participants. Encourage the use of the chat box and raised hands features, as they will cut down everyone talking at once. Call on people if you need their input, and let them stay on mute until you do.hen
· Remember all those meeting and presentations you sat through where the speaker droned on and on and on? Don’t be like that. Be animated and bring emotion and expression to your voice. You’re way more likely to keep their attention if you do.
· Record the meetings and distribute recordings to your team members. If someone had to drop off the call due to at-home distractions, they will still have the benefit of knowing what occurred in the rest of the meeting.
· Follow-up after meetings with salient points and calls to action. Your team will appreciate knowing exactly what is expected and when.
· Have fun with the whole thing. Have a “bring your pet to work day”, or ask any parents on your team to introduce their kids to the group. What a great way to demonstrate you get what they’re going through.
The greatest managers demonstrate they care about the people who work on their teams, not just the work they do. By incorporating the ideas above and allowing your people to manage their own work schedules and productivity (because kids and pets don’t always jibe with the nine to five), you will demonstrate your support and caring, and reduce their stress. And that is really, really appreciated by your team members.
Laura Sukorokoff is the Founder of C-Change Learning and Development. She knows managers hold the key to employee engagement, and provides training and coaching for them to be great at what they do. Reach out to her at www.cchangelearning.com.