“I ask them to bring their drink of choice to our meeting,” one of my coaching
clients told me this past week, describing how she conducts her virtual one to one
meetings in our new world of remote working. “This allows me to show up with
my own glass of wine,” she confided, chuckling.
The introduction of a more personal beverage selection into the business
meetings (conducted after five o’clock, I am assured), has seemed to prompt a
more intimate atmosphere in which her team members feel freer to divulge more
of their personal lives.
“One team member shared the home-schooling challenges he and his partner are
struggling with with their young children,” my client explained. “Another woman
has revealed the painful ordeal of the break-up she is enduring with her husband
while they are self-isolating under the same roof.”
“It’s going to be strange then, isn’t it,” she mused aloud to me, “when we
eventually go back to our offices and no longer communicate like this?”
“Wait a minute,” I cautioned. Let’s examine that notion for a moment. Your team
members are entrusting you with sensitive vulnerabilities. Receiving and
maintaining such a high level of trust demonstrates a higher level of leadership.
Do you really want to try to put this genie back into the bottle or would you
rather find some way to preserve this special atmosphere you are creating?
Which brings me to today’s point. After six weeks of remote working, I, and other
business forecasters, are projecting numerous things will not revert to the way
they were. Many remote workers will not return to their offices or desks, fewer
executives will travel internationally for meetings that can be more efficiently
conducted virtually and more of those humble audio-only sales calls will be
stepped up to video conferencing.
Yes, the modes of business interactions and communications are dramatically
changing. But, as illustrated by my client’s conversations with her team members,
we are also witnessing a dramatic change in the manner of our communications
as well. Quarantine is prompting a communications leader-shift. The more we can
acknowledge it, the more likely we will be able to codify it.
1) We’re collectively getting real
From CEO to frontline worker, the complications of our “self-isolationships” are
requiring us to move out from behind our personal protection comfort zones.
Toddlers or teens are hollering at us from beyond – and sometimes directly in
front of – our screens. Difficulties with partners or roommates have prompted
some of us to initiate social distancing guidelines inside our own homes. Unlike
pre-Covid restrictions, we feel comfortable talking about these difficulties with
pretty much everyone. The world is in this together and we’re all talking about it.
We’re getting real, really fast.
2) We’re collectively experiencing a wide-range of emotions
Now that we’re working, cooking, drinking, binge-watching, exercising, eating,
crying, praying, dancing, cursing and laughing with the same people every meal,
every day, the aggravations, anxieties and even warm feelings of contentment
from a reflective stroll under the brightened-from-less-pollution blue skies of
nature, are smacking into us wantonly. Waves in a storm-wracked sea.
The noise from our tumult of emotions is softened, however, by our awakened
awareness that others – our colleagues, our bosses – are experiencing them too.
3) We’re entrusting ourselves
For those reasons, then, we feel more comfortable in discussing our situations
with people before whom we might have once been more guarded.
Last week, for instance, during my very-first prospecting call (video-call, of course)
with the head of learning and development for a large financial institution, I
smiled as she unleashed a torrent of exasperation over her pre-teen who simply
refused to do any more homework and had retreated into video games instead.
“I can relate,” I commiserated.
We are in a global trust-fall. As leaders, we cannot catch someone today only to
pull away from them tomorrow.
4) We should create new protocols
As CEOs and management teams are preparing new rules around social
distancing, and intensive cleaning in preparation of re-entry, so too, should
protocols and guiding principles be established to ensure our heightened and
enlightened communications combined with the more encouraging and nurturing
leadership approaches that are being established continue to be honoured and
Some organisations have installed special frameworks to provide support for
remote workers during this time. “Rant-buddies” or “Thinking-partners” or
“Support-mentors” have been assigned to employees. These alliances can be on-
going. Employees have been mobilised to innovate team-building, sales and
services ideas. Any such special incentive programmes should continue.
What we are learning about ourselves and others during this time, will benefit
and enrich companies and their employees for years to come.
Committing to a continuation of transparent and trusting communications and to
enhancing the teams and infrastructure you are establishing now, will go a long
way toward ensuring the emotional and mental well-being of your workforce
continues as well.
Another proven way is to encourage your workforce to tote their favourite adult
beverage with them to your next business meeting. Or perhaps not.
Write to Gina in care of SundayBusiness@independent.ie. With corporate clients
in five continents, Gina London is a premier communications strategy, structure
and delivery expert. She is also a media analyst, author, speaker and former CNN