For leaders everywhere, building and sustaining effective communication and connections with employees may be your single most important job as a leader. But what does that mean in a blended and/or distributed work environment, in which many team members may never ‘meet’ you, or spend time with each other, in person?
We know that employees crave communication and connections with their colleagues and leaders. They are hungry, too, for the clarity and context that only leaders can provide when communicating and interacting with team members.
So how can leaders foster personal touch points with blended teams whose members may be working virtually (some or all of the time) as well as in person? And provide the kinds of communication that help bridge the gaps for everyone?
Here are five proven ways you can do it well in a blended world.
1. Be Intentional
Leading blended work teams demands consistently clear thinking by leaders regarding the purpose of employee communication. I encourage the leaders I work with to think through their ‘Why, How, and What’ each time they communicate.
For example, are you planning to report on business developments in this communication? Or will you be working through issues and facilitating problem-solving and brainstorming? Or do you need to schedule a time for everyone to check-in and talk with each other about how they are doing, including their successes and struggles?
When you are clear about your ‘Why,’ it becomes very easy to choose ‘How’ you will communicate and ‘What’ you will focus on each time.
When you are leading blended teams, you will also need to be intentional about the technology and platforms you choose—especially if you want to create space for sharing and interaction or facilitate breakouts for small group conversations within online and in-person discussions.
When you clarify your purpose at the outset, effective communication can follow, whether you are together in the same room, connecting virtually through an online platform, or doing some of each.
2. Be Structured (But not too much)
Strike the right balance between structured and unstructured time in your communication and interactions with employees. Doing so enables you to give team members the time and space they need to process key messages and figure out the questions they want to ask.
You can also invite questions before and after meetings to give team members different ways of engaging in the conversation; doing so also levels the playing field for blended teams.
It’s important to remember that everyone processes information differently and at different rates, so plan accordingly and allow time for questions and conversation. When you do, you will ensure team members know they are being seen and heard, that their questions and concerns matter and that they are part of a larger whole.
3. Be Present
More than anything, employees need their leaders to BE there—fully present, connected, and in the moment—each time they connect with employees.
For example, when you schedule time with employees, make it a priority to free yourself from distractions to give your employees your undivided attention. Be intentional about removing or eliminating those distractions, and send everyone a clear signal that you’re not only present, but fully available.
Bring your active listening skills too. Be curious about what you may be seeing, hearing, or not hearing. What might be behind a question? Or is there an elephant in the room that needs to be acknowledged and explored?
4. Be Open
Blended work environments require a high degree of openness and flexibility from leaders in all aspects of leadership, especially in your work as a leadership communicator. When it comes to employee communication, I encourage you to ask yourself these questions often:
- What does your team need from you now?
- What might be required from your leadership communication?
- What might that look like for in-person team members as well as those connecting remotely? How about when you bring them ‘together’?
- Are you open and willing to learn your way forward right now; to lead and serve employees thoroughly in your interactions?
- What’s working (or not) for team members in the communication methods you’re employing? What ideas do they have to make it even better?
Try out ideas and suggestions—even if they are new to you and push you outside of your comfort zone—and learn as you go.
Blended work environments are now a reality. The more effective you become in communicating with team members, regardless of their location, the more successful you – and they – will be.
5. Be Candid
Your team will naturally look to you for clarity and direction, as always. But blended work teams will also value your candour as distance can make it so much easier for rumours to emerge and spread.
Focus on what you can say with confidence and share it consistently with everyone. Simultaneously, be ready to acknowledge points on which you do not yet have an answer—especially if the topic is a conceivably real concern.
Be honest about what you do not yet know, rather than pretending there is nothing to be concerned about. Your employees will thank you for your candour and appreciate your willingness to show some vulnerability.
You can count on five proven ways to communicate well:
- Be intentional: clarifying your Why, How, and What helps.
- Balance structured and unstructured time and ensure you allow time for both.
- Be fully present with your team each time you connect.
- Be open to addressing what your employees need from you and be flexible about embracing various ways to connect and communicate.
- Be candid about what you do and do not know.
You do not need to have all the answers, but you do need to be ready and willing to engage in the conversation.
Your team will thank you for your commitment to them, and for providing the communication and connections so vitally important to everyone’s direction, well-being, and success.
When you do, you will boost your effectiveness as a communicator and a leader.