How To Effectively Collaborate Remotely

The COVID-19 health crisis has been a major organizational disruptor requiring a rapid shift towards an environment of remote collaboration. To be effective in this environment, organizations must lead from understanding what employees are faced with as well as how they can best communicate and engage.

Lead Collaboration from Understanding the COVID-19 Change and Transition

It is important for organizations to clearly understand both the change and transition relative to COVID-19 to effectively collaborate with and support their people.
The change can be defined as the difference between pre and post COVID-19 virus behaviors. The changes in the shorter term are visible external actions such as engaging in social distancing, mask-wearing, and sanitation protocols.

The COVID -19 transition, on the other hand, represents the longer term, internal impacts that people need to process and manage through including, but not limited to:

  • Keeping family safe
  • Supporting an effective environment for remote learning
  • Maintaining social and mental health
  • Feeling secure with a job and the economy

Collaboration begins with an understanding and empathy for all that COVID-19 brings with it. Both the change and the transition that people are currently faced with.

Collaborate through Communication and Engagement

An effective remote collaboration includes communication, sender to receiver, and a feedback loop for sharing information, but more importantly, engagement. Engagement involves strengthening and leveraging people connections and trusted relationships. While communication is fact-based, engagement is emotion-based and has a much greater power to propel people to action.
During these times it is important for organizations to both authentically communicate and engage with key messages that support understanding and action but also look to help foster human connections which function as the lifeblood of most organizations.

Key Messages to Communicate

What are the key messages your organization is sharing at this time?
What do your employees need to hear?

Acknowledge the Challenge

Employees want to understand that their safety and comfort remain a key organizational concern and that their contribution is and remains valued. Employees should expect at this time that the organization is learning and with this comes the need for adaptability. Finally, employees and the organization can gain strength in emphasizing the power of working together as one team and one organization to meet this challenging time head-on.

Share the Safety Net

Employees need to understand how they will be supported by the organization but, more so by their immediate managers and leaders. Managers and leaders should set clear expectations with their employees and deliver on those expectations. Employees also need to be made aware of where they can reach out for additional support during this time. An example of this could be the Employee Assistance Program (EAP). Finally, while operating in the safety net, employees need to hear about the visible progress and success the organization is making. These successes not only need to be major wins but the small victories the organization is making while operating within the safety net as well. Here, it is more about the journey versus the end goal.

How to Communicate Key Messages

The need for communicating and collaborating in a way that looks to support and energize not only the work we are doing but also the people is now more important than ever. How can we communicate the key messages in the most effective way possible?

  • Make it Personal: Allow personal check-in time and connect with people using their names during remote meetings. Allow for buffer time between meetings to help minimize virtual fatigue.
  • Get their Voices Heard: Build more regular ways for open communication, actively listen and use probing questions to help draw people into conversations. Repeat key messages multiple times, record meetings and make them available, and share key meeting discussion points and action items.
  • Be Creative: Use different ways to communicate supported by technology such as imagery, video, music, break-out rooms, exercises, chats, and polls to help engagement while minimizing virtual fatigue. Encourage others to be creative in their communications
  • Allow For Objection: Over 50% of communication is shared via body language which is very difficult to observe in remote meetings. In order to capture this, make voicing reactions and resistance a normal practice and use these as a way to both open and encourage more dialogue.

Let’s keep our organizations thriving by leading remote communication and collaboration from understanding the change and transition our employees are faced with, share the key messages our employees want to hear, and support engagement and the human connection through how we communicate!

About The Author:

Headshot photoMichelle Yanahan, is a passionate organizational change management strategist with 18 years of experience in leadership roles executing programs that grow change management as a strategic business competency.

Michelle holds a Masters in Organizational Behavior, as well as CCMP and Prosci ADKAR, change certifications.  Michelle has been a featured presenter for many industry organizations and is a faculty member at the University of Illinois Chicago and Elmhurst University.