Maintaining Connection with Your Team While Working Remote

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12 weeks down and counting. At Intuit, our first day of the full company working remotely was Friday March 13th. We’ve worked via zoom for 12 weeks and 1 day. That’s 87 calendar days and 62 working days. And, at least for us at Intuit, working remotely will continue for months to come.

Like many others, it has been difficult to adjust to this new way of working. I’ve gone from living 50% in Dallas and 50% in Charlotte and working remotely one day a week to living and working 100% in Charlotte and working remotely 100% of the time. I’m an extrovert. I get my energy from being around other people. I didn’t really enjoy working remotely, but with my office in one city and my kids in Charlotte, flying back and forth each week was my life for over 10 years. This was my “work/life balance,” which I see as choices not balance.

I’ve learned a number of things about working remotely during these last 12 weeks. One of the most important in my mind is how difficult maintaining the connection with the team is during constant, back-to-back zoom meetings that 100% focus on the work. We spend more of our time at work than we spend with our families. The time that we spend building relationships (that often turn into friendships) is key to making us feel like we are engaged and able to do the best work of our lives, which is an important goal for us at Intuit as we prioritize having highly engaged employees.

I’ve captured three learnings and suggested actions from my own experience:

Everyone has a different challenge or set of challenges.

From child-care of toddlers to raising teens to parent care to being alone in a small space, everyone is dealing with something different. Even more critically, substance abuse and domestic abuse are up during this time of shelter at home. We have to acknowledge that the challenges our colleagues and members of our teams are facing are as varied as the people themselves and offer as much grace and flexibility as we can. And know that many people are dealing with challenges that for whatever reason they’re not comfortable sharing, even in an environment that strongly supports “bring your full self to work.” This just feels like being more inclusive. Among many positives of zoom is the chat feature. I’ve started to use it to be sure I have inclusive feedback and input from across my team. I just ask a question and say I’d like everyone’s input in the chat feature (and as the owner of the meeting the transcript is automatically saved and sent to me at the end of the meeting). I’ve been thrilled with the breadth of responses that I’ve gotten, and I’ve realized that this enables me to hear from more than just “the usual suspects” of people that usually speak up in meetings.

Little personal connection.

All of the work that we got done in the hallways, in the line at lunch, running into each other at the coffee pot or water cooler, as we walked into or out of meetings has disappeared. All of that work has turned into additional zoom meetings, on top of an already full day of meetings. It has also eliminated all of the personal sharing, trust-building, and relationship forming interactions that happened during those same occasions.For me, this translates into two action items which are sometimes conflicting.

  • The first is where can we eliminate meetings or at least make existing meetings shorter? I’ve eliminated several op mechs and made several others shorter.
  • The second is how can we make time and space for these casual conversations, rather than jumping right into the work? 

I’ve been doing two specific things since mid-March to create some space for what I call the “trust-building conversations” – a daily question on slack that has nothing to do with work and helps us understand each other better.  I did the questions for a couple of weeks and then team members began to take turns.  We have an amazing Spotify playlist, a collection of Haiku’s, Netflix recommendations, small businesses that we support, and the list goes on.  And every week we have a 30-minute optional check-in on Friday’s that has a “no work” rule.  These have become a fun time to try out a new game – we’ve tried Pictionary, simplified Scattergories, charades, and some trivia, among other things. One member of the team after one of these meetings said,“that’s the only time I laughed all day.” That was both exhilarating and heartbreaking at the same time.

Zoom fatigue is real.

Somehow, being on zoom calls with people all day isn’t satisfying the extrovert need for personal interaction and energy. And it’s pure exhaustion for the introverts among us.  I’ve seen a number of articles talking about how real this is.  That watching ourselves all day and trying to separate the people on the calls from their backgrounds takes more brain power than being in a room with people. And, not walking from room to room for meetings or for lunch is causing us to spend a LOT of time sitting, even for those of us that are used to a meeting-packed schedule. So I’ve started to encourage and participate in turning off the self-view or at least the video camera so I’m not staring at my ever more graying hair and seemingly endless wrinkles. Encouraging participants in my meetings to grab lunch, to refill their water bottle to stay hydrated, or to just get up and walk around their desk for 3 minutes. Encouraging walking meetings when possible.  Encouraging participants to introduce their kids or parents (or pets!) if they come into the video. Encouraging people not to worry or stress if the dog barks.

I’m still learning how to be my own best self in this environment. And I know that what works for me is different from what works for others. I go back to grace and flexibility often. How can I offer grace and flexibility to others so that they can be their best selves? 

Finally, I’ve also heard colleagues and members of my team refer to their work spaces as jail, the cave, prison, and a variety of other not so appealing names. I’ve seen the virtual tours of small corners, dark rooms or closets, and former storage areas. What can we do to make these spaces more comfortable and desirable to be in for long periods of time?  I know that I’m fortunate to have a separate office in my house that I can dedicate to work, but I’ve got to believe that feeling like “I get to go to my she-shed this morning” is more conducive to feeling engaged and doing the best work of our lives than “Ugh, I’m headed to my prison cell, I’ll be out later.” How can we support this investment?

All of that said, I can’t say I’m itching to get back to the office full-time anytime soon and I welcome the conversation about how this will transform how we think about our work environment long-term.  I’d love to hear what’s working for you during this time.

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