By Bill Dann
Like all of you, we at PGS have been hunkered down. We have shifted delivery of our services to virtual platforms, using the phone or videoconferencing. Surprisingly, the transition has been relatively easy for ourselves and our clients.
Despite obvious limitations, working virtually has already taught all of us a good deal. We want many of the observations and lessons learned to remain with us when we return to face to face operations. Here are a few:
- Increased flexibility and cooperation. Just being willing to try to make decisions virtually demonstrates more flexibility than we often see in the workplace. As a facilitator, what I have noticed is that it is much easier to “earn the right” to facilitate. Everyone knows inherently that a facilitator is needed, and I have experienced no passive resistance to having a guide to the discussion when leading a group virtually. This is often not the case in live sessions.
- It takes less time to complete actions virtually. Participants feel less need to “be right” or even be heard. If the solution or proposed action is close to their thinking, they go with it. There is less disagreement. However, and importantly, I don’t sense that the lessened dialogue results in a sub-optimal decision. Consistently, getting to consensus has been easier.
- Listening is improved. I don’t know if it is because you can’t read the body language as well or you don’t always see the image of the person talking, but there are very few instances in which people are asked to repeat themselves or someone makes a comment that indicates they didn’t understand what was just said. We all seem to be trying harder to both listen well and to understand one another.
- Greater respect for everyone’s time. I don’t know whether it is because participants have more responsibilities on their plates or that we simply have greater concern for one another in this time of anxiety about the virus. Whatever the cause, when disagreements do surface, participants are volunteering to take if off-line of the virtual meeting. They either decide to take it up later or, if truly disruptive, to interrupt the meeting and agree to come back together when the situation is resolved. Wouldn’t it be nice if that happened in face to face meetings?
- Less “hanging out”. Currently, everyone has a reasonably legitimate reason for not being able to attend. Thus, if people do attend, they are fully there; want to be there. People hanging out but not really wanting to be there are a tremendous drag on meeting productivity, so eliminating them has meant more productive meetings.
- Video with chat capability allows multiple processes to happen concurrently. One process involves whomever is speaking at the time. In the background, someone could be chatting, “I agree” or “I have a question and stating the question” etc. The two working together enable the facilitator to a) assure everyone is included and b) better guide the discussion to get to consensus.
That is the short list of what we have learned from our virtual work. But just learning and not applying would be a waste. Therefore, we are working to put in place strategies, tools and ideas to maintain a version of these observations when we get back to in person client sessions. Which begged the question, how can we help our clients maintain the benefits they have experienced in the virtual world when they get back to “normal” operations? First, if you are working virtually now, we suggest that you ask your team the following questions while they are still in the midst of virtual operations:
- What have been the positives and negatives from working virtually?
- What have you learned about your team, your coworkers and yourself?
- Are there facets of the virtual working experience that you want to continue when you return to the “new normal”?
- Are there new agreements that you want among team members based on what you have learned?
Once your staff has answered the questions, gather up the responses, sort them and compile a short list of keys to implement when everyone is back to work “as usual”. What to pick? Look through the answers for the suggestions that are the most frequently mentioned, that are not in conflict with getting the business back up and running as quickly and smoothly as possible, and are not overly cumbersome to implement. What you want are quick successes that the whole team can see and support.
There may likely be suggestions that are more challenging, time consuming and/or expensive to implement, but that would also make a strong positive impact on the organization. Bring those suggestions to your strategic planning sessions when you are first preparing your next plan, and add the items to the suggested improvement project list (see our article on completing a solid internal assessment). You don’t want to lose the hard earned lessons that will strengthen your team and organization.
At PGS, our goal is to come out of this strange time of lockdown and economic crisis with a stronger team and a more resilient organization. A key piece to that goal is to not lose the valuable lessons we are learning about our organization and the work we are doing with clients. And we want the same for you and your organization. We have tools and processes in place to capture and apply the lessons of the pandemic that are unique to your organization and to build a stronger, healthier business for you, your employees and your customers. Contact us to find out more.