Episode 2: Adapting Collaboration
In the physical office, collaboration happens in formal and informal ways. Teams collaborate not only in conference rooms or at desks, but around the watercooler, in the kitchenette, and in passing in the hallway. The current pandemic is sending more and more companies into remote work. Right now, we are in the early days of newly remote teams adapting their collaboration to the digital environment. At the same time, they are determining what tools work best, establishing digital etiquette, and becoming familiar with this new way of working. It is critical leaders take time to adapt the collaboration of their physical office into practices that work in a digital workspace.
In this episode of Employee Connectedness, Unitonomy founder Charley Miller discusses how collaboration shifts and adapts to remote work with UofL researcher Dr. Brad Shuck and OnPlane consultant Martin Low
In this discussion, they will address how to adapt to collaboration in the digital space. Think of collaboration as a heartbeat. A team needs to find the right cadence or they will get winded from frustration or lethargic from inaction. Employees and teams have muscle memory for how they communicate with each other. The shift to remote work involves retraining and aligning that muscle memory to adapt collaboration for employee connectedness.
Episode 2: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dFXSKWHo5DU
Employee Connectedness is live-streamed every weekday at 10:15am EST on the Unitonomy YouTube channel. You can join there and ask questions in the chat. You can also find previous episodes posted there and on the Unitonomy blog.
Employee Connectedness: Adapting Collaboration
Charley Miller 0:31
Hello Mr. Brad Shuck. All right. Yeah, we’re okay here. Hope you’re well. We’re hoping to be joined by Martin. He looks like he will jump in in a moment. But let’s go ahead and start talking adaptation as employees get used to working remotely during this pandemic. I’ve been doing remote for a long time, for over a decade actually. So I’m pretty used to the differences of working from home versus being surrounded by my colleagues in an office. And I think a good place to start today is to talk about all the changes that people need to expect to perform, both from the tools but also all the way over to the soft skills as they get used to working without their colleagues next to them. When we think about the office, think about all the places where we interact: everything from our desk and talking to people sitting around us. We’ve got the conference room where we have our meetings and our whiteboards and our screens and we share those in real-time. We have the water cooler in the kitchen for those moments where you bond. And then we also have the hallways, right where you just happen to collide with someone maybe you haven’t seen all week, and you get a chance to, you know, say hey, how’s the family but oftentimes those conversations bleed into Oh, did you hear about that thing? You know, decision that came out of the conference yesterday or whatever it might be.
That is really how effective information transfers across an organization in these sort of side moments. But when we’re all working remotely, we don’t have those moments. You know, we’re now behind our own screens. There’s no one next to us. There’s no hallways to walk down. We have things like Slack and Microsoft Teams where someone might say something because communication is fairly transparent there. You get to learn about it if you have the time to read all the information come through, but there’s a lot of noise and that’s very distracting as well. And, you know, our conference rooms replaced by video cards, it’s something that kind of feels like this live stream, right where, hey, I get to see your face, Brad. It’s awesome. Nice smile. Thumbs up. I you know, I can read your body language. That’s really important.
And I know everyone right now is getting into things like Zoom and WebEx and kind of building their video conferencing muscles right now and learning some new etiquette and everything. That’s awesome. But I’m seeing now where today is what March 25, 26 yeah 26 we are like in you know week two or three for most people around the United States of will call a lockdown. Right? We’re getting used to this distributed work. The conversation is starting to move from Okay, you know, technically I feel pretty comfortable now about how to do this. And now we’re starting to get to the places like etiquette, you know, how can I be a good participant on these calls, you know, learning the mute button and things like this. Part of this is, of course, not stepping on each other’s toes, not interrupting. But there’s a whole other side of this. It’s outside of the video conferencing, which is just how to be a good collaborator right now. When my tools are really limited email, the Slack and Microsoft Teams, the video conferencing, you know, we went from like all sort of moments in the office where all this stuff could kind of organically happen to now, you have to be a proactive communicator, because there’s no sort of organic communication.
We went from like all sort of moments in the office where all this stuff could kind of organically happen to now, you have to be a proactive communicator, because there’s no sort of organic communication.-Charley Miller, Founder of Unitonomy
Everyone has to think about what they need to make sure other people do and how to get it out there in terms of awareness. Brad, I’m gonna throw it over to you now. You’ve been studying employee engagement for a long time. And I’m curious to see if you’ve ever learned anything related to people feeling connected to their colleagues and also feeling like they belong to the purpose of their organization as it relates to the conversation.
Brad Shuck 4:42
Yeah, absolutely. So when you mentioned the office, I immediately thought of the show The Office, and that all of the things that happened in that show, are kind of now playing out in real time in our organizations. And so the conversation with Toby, conversations between Jim and Pam, conversations between Dwight. I mean, it was some of those things are now kind of like beginning to manifest themselves, but they’re doing that in an online environment, which is kind of, it’s kind of funny to watch happen, right?
Here’s what I struggle with personally. So I’m just gonna be kind of vulnerable and transparent for a minute is this is about planning for me. And sometimes I’ll get on a call like this, and I’ve been off man, it’s it’s 1015. I’ve already been on two video conference calls this morning. And I was on video calls all day yesterday and on the telephone and I did not give myself adequate time to plan Hey, what’s up, Martin, how you doing, man? I just didn’t give myself time to plan and doing this in a way that’s gonna promote collaboration means that I’ve got to dedicate some prep time to those meetings in the same ways that I would if I was in the office, right. And those impromptu conversations that are happening through Slack or Microsoft Teams or even just over email are still really important. Because they are, in some ways, the ways the decisions and the big meetings get done. The way that I love to think about collaboration in this in this kind of architected environment is that collaboration is the heartbeat of your culture. And if your heartbeat is beating slowly, and people aren’t collaborating, you’re really not thriving. You’re gasping for air. If your heartbeat is racing, right, and there’s so much collaboration and so much void,
Collaboration is the heartbeat of your culture. And if your heartbeat is beating slowly, and people aren’t collaborating, you’re really not thriving. You’re gasping for air.–Dr. Brad Shuck
Charley Miller 6:48
I was hoping you’re gonna go there.
Brad Shuck 6:50
Yeah, it can get right in can be really difficult. Keep up with all occasion and difficult to keep up with all of the information. And so now you’re now you’re winded here, right? And so there’s this kind of sweet spot for how we collaborate together and how we work together in ways that allow us to really thrive as an organization.
Charley Miller 7:19
All right, Martin, I’m glad you were jumped on here. We’re talking all things adapting to the new reality of remote work and really focused on how to be a good communicator. We were talking about, oh, we’re not an office anymore. There’s no more kitchens or hallways to have those encounters. There’s no more conference room where we’re just all around each other. There’s no more taps on the shoulder at the desk. Wow, brave new world here of realizing we’re stuck with email, instant messengers like Slack and Teams and video conferencing. That’s not much right. You got to really be proactive communicating here. So Martin, your consultant with OnPlane, you go into companies all the time and try to help them figure out how to cultivate culture all the way down to HR needs. How much time do you spend with coaching people? Any kind of past here before the pandemic of helping them be better communicators?
Martin Low 8:09
Yeah, so, this but this concept in my mind around muscle memory, which is really like so you’re wearing a Reds jersey, and I know you’re a baseball guy, and a big
Charley Miller 8:25
Happy Opening Day today, right? Obviously no Reds would be playing today.
Martin Low 8:31
That’s right. That’s right. Um, but you know, the, if you think about this, from the standpoint of muscle memory, a baseball swing is all driven by muscle memory and it’s thousands of repetitions in you even see when a player is trying especially in the majors or in the minors trying to fix their swing. And their coach is saying, Hey, you got to do this just a little bit different. They they almost take a step back. For weeks, maybe even a season to sort out these little tweaks inside the swing, and what we’re dealing with right now is a fundamental change in the muscle memory that all of us have built up in terms of how we interact all the time.
What we’re dealing with right now is a fundamental change in the muscle memory that all of us have built up in terms of how we interact all the time.Martin Low, OnPlane Consulting
And it takes this big step back to some of these really fundamental things like you would inside of a swing, where do you put your feet? When you drop your hands? Where does your shoulder go? And it’s all the almost painful detail. But that gets translated or should get translated back into the workplace. I’m in really basic stuff, right? So like, how are we going to use email? How are we going to use teams, what browser we’re going to use, I was late because I was trying to do this in Internet Explorer, and I forgot that we were in Chrome and then my, my camera wouldn’t work. And Charlie couldn’t see me. And I was closing everything down. And I was and then he’s like, are you using Chrome and I’m like, no. And so much of this is the muscle memory that we’re trying to build.
And a lot of the engagements and places where we start, are these almost painful. It’s painful to me because I’m not a detail person that almost painful, like, what browser are we using? When are we going to have this meeting? How should everybody set up their camera? What does everybody put in a title on an email that sets the foundation for consistency inside of the operations that we’re doing? And so when you start thinking about, how do we communicate, how do we do that with intention? How do we do it quick. So much of this starts with going back to the very basic, and what I would encourage anyone but to do if you haven’t done it is get your team aligned with how you’re using each one of these tools. Make sure that everybody first off, understands how to use them. I sat in on a call yesterday, where a guy was going through all that, you know, here’s the steps to use Zoom more effectively. And I thought it was a waste of my time in the first 10 minutes were that the last 20 minutes were stuff that I hadn’t even thought about in consistent ways to use it and it was great. What you’re going to have to get used to is, is that season slump that you see for the player that’s changing their swing. And you’re just gonna have to deal with a little bit of that, to get to the point where you’re going faster, and it’s worth it.
Brad Shuck 11:18
Let me jump in here, if I can really quickly, Martin, I want to I want to piggyback on what you’re talking about the shifting my swing, right, as a as a baseball player, but but also like being on that video call that you talked about yesterday, was with Zoom tools required us to maybe reshuffle our time, and our emotional and physical and maybe even like work capacity in ways that we may not have done six months ago. And one of the things that I think we struggled with before we talked about on yesterday’s live stream that there’s pre Covid 19 and there’s post Covid 19. One of the things that we struggle with pre Covid 19 was everybody was really already really busy. There was already lots of stuff to do. I didn’t know many leaders that were saying like, gosh, we got a lot of time on our hands, does anybody have more work we can do? Instead, people really struggled with I have so much going on. I don’t know how to create capacity for all that. That that kind of stuff requires capacity, right? rethinking, alignment, rethinking different tools and techniques, rethinking the ways in which we’re doing our work, the way that we’re communicating. And so my encouragement for leaders out there and folks who are struggling with this, even at home like moms and dads, like it’s going to take some time to think about that routine, to think about that alignment, and to rethink our levels of capacity and where we’re spending our time and how that time is best maximized from a Return on Investment perspective, but also a Return on People perspective.
It’s going to take some time to think about that routine, to think about that alignment, and to rethink our levels of capacity and where we’re spending our time and how that time is best maximized from a Return on Investment perspective, but also a Return on People perspective.Dr. Brad Shuck
Because as you mentioned yesterday, Martin and that’s stuck with me throughout the day yesterday. We are going to remember how we felt throughout this and we won’t forget that and in our behavior, we know that emotion drives behavior many times.
Charley Miller 13:22
So glad I wore the baseball jersey today seems like this metaphor is taking us pretty far. I’ve done remote work for a very long time. And I learned early on that the best practices you tried to use anytime you’re you know, you’re giving a presentation say the same thing. three different ways that people really get it. Well, when remote you have to assume people are really busy, they’re really distracted. There’s a lot of noise on the Slack and Teams. A lot of emails respond to, you have to assume your message is going to get lost when you’re trying to communicate something assume a bunch of people missed it. So you really do need to proactively say it over and over in some way. Sometimes it means in the meeting, you just kind of say the same thing you sent a memo out yesterday about just to make sure people’s ears are catching and they’re digesting it. There’s a difference between hearing it and digesting. And you’ll learn that very quickly in the remote world to say you’ve got 100 things that you need to communicate over the cross the week, you know, sometimes it’s for five people, sometimes for 100 people, whatever it is, assume you got all this communicate, how can you package that up into fewer messages? How can you give people less to digest even though you do have to communicate the same amount of information? That’s some of the savvy that’s the new swing people are learning right now.
There’s a you know a little sidebar here. There’s a joke we had in our last company you knew the people in our in my last company that were the Machine Gun Kelly’s we called them. Every every three words, they hit the return on the Slack messages instead of one nice paragraph to read. You had 20 notifications for basically one thought, because they hit the return after every phrase, right? It was like ding ding ding, ding, ding, ding. It’s like, please take a breath. composes one message. If it’s really important, something we want to hold on to use email, again, that lasts longer. If this is just a little sort of quick note, you know, use Slack use Microsoft Teams. If you need to share a file, maybe Slack or Teams isn’t the best way to do that things get lost in there. It’s hard to search in those tools to be honest. Those are just a few little pieces. But absolutely, as you learn to work in this world where people are distributed, you have to learn how to communicate in this new manner so that you’re efficient, but also effective. And, you know, we could go on and on about all the little tips and tools there. But just like the hitter, you just need reps, right? You just need to stay in there and get your pitches and batting practice and you start to learn it your whole team starts to learn it and you learn how to support each other as communicators.
Brad Shuck 15:55
Inviting people in when it comes to collaboration so people who may feel disconnected from work, because they’re physically distanced from folks. What do you think leaders might be doing in terms of like inviting people? Or what are? What’s the role of invitation here in collaboration?
Charley Miller 16:13
That’s an interesting question. I would think that there’s two parts of that, right? I’m seeing a lot of people raise their hand saying, hey, if you want some free consulting, we’ll come in here and give you some advice on how to set up Teams and Slack and so forth. But then there’s another piece of as a colleague, making sure that you’re not bashful to knock on someone’s door and say, Hey, Brad, hey, Martin. I’m worried I might have missed something this week, or I heard about this one thing in this meeting.
Here’s a classic example from yesterday. My wife is a professor. She’s obviously now teaching remotely right now. She was in a meeting with her whole department yesterday. And she kind of came away from that meeting saying, oh, it sounds like there’s some miscommunication. You know, that. It seemed like they didn’t realize they’re about this other thing I’m working on. And I said to her she’s got to pick up the phone and make a quick call just anytime you suspect the least that there’s some miscommunication. It’s like a tiny little fire, you’ve got to put that thing out and make sure it doesn’t turn into a big fire. Miscommunication can create huge wounds that people aren’t even aware of. And my advice is always to just call, even if it turns out to just be smoking, no big deal, great, everyone’s gonna feel better by you proactively making sure this isn’t gonna become a bigger deal. You figure out the miscommunication very quickly. So it’s almost like everyone needs to develop a sixth sense of Oh, my Spidey sense just went off. There might be miscommunication or and just on the off chance there is. Let’s attack it. Let’s get on a phone call. And don’t leave it to texting. Don’t leave it to email, Slack, call Zoom, call, whatever you want to do, but just talk to the person really quickly. Two minutes, make sure there’s no communication that’ll save 1000 issues long.
Martin Low 17:55
You know, I think for me, it is you talk about this because I come from a lot of my early career was in manufacturing and manufacturing, especially automotive, where I spent my time was all about defect reduction and process improvement. And, you know, when I think about this on the human side, there isn’t good metrics. And there isn’t a good process to show you where you have a defect from a quality standpoint, right. And to me, if I were thinking about this, as a manager, I would look at every one of those, whether I’m a manager, I’m an employee, and thinking about that as a quality defect, which means something went wrong earlier in the process that caused me to have to pick up the phone, I need to pick up the phone, I need to, you know, pull the end on, stop the line, fix the problem right then and there because that’s how you do it. But then secondarily, you know, everybody should be looking back at their process and making sure that they have things that are in there that help them manage you know and think about those things as defects.
In a lot of this to me is habits. And what is your habit? What is your routine go back to, that muscle memory? You need to have routines and structure to build that muscle memories of the user step by step. You have, you’ve created the space in your organization, so that these things can happen, you know, naturally in that routine and that structure builds habit and the habit builds the muscle memory. And it’s gonna take you three to six months to really get good. And but one of things and Brad and I talked about this just today offline, is we talked about accountability as being one of the key things in leadership. And most of the time when he says accountability, we talked about we talked about his performance management. Everyone thinks like, Oh, well, that’s that’s me as a manager telling everybody what to do. The piece that they’re missing inside of that, that I think is unbelievably important, that we’ll keep touching on that really needs to be flushed out because it’s probably one of the more critical things that we’re thinking about is how are we giving people the ability to self manage, because accountability on one side is his manager saying I need you to do this and if you don’t, then I’m going to hold you accountable. talks about it. But really what people want most is they want to be able to self manage, and know what’s expected of them and know how to act. And the fun part of this and building that communication and building those habits is giving people a framework so that they can self manage inside of that.
But really what people want most is they want to be able to self manage, and to know what’s expected of them and to know how to act.Martin Low, OnPlane Consulting
So if I think about my role as a leader, and how I drive those actions, I build that in. So my team, I think a lot of that is, you know, are you setting structured time, every day or week, for those conversations to happen with your employees, and some of that should be around a team alignment. Some of that should be around, you know, one to one alignment, and some of that should be around having fun and recognition and just general well being and if you if you haven’t set the time on your schedule for those three things, you need to go do that right away, because if not, you’re going to have a lot of these fires where there’s this miscommunication, and some of that is going to cause problems not just the miscommunication In a person’s inability to self manage,
Charley Miller 21:15
That’s awesome suggestions. Everyone at like 4pm should set something on their calendar to communicate up to their manager about what they’re doing today. But if you’re proactively communicating up, that person’s, that managers anxiety level is going to go down about just having awareness of what, you know, what are we doing. If that person’s anxiety level goes up, that manager is going to become a micromanager very quickly, is gonna start monitoring each employee very quickly, because they just don’t know, and that uncertainty is causing so much anxiety that they have to do that. So big takeaway here. I love the point, Martin, make sure you’re setting some time every day to communicate up so that you’re building trust now with that manager and that anxiety level in their parts going way down.
Brad Shuck 22:01
The let me jump in here a little bit do I could not agree more. And just an example from my own life of where I’ve not done this very well is on the on the homefront. We, we just kind of my wife and I are both professional educators. She’s a public school teacher, I work at the university level, we do educate we, we like to think we do education really well. We have a nine year old at home. And so we’re like, we’ll just kind of see how this goes. That’s a real bad plan. That’s by 11 o’clock. We’re already we’re, I’m frustrated. My wife is frustrated, my daughter’s frustrated. Words start flying across tables and people our voices start to go then. Same thing happens at work, right? If we are using this as an opportunity to just fly by the seat of our pants, just hoping that this is gonna work out. That’s a real bad strategy. Some to both of your all’s points. This has got to be proactive, putting things on calendars getting routines down, making sure that our team is aligned in that takes That takes a different skill set. It takes a maybe a slightly different swing than it did seven days ago. 10 days ago, right? The other if we don’t, frustrations arise at work. We get miscommunications through emails and different tones that maybe we didn’t intend, but are now coming. Coming out, we’re sending shorter and shorter emails that are that are brief and directed, and maybe not the kind of tone that we want to be setting with our team. We’ve got to do this in a really proactive way.
Charley Miller 23:45
So let’s do some final thoughts here as we wrap up and kind of go around. I’ll start real quickly to Brad’s point. If you haven’t done remote, much, you definitely need to hear what Brad said. tone is often lost until people get good at projecting tone. When people start first using emojis a lot in the email and then in Slack, I was kind of like this is for kids. Why are we using emojis in the workplace, but then I got it. Emojis help transfer some tone where sometimes you writing a short message sometimes loss emojis are actually helpful embrace that. I know it’s kind of weird for some people, but they work.
So realize that tone can be lost. And that’s why sometimes jumping on a phone is really critical, especially miscommunication. But to going back to the sports metaphor one more time, you know, people videotape their golf swings for a reason. Sometimes you just don’t have self awareness because you can’t see yourself in the mirror when you’re performing in the middle of the thing. I think teams should also set aside some time right now because this is such a big transition at the end of the week to just talk for 20 minutes. what went well, what didn’t go this? Well, this week in terms of communication, what can we be doing differently in terms of how we’re collaborating right now to make this better next week? That meeting will save a lot of effort and frustrations as you continually look at your golf swing as a team and try to figure out how to improve matters. Who wants to go next. All right, Brad,
I think teams should also set aside some time right now, because this is such a big transition, at the end of the week to just talk for 20 minutes. What went well, what didn’t [in terms of how we’re collaborating]? …That meeting will save a lot of effort and frustrations as you continually look at your golf swing as a team and try to figure out how to improve matters.Charley Miller, Founder of Unitonomy
Brad Shuck 25:28
So if you’re finding that you’re out of breath, because things are not, things are moving too fast, take a pause, take a step back, reevaluate matters. If collaboration is the heartbeat of your culture, and it’s gonna be that way, whether you’re you’re remote, which is our situation right now, or when you get back to work, and we’re doing in person things. That level of collaboration that you’ve got is truly the heartbeat of your of your culture. Take a pulse check on that. Put some routines in place and make sure that this is a you’re taking a proactive approach, rather than what I’ve done the last couple of days here at home. Which is kind of a reactive approach where that builds frustration and anger, and miscommunication and bitterness sometimes.
Charley Miller 26:25
Alright, last thought Martin, he can take us home, or let’s say back to one more baseball metaphor. Do you want to knock us in?
Martin Low 26:33
Oh, man. Yeah, yeah. The last hit home. Um, so you know, the other thing that we talk to people a lot about, and you mentioned this, like you take your golf swing for a reason you don’t necessarily know we’re aware of where you could be better. One of the things that we talk to our leadership teams that we work with a lot is is leadership brand and how do you want to be seen, you know, who are you as a person? What are the things that really matter to you? How do you want to show up at work?
And a great tool that’s out there for that just to give you some feedback and start building that emotional intelligence which gives you an idea of like “Who am I which is a great place to start that exercise, and who do I really want to be?” is Cloverleaf and they’ve got a platform out there. If you go onto our website, onplane.com, you’ll go out to our partners page. On that partners page, you can look into cloverleaf you can do a free profile out there, and they’ll send you tips every day on, you know, your personality thinks you can do better. And then, you know, if you want to buy up, they have a paid package where you can start getting tips on your team. But it’s great because it gives you that personality map. And it helps you fill in some of those gaps where, you know, because we’re apart, we don’t always get the context. We don’t always understand those communication differences. And we didn’t do it well together. We’re definitely not going to do it well apart. But it’s a really, really good tool for that. And we use that all the time. And it’s a free way that you guys can can start to work on that as you’re working remote. So
Charley Miller 28:09
Yeah, we should do a whole episode on personality and the context of collaboration and get someone from cloverleaf on this as a guest to talk about it. I would love that. All right, guys, this was awesome. And we will be back tomorrow. And please, if you like this show, please tell your friends. The more the merrier right here as we share some thought advice. All right, guys. Talk to you all tomorrow.