*Tap, Tap* Can You Hear Me Now?

If you’re anything like me, you’ve had to patiently (or maybe not so patiently) sit through the following prelude to almost every online meeting attended…Can you hear me now?… How about now?… We can’t see your face. Can you move your camera down a little?…A little more…Now we can see you! …What time is it? She’s late again… Where’s da boss? Is she coming to this one?

It’s ironic. No, more like tragic that we’re almost a year into the pandemic and working remotely, yet these issues, gaffs, and frustrations still abound. As a remote leader, you might be feeling overwhelmed with the tech involved or frustrated that it feels like you’re leading from the other side of a brick wall. You don’t have to. Just like leading in person, the same 4 principles apply.

Let me show you how to lean into the 4 principles of leading and doing it smartly with the technology “enhancements” we now find ourselves heavily adding to the equation.

1. Awareness

First, you need to be aware or at least be open to looking around and trying to figure out what you are doing well, could improve, and failing at in your leadership style and team dynamics. I mean take a serious sit down, notes on paper analysis of the current situation.

For the things you and your team are doing well, acknowledge this and praise them in your next team meeting. This isn’t a time to gloat over your accomplishments, but to lift up your team members in what is working and their accomplishments.

Then, figure out what could be improved. Let’s say you realize that the online meetings are lacking in the same skill and etiquette as the face-to-face meetings had. How can you level up and obtain that same collaborative, “we’re in this together” feel? If it’s a few tweaks needed, roll them out at the next meeting. If it needs a major overhaul, it might be more effective to have a brainstorming session so that everyone plays a part in 1) leveling up the online team dynamic and 2) subtly employing accountability and walking the talk with whatever “improvements” you decide as a team.

A few improvements may be:

  • Adding a googly eyes Post-It note to the back of cameras in order to gain stronger eye contact from everyone. I even do this for myself and it’s a brilliant reminder to look at the camera when speaking and listening.
  • I know it’s painful to watch yourself on camera, believe me, I get it, but it’s important that everyone sees each other at the meeting to feel connected. I would also encourage recording the meetings for a “meeting minutes” account of the event and any possible etiquette lessons so that the team can continue to strive toward up-leveling that interpersonal communication and team dynamics as a whole.
  • As important as it may be to hold the brainstorming meeting to improve the online meetings, it’s just as important to have a follow-up meeting to discuss the mechanics of doing what was decided. Don’t assume everyone knows how to implement the agreed-upon ideas from the brainstorm. Not everyone is as tech-savvy as those in the IT department. Instead of pointing out individuals struggling, have a team meeting to cover best practices when it comes to what’s in their background (setting the scene if you will), proper lighting, sound volume, and camera angles, to list a few. Be prepared with instructions or someone who can guide those that need it toward these improvements. It’s well worth the extra work and will pay off in the long run with smoother looking and running meetings.

2. Over-Communicate And 3. Full Transparency

Now that we’ve covered some of the mechanics of more effective online meetings, let’s dig deeper into some of the underlying issues affecting the health of your online team dynamics.

At the core of being a good leader is over-communication. It’s no different when being an online leader. In fact, it becomes even more important. Coupled with the third point of full transparency, the two go hand-in-hand, like working from home and googling cat videos during lunch.

The main reason for this double dose of open communication is because your team is working at home behind a screen. They are unintentionally siloed. Living in an office bubble of one. They can’t hear the hallway chatter to know something is afoot. They don’t have the luxury anymore of passing the boss’s office on the way to that critical sales meeting to see that she’s upset and both owners of the client account are in her office.

It’s an utterly different experience, like being trapped in a closet. In fact, some of your team members may be working out of a closet because that is the only quiet place in the home. Basically, what I’m saying is they are stuck in an interpersonal vacuum void of physical messaging or the convenience of proximity. Oftentimes, I found out about something brewing in the office simply because I sat next to the boss or happened to walk by at the right moment.

Your team doesn’t have these visual cues anymore, so this leads them to over-analyze any change in routine, mannerism, voice tone, on-camera body language, or the length of silence between emails or the question they asked you. Don’t make the internal dialogue worse by not communicating, not keeping the voice tone light and the energy high.

One way to help in this area is to have both weekly team meetings, weekly 1-on-1 meetings, and daily strategy meetings as appropriate. At least try this triple layering for a while to see how it feels, what’s needed, and how it can be blended to meet your unique team and business needs.

But never stop communicating and being transparent. If you’re going to be late for a meeting, let them know before the meeting. If you had a heartbreaking incident happen before work, putting you in a bad space, let them know that. Please don’t hide behind masks you think you need to wear only to stress everyone out wondering if they did something wrong or it’s their last day. Be, dare I say it, your authentic self. *Gasp!* They will love you for it and ultimately respect you for it and quite possibly work harder for it, creating a win-win!

4. Leading With Heart

Finally, let me piggyback the authentic-self point with the importance of leading with heart. Put yourself always in their shoes. How will this decision impact the individuals on the team? How will this change or new direction feel to each individual? What can I do to make a hard, different, or strange decision go down easier? I realize most decisions are for the betterment of the business, the bottom line. I’m not suggesting you ignore or put that off. What I am suggesting is that you simply walk a moment in their shoes to determine the best approach and/or that every angle has been thought through first.

When you mix over-communication, full transparency, and leading with heart, they will see that in you. They may not like every decision, but they will understand you’re coming from a place of caring, fairness, and kindness and respect you for it.

Even though we’ve become a more connected or plugged-in working world, it doesn’t mean that we need to forget to be human in our leading. The basics still apply. After all, there’s still a blood, sweat, and tears person on the other end of that internet connection. Remember to stop and ask them how they are doing once-in-awhile—And mean it.

Originally published at www.rockinleader.com.

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