Working Remotely with Excellence

The Opportunity

Smart leaders will use the corona virus as an opportunity to improve how employees work together and interact. By identifying and practicing new disciplines we can improve how we work together remotely.  The skills we learn will also improve our performance when the emergency subsides and we are able work in person.

Here are five lessons I have learned in my years of facilitating remote meetings:

Five Lessons for Meetings

  1. Practice elements of effective meetings: This is a good opportunity to deliberately practice elements of effective meetings.  These include: developing a clear meeting intention, designing an effective agenda with a clear purpose and process for each part of the meeting, providing the agenda and pre-read materials before the meeting, and assigning clear meeting roles (e.g. clear objective, right attendees, on time, balanced participation, attentive participants, followup, etc.).

  2. Check in—connect to yourself and each other: In sports and the performing arts we would never dream of stepping onto the field or stage without getting mentally, emotionally, and physically prepared. Each person can ask themself: Is my mind racing or calm and available? What emotions can I feel?  Do I feel numb?  Is my body relaxed or am I tense in some areas? With the coronavirus many of us feel anxious. Give people a chance to share whatever is up for them such that they can be fully available for the meeting. Our nervous system has the opportunity to calm down when we can share with others who are available, attentive, and listening.

  3. Track emotional tenor: Track your emotional tenor by paying attention to your body (calm and centered or tense), your emotions (fear, anxiety, joy, calm or numb), and your mind (racing or calm). When triggered our sympathetic nervous system dominates and we automatically switch to fight, flight, freeze or appease mode. When we operate from center our parasympathetic nervous system dominates. We are most effective when we are centered and focused rather than triggered. You can also track the emotions of others and the group overall. What does the group’s climate feel like (tense and anxious or calm and joyful)? Of course, tracking emotional tenor requires us to be attentive, fully engaged, and not distracted by multi-tasking.

  4. Coordinate content and social dynamics: This practice begins with an effective meeting design and checkin and includes each part of the meeting. Parts of the meeting might be tightly choreographed (like a symphony) and other parts may be more free flowing and emergent (like jazz or improv). With conscious interaction we can leverage our collective strengths and integrate our differences. This requires deeply understanding each others’ perspectives and identifying the interests that lie beneath our positions. Integrating differences is like removing the pebbles and sand and combining the gold. Hence we create a higher unity. Each of us in a meeting can track, act, and respond in ways that help ensure the meeting is most effective and best meets the needs of the work and the people. 

  5. Check out—foster clarity and calm: At the end of the meeting each person can again checkin with their nervous system; mind, emotions and body.  Am I calm or do I have unresolved issues and anxieties? Am I clear about next steps and who is to do what by when? Everyone should also have a clear path to resolve open issues and challenges with the work and among each other. The group should also reflect on, and learn from their performance during the meeting. This is analogous to the review that follows a professional basketball game. You might ask “on a scale of 1-10 how did I do?” “What one thing might I do differently next time that would make the biggest difference? ”The group might also reflect on, discuss and learn from our joint performance. 

Beyond Meetings

Working remotely is not only about meetings.  We also need to find ways to connect to ourselves and each other throughout each day, week, and month.  Perhaps we come together in groups at both the beginning and end of the day.  We might create online open spaces for informal gathering.  There is no single right answer, however, as leaders we need to design an overall work rhythm and process that integrates meetings, other online tools, checkins, etc. and maintains both work and social effectiveness.  And as individuals we might create space in our day to reconnect to our ourselves, our intentions, and our priorities.  One easy way to do this by breaking your activity into focused 25 minute segments using the Pomodoro Technique.

By David Sherman, Founder, Cooperative Advantage.  David equips and supports leaders to develop and integrate the cooperative power of people, organizations and systems to advance a better future.

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