Connecting: Thoughts on Managing a Team Remotely From an Attention Deficit Designer
“…Life, uh…finds a way” -Dr. Ian Malcolm
If you’ve heard this quote, then you know it is from the original Jurassic Park movie, where Dr. Ian Malcolm refers to nature’s relentless need to find a way to survive. That is certainly true of the current pandemic where the SARS-CoV-2 virus is trying to find a way to survive. Heck, we are all trying to survive.
That quote came to mind when this all started. It is indeed about survival, but for us at Elevatus Architecture it is also about thriving. This is true of any company “finding a way” to thrive in a new world and a new way of doing business.
As I consider this, I am reminded of playing with my grandfather’s Phenakistiscope as a kid, except all the images are different. I know, I know…. what the heck!? This was a toy my grandfather grew up with. It has a disc wheel with the same image of an animal printed around the perimeter. When spun, the animal appears to be many animals moving forward. The analogy I am trying for is that I see our business, during this pandemic, as one of these scopes but the images are all different. They are things that our business is trying to identify to determine how to move forward to survive and thrive.
We have often talked about workplace flexibility, opportunities to work from home, and how best to communicate. For most of us, we thought we would have time to plan for this, not something we would suddenly have to do. Sheltering and working from home this past month has been a frenzied chaos of adapting to change, particularly in how we coordinate and collaborate with our teams and clients. Like Jurassic park, we adapt or get eaten!
When asked to write this article, I immediately searched online to see what others are doing, so I could assemble a list on the tangible things to address. I found literally hundreds of articles discussing things such as what web meeting platforms to use, how to use organizational software, how to conduct meetings online, how to set up a home office, etc. These are obvious items in a direct line-of-sight I could easily focus my attention on, but that is my problem – focus! As an Attention Deficit Designer (A.D.D.), I struggle with focus. That is not a bad thing because I decided to scrap writing a repeat article of the obvious and let my focus drift to my peripheral thoughts of how to motivate a team remotely.
I have always enjoyed the occasional day of working from my home office. It is comfortable, peaceful, easy to focus on my work, and most of all has very few distractions. But now there is the distraction of managing a team remotely. Most of the day is spent trying to coordinate with team members, consultants, and presenting to clients from a distance while late nights are spent doing the work. It seemed harder to manage a team remotely.
In the beginning, communication was mostly through emails and texts and quickly switched to using web-based platforms like Zoom and Microsoft Teams. These are great tools that have helped with communication and coordination, but what I felt was missing were the interpersonal interactions with colleagues and clients. There was a sense of disconnect with people not currently working on the same projects. It felt like all the things that made our team strong in person fades away the longer we work from home.
But then, during the second week of working from home it struck me about what is missing in these articles I read about managing and working remotely – connection! We were designed to be relational and made to crave connections. In the workplace, we have a professional connection as we coordinate projects and tasks with each other but even more, we are relating with others on a personal level. Working from home, as much as I enjoy it, has less connection on both levels unless we are being intentional. I decided I needed to be intentional about connecting.
If Jurassic Park is about finding a way to survive and thrive then the Wizard of Oz should be a reminder of the power of connection. If you think about it, the Wizard relied on mystery and fear to motivate people. He was hidden, no one knew who he truly was, and he truly did not make a difference to anyone. But from the moment he was revealed, and he truly showed his character, he was able to connect with the three main characters to make a relatable difference. So, back here in Kansas, or wherever you are, this same idea applies. I read a Gallup article that found when companies have a more engaged and connected team, they are more productive and more profitable. I would go farther and say that people feel more valued and willing to engage.
In addition to all the tangible things about working remotely, managing projects, and coordinating tasks we should look for opportunities to connect to show we value and care on both a personal and organizational level. I believe it is more about building a team than it is about managing a team. I do not care what level someone is at, what title we have, or how much experience someone has. I care about how to connect with each other to bring the best personally and professionally out of each other. It is about doing things to point each other in this direction.
I believe that the word “connection” permeates every area of our lives. I said earlier that we were designed to relate, to connect. Without it we are just going through the motions. My wife, Leigh Ann, and I have been married for thirty years and have experienced many highs and lows. I have found that when we are connecting, when we are being intentional to pursue each other, our relationship thrives. It motivates us to continually do so. It is the same with any of our relationships whether it is a spouse, our children, family, friends, and even colleagues. Without connection, we are just going through the motions and thrive turns to dive.
With these thoughts, I began reaching out to people through Zoom and Microsoft Teams to check in with others to see how they are doing and to encourage them–not just to check on project status and task lists. We have a standing company-wide Zoom meeting every Friday for the sole purpose of connecting as a group. It is not a staff meeting or a project meeting but just time to get to know each other better and have a little down time playing games and laughing together. I was not sure how these were going over until we had to cancel one and I received many emails about how I was missed. All the tools and suggestions I have read about working remotely are very valid. Adding the element of connection has shown me how we can be a better team.
I do not have all the answers on how to manage a team remotely, but I can tell you that consistently reaching out to each other during this past month has made a difference in feeling connected. It encourages each other personally and intentional communication has thrived. It motivates me in how others respond and encourages me to see our commitment to each other, and by virtue the work at hand. It helps us to survive and thrive. Connecting during normal times is always important and more so during recent events. I encourage you to always make it a priority.