Using video doesn’t mean you are remote

In my opinion, we still have a mental-hurdle to jump when it comes to the idea of using live video streaming to establish meaningful business relationships, and yet, we use it to such great effect in our personal lives. Perhaps the commonly used phrase, remote access, still resonates in our subconscious when we think about working from home or other locations other than in the company office. 

As we navigate our way through very abnormal times, with the COVID-19 pandemic changing the social, economic and Global landscape; businesses have found themselves having to quickly and drastically change to accommodate new working practices to support employees working from home. This has and will continue to require the use of tools, platforms and software that until now, have been largely utilised by the minority of employees that already work consistently from home.

This dramatic shift in working styles (for the majority), not only requires further consideration from an employee perspective, but it also requires Managers and Leaders to think about their style and how that translates moving from working in-person with co-located team members to a virtual environment. With so much to consider, what approaches have been proven to be effective? 

Examples of companies that are advocates for non-office based working or class themselves as 100% remote workers are the likes of Zapier and GitLab and they have based their future success on this working model to great effect. What are the secrets of their success? – they, like other companies, follow 4 broadly similar principles and they are;

  • Communication is key 
  • Trust is given
  • Intentionally socialise
  • Respectfully challenge

Communication is key 

Managers and Leaders that have predominantly led teams based in the same office are now transitioning from an in-person to virtual environment and this may not seem much of a change, however, this change in communication is important to consider. Leaders will now have to think about their communication style in the context of reduced body language, social cues and in some cases, tone (when it’s over a messaging channel). Tips to navigate this transition are; 

    • communicate daily and set-up 15-20 minutes check-ins – there doesn’t need to be an agenda other than ‘is everyone okay?’ – it may feel strange at first and you may need to bridge a few awkward silences as everyone gets used to this new-norm, however, it’s an effective way to check how everyone is feeling; 
    • ensure all key meetings are conducted over video (with all team members turning their camera on), this promotes engagement and allows you to set the tone for subsequent messaging chats
    • use video for all your 1-2-1’s and don’t be tempted to use the phone – for such personal conversations, seeing your face and body language is important for the employee and for you to to convey your message clearly and accurately;

Trust is given

With the shift to working from home, your team members may start to encounter a new dynamic as their work life and personal life come together and this may offer them challenges in terms of balancing the two responsibilities (i.e. meetings versus looking after children). In these unusual times, and with schools and childcare facilities closing, some of your team members now have the whole family at home for an indefinite period of time. 

As a Leader and Manager, you will need to discuss how they intend to manage time and family commitments – and more importantly – you will need to trust they will deliver the outcomes you and the business require, irrespective of the working pattern they may adopt. 

    • talk to them about a new working schedule that is outcome focused as opposed to being centred on the previous pattern of hours per day when they were in the office; 
    • organise team meetings that are convenient to the team, which may mean changing from the in-office schedule and also be open to team members dialling-in and not being on camera and in listen mode  – a tip to avoid mixed messages to other attendees, ask who might need to do that in advance and make everyone else aware at the beginning of the call;
    • if someone misses a deadline, ask the question ‘why?’ first and offer support, it would be counterproductive to assume that they have been distracted from the goal;

Intentionally socialise 

The temptation is to use video and messaging channels for purely work related conversations and leave no space for general conversation and opportunities to socialise. Admittedly, switching from a chat by the coffee machine to a chat over video may take a slight adjustment, however, the conversation and intention is still the same – a catch-up with a colleague or team member

As a Manager, making time for your team members and for general conversation is still important and intentionally socialising is a process of making that time through a combination of;

    • setting up messaging channels for random and general conversations 
    • scheduling team video events such as a virtual breakfasts, lunches or pub quiz nights
    • start and end the week with an all-hands video catch-up which offers everyone the opportunity to say ‘hello’ and ‘have a great weekend’ like they would in the office – basic acknowledgements are important

Respectfully challenge

Without the access to being in the same physical space as your team members or employees, Leaders and Managers may have a new dilemma as conversations of a more sensitive nature are often easier in-person. If you sense that a miscommunication has happened, performance levels have declined or a negative pattern of behaviour is beginning to develop – have this conversation immediately to convey your thoughts. 

In these conversations, and as a Leader, begin from a place of empathy and understanding, however, be precise and clear, providing reference points that have led to your perception (i.e. missed deadlines, low engagement with you and other team members, limited weekly outcomes). Do not be afraid to have these conversations across video, as leaving them until you return to the office. 

    • like all sensitive or more challenging conversations, they need to happen at the time or in the same period of time to address the relevance of the issue;
    • for focusing on tracking performance, use tools that provide data that provides access to quantitative or qualitative data to inform your view on productivity (i.e Google Suite for Document collaboration, Jira for task tracking);
    • set the examples of how you expect your team to perform and engage in a virtual working environment; be visible and promote engagement, create transparency in terms of both personal and team objectives (i.e. Trello for project tracking) and create a virtual open door policy and ensure your team members know you are always accessible (i.e. dedicate time in your diary for them to book in if they need to chat);

How will we continue to recruit and hire

One of the challenges for all companies will be the switch from an in-person interview process to a purely video based process – the question I am asked frequently is ‘how will Hiring Managers be able to make an informed decision to hire?’ – my response is usually,  ‘what is the one thing that would stop you making a decision to hire?’. 

I understand that we have always placed a high level of reassurance in having met someone in person, however, in the last 2-years I’ve noticed that the increased performance and quality of video software such as Zoom has helped to provide an increase in trust. And that’s the key factor, trust.

To trust a process that is wholly video-based you will need to implement a process that helps you build trust in the interviewee and enable you to trust your decision to hire. From a process perspective, I would suggest that you need to consider the following;

    • your video platform of choice needs to have high-quality video, sound and resilient connectivity
    • create a video interview loop structure and clearly assign each interviewer with questions, a question scorecard, 2-3 values-based questions and ensure ALL interview notes and details are submitted into your application tracking system (ATS) or database of choice
    • conduct an interview kick-off meeting with all other interviewers and/or HR and Recruitment to ensure you are all aligned on interview scorecards
    • ensure your video-interview background is a blank canvass or home office environment – remove distractions, ensure the family knows you are interviewing and make sure your headphones are tested and checked before the video interview
    • before the interview, make the interviewee aware of the video software being used, encourage them to download and test the video software before the interview date/time and set an expectation regarding interview format, dress code and timelines
    • when you begin the interview, let the interviewee know that you will be taking notes (to cover any pauses while you type) and make them aware of the timeframe by introducing a timebox for each section of the interview – for example ‘..for the next 20-minutes, I’m going to focus on your experience of using Javascript and C#’ – this offers clear guidance to the interviewee on the time they have to answer questions
    • If there are any technical issues during the interview (i.e. video or sound), pause the interview to check the software and resume if the issue is fixed – if it persists, close the interview and reschedule. Continuing an interview where the quality has been compromised is unfair on the interviewee if it’s something that is beyond their control
    • conduct an interview loop debrief with all interviewers at the end of the process, and ideally within 24-48-hours after the process has been completed; this will offer an opportunity for sharing interview scores, feedback and support the decision making process
    • before making an offer, request that HR and/or Recruitment to validate the identity of the interviewee before the interview process starts (i.e. scanned copy of their UK/EU Passport)

What’s the next step? have created a host of content for Managers, Leaders and In-House Recruitment Professionals and it can all be accessed here