Leadership Communications in a Virtual World
The COVID-19 pandemic forced associations to shift much of their day-to-day employee communications to virtual — and this created a new set of leadership communication challenges.
As many associations prepare to adopt various hybrid and remote work models post-pandemic, it’s clear that the need for effective virtual communication won’t be going away … and that it’s more important than ever.
As the newest inductees into the Canadian Speakers Hall of Fame, (and as experts in leadership communication) Randall Craig and Michelle Ray offer their unique take and practical ideas on how to improve leadership communication skills in the virtual world.
How can leadership build trust without being “in person”?
Michelle: First, it takes time to build trusting relationships. As a leader, if you are in a hybrid work environment and haven’t prioritized building individual connections face-to-face, you may find it more challenging if many individuals are now choosing to work remotely.
Nonetheless, it is never too late to take the time to informally “shoot the breeze” with an employee and find out what is going on in his or her world. This can be done on screen or in person. The more you engage in casual conversation and show interest, the easier it will be to build trust and get buy-in to your ideas.
Randall: Agreed; trust is a function of a number of things: being present, being authentic, and being a great listener. All of these are possible, and in fact required, in today’s virtual and hybrid workplace. Beyond the usual, a few ideas: Ask Me Anything meetings, Coffee with _____, a Friday Virtual Social Hour, and of course, one-on-one meetings with key staff. It also means doubling down on non-virtual outreach, such as hand-written cards, text messages, and other real-world touches.
Many associations are doing virtual all-hands meetings. Do you have any tips for leaders on how they can run one effectively?
Michelle: The best virtual meetings have more than one “talking head.” It can be harder for your team to maintain interest when only one person has the floor. You can plan these meetings in advance by assigning specific roles and making them fun wherever possible. The best facilitators understand that people will be more engaged when they have a voice.
Randall: Make sure that you do a dry run, and that you’re really comfortable with the technology. And make sure that the basics of video, lighting, sound, and your “set” – show you at your best. Probably the most important thing to remember is that virtual all-hands meetings are not a one-way broadcast, but one that needs interaction. Rest assured that participants will be “chatting” amongst themselves, so the more interaction that you’re able to provide, the better.
How can leadership reduce Zoom or Teams fatigue among staff?
Randall: Bad meetings were bad well before Zoom and Teams made their debut. Remember “death by PowerPoint?”
The difference today is that the “bad” has been amplified with technology. One of the key ways to ensure that meetings are productive is by upgrading the facilitation skills of the meeting chair. That being said, spending hours looking at a computer, whether it is Zoom, Word, or Excel, has never been good; if there is fatigue, you might try a standing desk or reducing screen time with other work activities.
Michelle: There are literally hundreds of ideas that you can incorporate to manage Zoom fatigue. I worked with one group whose CEO and CFO created a fun video using their phones. They captured footage of themselves and other team members outside as well as inside their workplace, making up songs, playing their own instruments and incorporating themes such as “wear your ugly sweater to work.” The antidote to boredom is fun and the implementation of simple, creative ideas will do wonders. There are a variety of other ideas you can explore.
You can also manage the fatigue by being conscious of how many meetings you expect people to attend. Perhaps not all of them are necessary.
How can leadership be more “relatable” during virtual team meetings?
Randall: Job one is to build a culture of “camera on”, and to be fully 100 percent present. If you’re in a virtual team meeting, close your browser, email, and all the other distractions. Then, don’t be just a participant: use the chat function to send private messages to people with positive feedback, requests to follow-up later and so on.
Michelle: Those leaders who invest time in building relationships with their teams will be more relatable and more at ease in front of a camera. Virtual meetings create an opportunity for all participants to be “up-close-and personal”, especially when one is broadcasting from home. As a leader, you can create interesting talking points from your less formal work setting and take advantage of the opportunity to truly connect on a deeper level.
As Hall of Fame speakers, what have you personally learned as a virtual communicator?
Randall: Being a great speaker is actually about being a great listener. But this is more challenging in a Zoom or Teams meeting as the tech sometimes gets in the way. Building strong facilitation skills are critical: speaking, listening, and interacting via chat. On the technical side, I’ve learned a ton about presenting in a multi-camera virtual studio and using interactive tools beyond polls.
Michelle: For me, the camera lens is everything. Maintaining eye contact is magnified through virtual communication. Keeping your focus on that little green dot is a constant reminder that you are presenting “live”. In the words of Dr. Stephen Covey: “The eyes are the window to the soul.” We build rapport with people by showing genuine interest and it starts with your eye contact. This is equally important when online. You can create great emotional connection through your facial expressions, story-telling ability, gestures, intonation and voice modulation. Rehearsing is also key.
Read more informative content for association leaders on the CSAE Blog.