By Jerome Zoutman, Operations Manager at DYNA Training
The Covid-19 lockdown forced people into new ways of working which pushed a lot of our communication and training into the digital space. While social distancing and remote working was effective in terms of halting the spread of the virus, it has taken its toll on how we communicate with colleagues and interpret messages from others in our working environment, which creates opportunity for misunderstanding and misalignment. The missing key ingredient? Face-to-face, direct human contact. This interpersonal engagement is crucial to getting the message across effectively; however, through isolation, these skills have grown rusty. Now that all lockdown and social distancing measures have been lifted, it’s time we relearn these skills so that we can communicate effectively and make a successful transition back into the real-world workplace.
Before the pandemic, all interaction was face-to-face. There were big crowds, high fives and smiling faces. Emotions were clearly visible because we did not have to wear face masks. When you’re in the same room as your colleagues, it’s easy to read their body language. On the contrary, when you’re in an online training session where everyone has their cameras off, it’s a little like speaking into the void. The distance is palpable, engagement is difficult, and people hide behind their muted microphones and blank screens. There was a very real sense of something missing from our training and communication – the functional and emotional connection that we need, as human beings.
Having spent the last two years cultivating an avoidance of public spaces and staying at home while minimising contact with those outside of our immediate family circle, a return to the office has left many people highly anxious. Social distancing measures might have been lifted, but there is still a huge concern for many when it comes to the health and safety of their loved ones. It can be overwhelming to suddenly have to deal with colleagues on a personal basis and engage in a lot more face-to-face work activities than people have become accustomed to.
Engaging with respect
So how can companies help their people to relearn the art of interpersonal communication while being physically present, without pushing too many boundaries in terms of what they’re comfortable with? This is a tough question for me to answer. There is no one-size-fits-all approach that is going to work here, but I believe that there is one word that can help: “empathy”. When it comes to engagement and communication (emotional connection which is necessary for functional communication) the key ingredient is empathy. That is the willingness and ability to understand how the pandemic has impacted every single one of us. We need to shift focus from survival to relearn and reopen those interpersonal communication channels. We need to relearn the basics of offline communication, which includes everything from body language to conflict resolution. We also need to relearn the importance of building and maintaining interpersonal relations within our workplaces.
Relearning what we’ve forgotten
From my own personal experience, and through my engagements as a facilitator, I have seen how the following methods have been instrumental in reopening the channels of communication and reconnecting people to company objectives:
- One-on-one sit downs: schedule time with your team members to re-establish interpersonal connections. Use these sessions to practice empathy – find out their concerns about returning to the workplace full time, and work together to address anxieties.
- Group gatherings: Be it a town hall, or regular team building exercises, it’s important to gather your people and share experiences, inspire communication, and tell company stories. Whether it’s successes or failures, we need to show our colleagues that we’re all working toward the same goal, we’re on the same side, and while we’re all experiencing ups and downs, we’re all here to support one another.
- Training support: To better facilitate their teams’ return to the workplace, management needs to be properly equipped to reinspire communication. Given the urgency of the matter, it is not something they should have to figure out unassisted. To fast track the process and set people on the path to reconnecting as quickly as possible, professional assistance should be sought.
What can training do that a manager couldn’t already do?
We’re all human beings, and skills that have not been regularly practiced in the past two years might have been forgotten. Bearing in mind that the world has changed so drastically since we were last in an office together full time, it’s also advisable for team leaders to re-engage and refresh these skills with a business management skills programme that can give them the tools they need to succeed at leadership in a post-Covid working world.
The outcomes of a Best Management Skills (BMS) programme that will benefit company communications?
Managers will be properly equipped to:
- Communicate to move people
- Do their best and help others to do their best
- Enhance leadership competencies
- Lead with emotional intelligence
- Develop an ability to nurture and influence
- Understand their role as leaders
The pressing need for reinventing communication
Effective communication is key to all relationships. It’s critical in all your lessons. The less contact we have with others, the more suspicious we become of their motives. As human beings, direct contact is important for healthy relationships to counter that natural suspicion. Communication is a joint activity that depends on our ability to maintain shared attention. Effective communication clarifies information and reduces wasted time. It develops relationships, which enhances teamwork, which builds trust. Communication is a skill that everyone can learn (and relearn) and if you’re willing to work at it, it becomes easier to improve every aspect of organisational togetherness and productivity.