On-Demand Webcast: Managing from Afar--Best Practices for Overseeing Remote Staff

April 10, 2020

Managing a remote workforce takes a different set of skills than managing in person. Managing a remote workforce under the COVID-19 transition adds more complexity to an already challenging situation. In this webinar, EisnerAmper shares best practices to help leaders engage with their teams, inspire commitment and help remote workers continue to connect with your organization’s mission and metrics.


Hi everyone, I'm Natalie. It's nice to be with you today. So we're really talking about managing in a crisis. My experience in a crisis and change happened pretty young. My father was a Naval officer, and we moved every couple of years. I'm also what's called a third culture kid, which is someone who grows up in countries outside of their passport country. So having to be agile and nimble in change came pretty naturally. And because I had an act for it, I continued on that road even in graduate school. I became an emergency responder with the Red Cross and FEMA, and I've been responding to large scale disaster in different ways since then. You all have my bio, but professionally what I'm going to talk to you today is not about crisis response from an emergency response lens, but really from neuroscience and neurobiology.

Natalie McVeigh:There is a way that we interact with people both physically, which we can't do right now with physical distance and verbally that genuinely impacts each other’s biochemistry. And so we're going to talk about how you as leaders can take some of these tools today to start making some drastic and influential change in your organizations. And just by being leaders, you already do that, and so hopefully some of these steps today will be useful. The plan is to go through the content because we promised you content, but also to spend some 20 or so minutes in Q&A. So if you have any questions, please do put them in the Q&A as Lexi said, and we'll either address them together today or I can reach out to you individually via email after to make sure that we get what you're looking for out of today.

So this is objectively a challenging time, it's testing our resilience as leaders, as individuals, and as organizations. And resilience the way that I think about it is simply the capacity to prepare for and recover during challenging or stressful times. Now, in the case of Corona, we didn't have much preparation, it was something we hadn't really seen before. So while we're already in it, we can still build our resilience, and it's impacting people physically, emotionally, and cognitively. And these three things are actually intertwined, they're not separate experiences within ourselves. And we'll talk about that as the day goes through. I chose this quote by Eleanor Roosevelt because I think it really epitomizes leadership, and one's philosophy is not best expressed in words, it's expressed in the choices one makes. And the choices we make are ultimately our responsibility.

And as leaders in a crisis, we're constantly making choices in the moment, and that's the largest skill that can be used right now. It's not going to be relying on past plans, business as usual. It's how do we make the choices today with integrity to lead our people to be really agile? They're watching, they're seeing how you behave and not just what you say. So one of the main skills that we want to talk about is really empathy. And we'll talk about empathy and compassion a little later. But how you respond to your employees during this time, acknowledging what's going on for them is going to be the strongest resource that you have. You get to become the emotional contagion. There's research that says when a group gets together, most of the time they mean physically, but it can also be a virtually, within 15 minutes there's an emotional harmony that happens between that group.

So you get to actually be the direction for that emotional harmony that happens for your own team. And part of that is making sure that you are addressing what's going on right now. We respond to anxiety in different ways, and one of the stressors for our brain is really not knowing. Not knowing for us and uncertainty is a lot harder than knowing. So one of the things we want you to do is really understand the situation we're in. This may seem very dramatic, it's not intended to be. But pick a date that's not tomorrow and that's far enough in the future that it's realistic that physical distancing will still be going on during. I don't know if that's three months for you, six months for that. Not to say that it will happen, but you can tell your brain that that's the date when we get out of this status. This is the new normal for us, and there'll be some sort of stability that your brain will feel like because we actually respond better to bad news than news that we're unaware of.

So I'm going to spend a little bit of time talking about the myths of working from home. Why this is important is what's actually happening for your team right now is challenging, and how we respond to it depends on how we're viewing it. So if there are some misconceptions we have around working from home, let's disabuse ourselves of those together today to understand what's happening, that it's not really working, that it's a vacation. I don't know how many of you actually on this call have children, but if you do knowing that the last couple of weeks being at home with your kids and your spouse 24/7 is anything but a vacation. In fact, it probably is much harder to work now than it has been before, that you don't have to get dressed. Lots of studies show that getting dressed makes you feel more effective.

Now, you don't have to necessarily get fully addressed if you're not seeing someone, but definitely get out of your PJs. And that it's lonely. It doesn't have to be lonely, it can become lonely when we don't feel that we're seen or heard. And we're going to talk about some tips that can help you make sure your employees are seen or heard. People don't get work done when they're being watched, that has not been my experience. And even when you're co-located around people, you're not constantly watching them. And that anyone can do it. It is a point in time where anyone is doing a work from home status, but it's not necessarily something that the skillset that we have for our normal work prepares us to do. And I'm sure since this is not the first day for any of you on the call doing this, you understand that it's an evolving process, and that it's great for multitasking.

There's some wonderful research that talks about single-tasking. Even when you're in an office, multitasking is not what we'd suggest you doing. There's some research that says just having your email on during the day lowers your IQ 10 points. There's also some research by Daniel Kahneman that says if you do several things at once, you don't enjoy any of them. It's especially for those of you who have family members at home trying to spend time with your family while getting your work done. Neither one is doing well for you. What is really useful is productivity breaks. So if there is a moment when your head's really cloudy and you can't think anymore and you want to actually get up and leave that thing that you're working on to do something else, then a productivity break where you wash dishes or do some laundry is very useful.

You'll get fit, fitness doesn't happen by accident. In fact, we're a lot more tired right now because the habitual things that we're used to are being taken away from us. So you might not necessarily get fit because you don't have a regular exercise routine. And some of that exercise that we get naturally by commuting, by spending time in the office, we're not going to get here. So there's some strategies you can use like only giving yourself a little bit of beverage to use, using a farther restroom whenever possible. If you have a workspace on one floor, if you have a second floor using that. It's easy, not necessarily, and that you don't need an office. It's true that you might not be able to use a physical office. However, we do encourage there being a workspace that is yours that enables you to focus in different ways.

And we'll talk about some enhancements as we go on. That it appeals to millennials only prior to working from home, which is covering the gambit now. The average work from home employee was 45 years old, so it can be done. And the question is how you do it. And the last three are really similar about some ideas that don't necessarily happen in work from home, and they definitely don't happen in work from home with a crisis. We're having this underlying anxiety and this removal of all the things that have caused us comforts. We're constantly learning.

Here's some facts about working from home, and this is actually if you haven't seen the INSEAD report from working from home, they did a survey around the current work from home crisis. I would definitely encourage you to take that and look at that. But what it says is that often remote workers are saying that they're 13% more productive and that working from home really works when you're talking about solo activities. Now, the challenge is that a different research study that HBR published said in the past 10 years we've become 50% more collaborative, and that's what makes us effective. Now, the question becomes, how do we continue to be collaborative when we're separate from one another physically?

And INSEAD talked about they were pleasantly surprised that the technological challenges aren't what's stopping work from home at these moments, that's gone smoother than we anticipated. I'm sure some of you on this call that may not be going smoothly for you, but in general that hasn't been the problem. The problem has really been organizationally. And so that means that we need to start working on our organizational adaptation. In the INSEAD study, 40% of the people said that they felt more productive on the high end, 36% said not much of a difference, and 12% or sorry, 26% said that they thought they were less effective at home. So it's just one study, it was a global study. It's not the end all be all. But the question becomes now, how do we collaborate effectively as a group?

So we're going to talk about what your people need from you to start that collaboration process. So managers, what your employees expect of you is accountability. And accountability is really front loaded, it's not trying to catch someone out. It's being very clear about what are we expecting and how do I follow up with you prior to things becoming an issue. Trust, we're going to talk about some chemicals between us in a minute, but trust is really a chemical called oxytocin. It's a bonding hormone and its ability for us to come together. Follow up consistently, more follow-up probably than you've done before, and yet there's this line of when it's micromanaging. So how is our follow-up being proactive and useful, initiating towards our employees more than they would feel comfortable initiating towards us. There's this assumption that our bosses are quite busy, and they are. The question becomes, how do we make it okay for employees to feel like they can engage with us?

And part of that is our own initiation. We're going to talk about some strategies to how to make that really useful. Generous assumptions, just because you haven't heard from someone doesn't mean something terrible is happening. And encouragement and acknowledgement, it's very important to be encouraging and acknowledging but not in a hollow way. You really want to be very specific when you acknowledge somebody about what they've done and how it's impacted you specifically is important. And information but not overload. Transparency is going to be wildly important. There's a lot of noise, I think you all are hearing a bunch of things that are coming in via email. So to not add to that noise and to not add to that uncertainty but to really find a way that you can communicate. And then question, 6% of our time we spend in questioning, but 60% of ensuing conversations happen after that.

So if you can ask questions, you're going to get information you didn't have. Ideally open ended questions, we don't want to ask questions we already think we know the answer to. And then humor and fun. And part of that is because when we're having fun, when we're enjoying things, when we're playing in a way that adults play, it only takes 12 to 20 repeats to create one neural connection, whereas it would take over 100 otherwise. So really making it enjoyable is helpful. And then laughter engages multiple regions of the brain and it creates positive hormones. One of the other things that's as effective about humor is when you can effectively use humor in the workplace, what it makes people think is that you're confident and competent. And so you absolutely want your employees to think that you're competent and confident.

In this other side we talk about colleagues, these are really your direct reports. This is what they're looking for, they're looking for affiliation, they really want to belong. Neuroscientifically speaking, our desire to belong outweighs our desire for safety. It's part of the reason why it's so hard for people to follow these physical distancing rules. So how do we get them to feel as though they're belonging? We show them the support and direction with clear metrics. There's some research and said 90% of expectations are uncommunicated. We don't want people guessing because people make things up when they're guessing.

And there's this mix, we're going to talk about this in much more of the presentation today of structure and flexibility. And they seem pretty antithetical, but it's really important to create some structure so people feel like they have something behind them, but allow them to be flexible so that there's not one way to do this. This work from home situation is impacting everyone differently for multiple reasons. So allowing people to find a way that they can engage with this where they can flourish and where they can continue to be competent, it's going to be important.

So I mentioned we're going to talk about the brain, what we're talking about here is how we impact people neurobiologically. There is a gene called the Fox box head two protein gene, you don't have to remember what it is. But it's a gene that's activated when we talk to one another. We actually are shaping one another in the moment. And we're doing that by increasing at least one of two chemicals. So the current situation is a stressful situation, and our body responds by increasing cortisol, testosterone and the norepinephrine. And it's doing that to bring us to the part of the brain, the amygdala which is really the brain that's concerned with self-preservation. It's that fight, flight, freeze piece. So because there's so much stress right now, that's where most people are going. It's this back area.

Now, what happens when we increase cortisol is we decrease oxytocin, which is a bonding chemical. It is a chemical that trust and psychological safety impact, and that's at the front of our brain, the prefrontal cortex. So the prefrontal cortex develops later in life. In fact, our teenagers don't have it. So when you think your teenagers are crazy, they just lack good judgment. And the change here is that when there's an overflow of cortisol in our system, it decreases oxytocin. Technically, oxytocin is the most powerful chemical in our brain. It just takes a lot more to foster it. So what happens is most of the time we're actually in a cortisol state right now. So there's specific things you can do to increase oxytocin. You can include, you can appreciate, you can expand ideas and really share, help develop people, celebrate them.

And a real understanding when someone feels heard, they feel as though you're there. The word you want to think of is we, as much as you can say we when you jointly co-create something, you're going to increase this oxytocin. Now, some behaviors that increase this cortisol even more than what's already showing up for everyone individually is excluding, judging, limiting, withholding. This behavior of knowing, knowing what's going to come out of someone's mouth next, dictating and being right. Because when we're right, it means that someone else is necessarily wrong. There's another chemical that's a great antidote to cortisol. It doesn't start in your brain, although it gets there. It actually starts in our autonomic nervous system, which is led by our heart. So you see on this graphic, there are four brains in our brain, there are four regions of the brain. And then there's what we call our heart brain.

That releases DHEA, which is another chemical that helps be an antidote to this cortisol. We're going to talk a little bit more about that later. You don't need to remember or know any of the chemicals in the future, but I'm really interested in your understanding the impact we're having on one another. And just so you know, cortisol has a 26 hour shelf life unless it's eradicated by oxytocin and DHEA. So basically it's longer than a day every time we get activated by stress. And we've been under some considerable stress. So as leaders, what we want to do to get our best thinking out of our people is really to increase oxytocin or DHEA throughout our interactions [inaudible 00:19:21] really positive interactions whenever possible.

So we're going to talk a little bit about what the research is saying about what people are experiencing right now. Our emotional experience is completely valid, emotions give us information. They're trying to teach us about things, and they were originally the first way we stayed safe. So some of the emotions that are showing up for people right now are anxiety. The gift of anxiety is clarity. Now, when you have an urgent reliance on anxiety, you're not actually getting that gift. The analogy I like to use with this is it's like swimming in a swimming pool with goggles. You get that clarity. Now, when you have an overuse of anxiety, you're not using the goggles. You just jumped in the water, you don't know what at the very end is a bear or another person swimming. And so anxiety shows up for each of us differently.

In many cases, we either over function or we try to fix, we try to control. These type A behaviors leaders may have in general get heightened during this time. And that's our sympathetic nervous system really trying to make us safe by increasing our pace, increasing our heart rate. And there's an under reliance and where we become a little more fragile, we need a little more help than other people. And that's our parasympathetic nervous system that's really slowing everything down, and both are self-preservation mechanisms. One is I'm going to focus outside that overachiever, I'm going to focus on everything I can do for you so I don't spend time on my own self-soothing. And the other response is really, I'm going to go inside, I can't deal with your stress and I need you to help me out of mine. And so we really want to have a differentiation between our experience and other people's experiences.

So the sooner you can name your own anxiety, the sooner we're able to say if you name it, you can tame it. Now, if you have that over functioning response to anxiety, you're not going to be able to go to calm, it's almost impossible. But you can go to excitement, calm and excitement live right next to each other. So what are the opportunities you're excited to do for your employees? Not necessarily fix and take something from them, but really what's exciting about this moment in which you can teach them? And then there's grief. Right now we're mourning many losses, we're mourning the loss of our safety. The world as we knew it, the way that we interact with one another. And we're really mourning for a future that we don't understand. It's important to call it grief because it allows us to actually mourn and to close things. When you can mourn and process a loss, it allows you to have an emotional distribution change.

And so if we'd like to feel more positive during this time, not have a farce of positivity. But if you're saying, I'd like to find some optimism, likely there's some time that you need to grieve. And grieving doesn't mean crying, but it does mean actually saying, what did I lose? How did that impact me, and how do I move through the phases and stages of grief? And stress is really abounding during this time, that's the ambient fluid that we're floating in right now. One of the other interesting things that's happening is there's boredom. So you would think with all this new and interesting and different, we wouldn't be born, but we are quite bored. We're in our homes that we've always known and we're with our family who we've always known, and everyone's encouraging us to create ritual.

And so we've created these brand new rituals and we're probably overly scheduled. And so at the end of the day, nothing new is happening for you. So we're not getting any dopamine hits from doing something new or interesting. So I would encourage you to try to find ways to make things new and interesting at least on your own personal level. And guilt, a lot of people are feeling like they're not doing everything well. And it's quite true when you try to do everything you may not do everything wonderfully. So one of the antidotes to guilt is to ask how true is it really? How true is it really that I'm not doing X and I'm also not doing Y? What might be some of those circumstances? And guilt is I did something wrong versus I am long. So if you're going to have a feeling of judgment towards yourself, please do stay in guilt, don't go to shame because shame is a lot much deeper and more insidious. And it does get encoded into our DNA.

We're also experiencing low energy. There are a couple of reasons for low energy. One is that some of us were born with just a certain amount of physical energy. There's emotional energy we're going to talk about in a minute, and that can't be changed. But it's also because studies show between 43 and 45% of our waking hours are spent in habit. Habit allows us to do a lot very quickly and effectively. It lives in a place in our brain called the procedural memory. So you just kind of pull out this routine, and it works perfectly. And because things are not the same as it used to be, we're building new habits. So we're using a different part of our brain that isn't our procedural memory. And habits take a while to build, they take upwards of many months in fact.

And so one of the things that's really helpful when creating habits is give yourself a context, a repetition, and a reward. It's very important to remember to reward yourself during this time. So I just talked about all the things that are costing you energy and costing your employees energy. And it's important for you to know these on your own because as a leader you want to really make sure you're centered. And you can be the emotional contagion for your employees. But also understanding these experiences they may be having because it might be hitting you very differently than its hitting them. So one of the ways, and if nothing else I'd give this slide to your employees one day is to increase that emotional energy. We talked about that there's physical energy and emotional energy. And our physical energy is what we're born with, it's very much like our happiness. 50% of our happiness is just how we're set, our positivity.

And then there's changes between the remaining of that for both of these. So there's physical energy and emotional energy. And that emotional energy we talk about it as joy. The more you are yourself, the more you have joy. Now, the question is how do we retain our sense of self while the world is changing? So here are some suggestions, they are not the end all be all. They are, however, some very good hacks to kind of bring in some joy. There's a great book called The Emotional Energy Factor by Mira Kirshenbaum that really helps you do some of these. So a few of them that you'd want to really do is you want to get some sort of nature somehow. So if you can't go outside, add plants to your office.

I'm not a horticulturist, but I've been told that rubber plants, and there are certain specific plants that are even better for oxygenation and wellbeing. That's something to figure out on your own. Surround yourself with bright colors. There's something that we do that's called monochromatic where we really have a fear of colors in certain ways. The brighter colors you use, the more you increase focus, increase productivity and happiness overall. So it just feels better. So for those of you who have children, you might just want to dress them in the bright colors if you don't want to wear them. But having an accent wall, your own attire, something in your office, decluttering your home is going to be really important, especially the area in which you work in. Part of that is because we're trying to exert control where we can. And so studies have shown that the clutter physically impacts us mentally and emotionally.

And surprise yourself, specifically your family when you can. We're going to talk about consistency as a leader, so the surprises have to be done very carefully as a leader because as the world is changing and a lot is happening, you don't want random meetings because people are going to think something bad has happened. Our brain goes to negative four to seven times more than positive. But find a way to surprise yourself and to really mix things up so that people and you feel as though things aren't stagnant in the same.

So now, how does this impact you as a leader? Why we talked about some of those strategies and some of the ones we're going to talk about in the future is it's really important that you put on your oxygen mask first. We've all heard that adage. But if you're not taking care of yourself, it is not possible for you to transmit to people that they can take care of themselves. It isn't possible for you to host a meeting and try to explain how this is going to be okay if you don't feel that it's okay. People are going to see that, they're going to understand that, they're going to feel it. Understand this is the new normal, this is where we are right now. And we don't know what will happen in the future, but let's actually address what's happening today.

The idea that we need to look towards the future is partly true, and visioning the future as positive has some wonderful benefits in research, but creating this positivity for people to believe that you also believe that might not be true isn't as useful today as actually saying, here's where we are, let's kinesthetically touch this place. Let's grasp onto it and figure out how we go forward together regardless of what's happening. And so plotting that course slowly and methodically is going to be really helpful. And then over-communicate. We learn through nonverbal communication in the office all the time. You hear water cooler chat. There's something we say in neuroscience that words create worlds. Our words activate neurochemistry.

They engage us in a way that allows us to create a reality for ourselves. So when you're communicating, if you can communicate through metaphor, story or quotes, it's going to be really helpful because it allows us to engage part of the brain that takes in new information without feeling like it's challenging existing beliefs, part of our brain is steady state and other is change agent. It's not linear creative, that's a myth. And our brain does optimally work bilaterally, but we can help it out by using things like metaphor, story or quotes that people aren't trying to find what's different. They're familiar with the structure, and then they can take in that information.

So you being able to communicate so that people don't have to make things up. We have two types of brainwaves, there are many, but in general there are two. There's our beta brainwaves, which are really thinking about what's happening now, what's present, what's the most current issue. I'm thinking about the presentation I'm making. And then there are theta brainwaves. There are Eureka moments when you get out of the tub and you're suddenly brilliant. And they're solving all the world's crises right now. But they're also holding those things in there that haven't been resolved. So John didn't email me back is hanging out there. So as much as you can communicate when you reasonably know the answer, please do that to people and do it very quickly so that they can free up some of those moments where they can have Eureka moments.

And then leading with compassion. And this compassion has to start with yourself. At the end of the day, most of you are in leadership positions are making really hard decisions right now and making very hard choices. And that's okay, it is okay to understand that this is a difficult time for everyone now and that we have to take care of ourselves. And that everyone is having a different work from home experience that impacts them in a different way. So there's neuroscience research that says that there's a difference between compassion and empathy. And I mentioned empathy at the very beginning. Empathy has two components. One is accuracy, and one is compassion. And accuracy is just being able to stay with someone else's emotions and understand that they're happening. Are they sad, are they anxious? And the compassion is holding space for them to have their own experience. So one of the things we mistakenly do with empathy and compassion is we jump into someone's story.

So the employee says, "I'm really struggling, I'm having a hard time with my son being home and my spouse being home," and X, Y, and Z. What we tend to do, which is not actually empathy is we jump in and we say, "Yeah, me too. Absolutely, this is tough." What we want to do when we're being empathetic is actually hold space for their experience, acknowledge them, hear them out. Now, there is a time to share, but that's not the empathy piece. And then the compassion part is really a two-step process of understanding what you just heard and then acting. And this creates dopamine, serotonin, and optimism. So it's a very useful, wonderful feeling when you can actually give compassion to others and say, "That sounds really challenging, how may I help you? How may I be of service at this point in time?"

In the other part of this, empathy is not the action, compassion is. You can absolutely be empathetic during this time period and not be able to do something about it. It's very hard for us to stay there, it feels very challenging. But there is a lot of soothing and nourishment that comes from just having empathy and not feeling the need to fix for other people. And then flexibility, share your tips but allow people to have their own unique experiences. So if you are one of those people who needs to overly schedule or you need your workouts in the morning, great share those. Those are really interesting tidbits, but everyone else is going to have to find their own way to figure out how they're going to get through this. And it has to be okay for you to help support them through their own process. Now, that doesn't mean that they can show up for not a week and that would be okay.

And then allow yourself to not overly control. One of the things we do when we're having anxiety and we're having stress as we desire to control what we can. And because we're leaders, we often think that one of the things we can control is our people. And yes, in theory we can control our people, but we don't want to just outright control them. We want to be able to help set up a structure where they also get to exert their efficacy because engagement is directly related to efficacy. So we don't want them to feel disenfranchised during this process.

So this is one other model that I want to share with you all around people's varying pain points. Lots of people who look like extroverts are actually introverted and vice versa. This is really about their energy source and their behavior. So some people are finding out for the first time maybe in their life that they're an extrovert, they just happen to be more reserved. And so they're really having some challenges. Extroverts are getting hit very hard by the time that they're spending alone or just with their family because there's not enough new and different.

Also, introverts might be getting hit just as hard because if they're stuck with their family, and I don't mean stuck, they're safe with their family. They're not getting the time that they need alone to recharge. So the model here is extroverted on one end, which is where you get your energy from. You get your energy from being with other, feeding off their own energy or introversion on the other side. And then how it's behavioralized is either outgoing where you are friendly, social, gregarious, or you're more reserved. So you may have a teammate that you thought was an extrovert because they've always been quite outgoing, but they're more introverted. And so their needs are different. This isn't to say that you have to meet your employee's needs, but helping raise their awareness, understanding where that exhaustion is coming from because partly it's the emotional energy, which we talked about earlier, and there are many strategies to get them there.

But partly it's because they're not getting either one, the true alone time they need to recharge because family is around or two they're not getting the same connection. And although extroverts have a preference for getting that physically, it doesn't have to be done physically. One-on-ones are really helpful for your extroverted individuals because there's a way that you can resonate with people in conversation that actually you share the same brain wavelengths. So there's a way when you want to spend time with your extroverted employees that you can really get that there, whereas the large groups aren't as important. So it's kind of the reverse than you would think, but that's really helpful. And understanding your introverted colleagues, we're going to talk about our employees, how you can incorporate them in these multiple ways of engaging that might actually allow them to hide. And you really want the insight that you do have from your introverted employees as well.

So we're going to talk about virtual connecting because this is really what it's about, how do we come together? How do we find that 50% of collaboration time together? So find ways to come together that aren't just being in meetings, not just happy hours because those are interesting, but a coffee or a lunch, time that would have normally been spent that way otherwise. Don't really set an agenda, try to get a check in where people are physically or emotionally, it would be important. And don't give time back to people, it'll start feeling like there's a burden. I know at other times when you have calls it's great to give time back. But if the time is set for an hour, take an hour. Also, take your time. The more that you can slow your pace, even though your pace might naturally be fast, the more it's going to have a calming impact for people.

It's going to quell their action related behavior, it's going to quell yours, and it's going to create some sort of stillness. Try to find ways for all people to be heard or involved. You can use the chat functions in most of these areas or polls. There's like poll anywhere software, there's a lot of strategies, use them a lot. Part of why collaboration is so effective is groups that listen to each other, this is collective intelligent research, groups that listen to each other are 10 times more intelligent than the smartest person in the room. Now, groups that don't listen to each other are only as smart as the smartest person. So you absolutely want your group to be 10 times smarter than just the smartest person in the room and more than likely in person they've been able to leverage this collective intelligence.

Now, the question is how do we make sure that still transfers as we're virtual? And then acknowledge and validate comments, summarize what you heard. The phrase that I use is what I hear you saying is dot, dot, dot, which most people said that, and that sounds really routine. But if you pause after your reframe and you say, is there more with that? People actually believe that you're interested. When you actively listen, not just nod and say yes, but when you actively listen and respond to what's people saying, it allows the amygdala defenses to go down. We had that brain map at the beginning, the amygdala is the place that cortisol lives and hangs out. So it allows people to connect in nonjudgmental ways, and that actually starts increasing that oxytocin. It feels like you want to hear what I'm saying, it feels like you want to engage with one another.

And it's going to feel stilted at first when you start saying it, and they're different variations of saying this. But I would encourage you to do that before you respond every time an employee makes a contribution. Lead with your own experience, funny anecdotes, your struggles, your triumphs. You're a human being, let them see that. There's a part of our brain called the temporal parietal juncture that activates when we share with others. Research shows that conversation sensitivity is most aroused when we're talking about personal things. It creates emotional resonance. So these personal stories, even if you felt weird about that beforehand, this is the time to bring them up, to use them as the anecdotes, as the metaphor, as the story, it's going to be really important. Have more frequent one-on-ones and really bring in how they're doing in the one-on-ones. It's okay to start having this conversation of their wellbeing because their wellbeing is really related to organizational wellbeing.

And then be clear on voice and vote. One of the things we do when we start collaborating is we get very interested in everyone having a say, and then some people might feel disenfranchised. This is a brainstorm, I want to hear all your ideas. Here's what I decided, and here's why. So that they're not left in the lurch, they're not making judgements about how they were. And then I would do a group gratitude practice as I close, one thing people are grateful for. It could be about teammates, it could be about the day. Partly this is just really helpful for everyone to do right now. It makes people more elastic at this moment. But gratitude is a social emotion, it also has a feedback loop and a contagion piece to it. You want to change these each time, find a different way, and don't necessarily call it gratitude, but you're getting to the same point.

And these are virtual work and communication mechanisms. We've used all of these before in different ways, but how we use them really does change depending on how we're working. So for example, email might've been used pretty infrequently in the office. I can shoot an email off to Joe real quick and know that I'm going to catch him at lunch or at coffee to really explain it. So these are just some tips and tricks. I'm not going to go through all of them, I'll pick one or two out here because you all can read for how to change some of these technologies during this time to really enhance things.

One of the INSEAD research conversation comments was there might be this desire to over rely on video. And I don't know what overlying is. It's really important to use video because our mirror neurons get activated. You also get all the other context clues in which people are talking. And you get to see a face, which is very important for people around attachment. Now, there is value in having asynchronous work. In fact, we're going to talk in a minute about maybe half the day is asynchronous. But in those times in which it doesn't have to be asynchronous, my bias is that video is very important.

And any of these modes of communication, especially telephone and video, being very prepared. I think most of you probably experience this and been on the other end of it where you're not paying attention too well when someone's on the telephone or video and they're kind of typing an email, you maybe can hear it or you can't. And you get this kind of lackluster half response, that is really going to shut down connection, that's going to increase cortisol. I mean, at the end of the day, we're already at a heightened state. There's a baseline there. So if you're going to use video or phone, and I absolutely encourage you to do that in both cases, make sure you're prepared for that. Set it up as though you would be in person with the person because that's what you're approximating now, this is the main way that we're getting that kind of connection.

So this is the slide that I talked about with collaboration. In most cases, you were all have different work schedules, whether it's your family, whether it's how you wake up, how you're organizing your time. So finding a two to three hour block in which the team is able to work synchronously is essential. And by find, I mean, speak to your team, see what's their preference, see what your preferences and try to find, three to five is ideal, but if you can only find two hours, great because this collaboration needs to happen. Using some technologies like iterative software, like a Google doc allows for some collaboration, but it's not true thought collaboration. So finding this, having it set. And if it has to vary, like Monday, Wednesday, Friday, it's from 1:00 to 3:00 and Tuesdays and Thursdays it's from 8:00 to 10:00, fine, but have it set so there's some consistency for your employees.

Create competence, small successes with your team that start out really well. And then have those highlighted, that could be that end of the gratitude activity. There's some research that says when people reflect on just one positive thing that they did on their work day that they're much more resilient. So finding those successes early and highlighting them often, and create touch points that aren't around just problems. Often we wait till there are problems, but we want to get there before there are problems. And that's where that initiation we talked about is important. And consistency, are there things that were your management style before that people appreciated? They might even be isms if someone has an ism of something you used to say.

Find a way to bring that back so there's some thread of consistency throughout this while there's flexibility. And finding ways to switch off for you and for your employees is important. We're all constantly overloaded, constantly bombarded and we are trying to make sure things are happening during this time, that absolutely makes sense. But it's going to be valuable for your employees to understand where and when these things end and how they can create new rituals and holidays because there's a psychological anchor to ritual and holiday.

And this is just some breathing and meditation techniques, I've talked about this before. I'm going to leave these here because people can read. One of the fascinating parts about this, I mentioned that DHEA, that's also much more powerful than cortisol, and it's in our autonomic nervous system. That's really activated by doing these breathing techniques in any one of these forms. I think we're right at 45 minutes, and we have some Q&A, so I will open that up. So there's a question, these days are so full of crisis, it's hard to manage my staff because I'm so busy trying to respond to clients. How can I do both? That's a really good question, it's a very challenging question. This is one of the places where calendaring may be helpful. So I don't know what the client crisis is and what's going on with your staff, but finding a time and a place to actually set some time apart for staff follow up would be really, really important.

I know people who tend to wake up really early experience a lot of quiet in the morning, doesn't mean you won't actually call your staff in the morning, but it's a good time to plan that. And some of this follow-up could be via email as well. So I think that may be useful. Depending on your work, clients do come first. But if you don't have a staff, you can't serve your clients. So for each person I think it's going to be different. I have a tickler on my calendar to follow up with team members and other collaborators that I have a couple times a week. And that just reminds me how and when. So a question here about when does your question's about a colleague's home life start to intrude legally and perceptually by the colleague?

It's also a good question. I think open-ended questions are the best. How are you doing is really important. And Dr. Tal Ben-Shahar is a great guy. He had a professor once, and this is the answer that he gives often is his professor once said, how are you doing really? And he would just emphasize that really, and there was a pause. And so at the end of the day, what the employee decides to disclose is really up to them, but it feels more than how are you. Especially in the United States, we like to say, hi, how are you? But we're not actually expecting anyone to answer. And you've probably been in line and once the grocery did answer and you're like, "Oh, I've got to go." But if you make sure it's important to express how much you want to know and then they'll share what they share.

 Checking email on the cell phone was possibly a problem we're working together in the office. I don't understand that question. I think the point might be that people play with their phones sometimes when you're together. Ideally, you're using your phone now as a way to converse with one another. There is some interesting research about using your phone for anything besides socializing that talks about how you're more likely to have phishing attempts because we're used to getting dopamine hits from being on our phone. How would you make the suggestion to a team that they turn off their email for structures? For me, I always respond with research. So there is research that says when your email is on, your IQ drops 10 points. So encourage them to turn their email off. But if you start by having the time in which they're meant to collaborate, that gives them a window to turn it off.

So if your collaboration window is one to three, you could encourage them to have their email off in the morning so they can have a better work life balance. You're not going to be reaching out to them, they're not going to feel like they're going to miss it. There's also research that says just one night without being connected allows people to feel less stressed and less anxious. You can't mandate that to your employees, but sharing that information might be helpful. Someone asked that they tend to be overly optimistic, how can they tone it down as it does make their team uncomfortable? But I want to be who I am. Yeah, this is a tough one. Even before crisis mode happened there, some people that I mentioned, 50% of our happiness and optimism is preloaded into us, and 10% of circumstance.

So right now everybody's circumstance is pretty low. So we can only really change 40% of our optimism and happiness throughout our lifetime. So whoever sent this in, you probably were already considered much more optimistic than other people before the crisis happened. And now you're being experienced as unreal. So this part of the over-communicating, you're over-communicating in general. So you might over communicate, I see the risks, I see the discouragement, I see all of this. And this is still how I see the positive pieces.

There's a lot of research, it's called benefit finding research that if you can find the benefit, you're much more elastic, you're much more generative, you're much more able to broaden and build. So what you as a leader can do is share how you're finding the benefit, but don't dis-acknowledge their experience. And the experience is that the world is a scary place. We are not safe, and we are grieving. And some people may have actually lost people in this. I know my clients have. So I wouldn't not be who you are, but I would over communicate when you're seeing a discrepancy between how you're showing up and how people are experiencing you. So this question is about how there are people worried that they're not being staffed efficiently because no one's physically in the office, however people are working. How do you fully get people to understand that working from home is working?

That INSEAD report might actually be really interesting. It was surprising to me that even in today's crisis situation 40% of people think they're being more effective than they were at the office. And then finding those moments of follow up, so I think it was the second slide we talked about what managers need and employees need. There's going to be a feedback loop. So there might be a little more measuring, there might be a little more proof at first for those people who are highly skeptical. But the more we see it working, the more we'll behave as though it is. So finding those bright spots, finding those moments of success are going to be important to translate and communicate.

We're sending half our staff to work from home, how can I keep the at-home staff feeling engaged and a part of the team? Whenever possible if you're having meetings that can be virtual, so you have a screen in the room, invite those employees who are at home to join you. And I might assign someone to be the scribe, and this sounds like an annoying job. But there's all this iteration that happens real time, especially on a team of extroverts if you have extroverts. Extroverts think aloud, so iterative things happened during the day. So whatever kind of synthesis and tidbits that you as a group in the office had just shooting out a daily email of these are our thoughts, these are our funny anecdote. Something like that would be really helpful.

How to manage employees and keep trust without micromanaging. That's a really interesting question, and I think the answer is pretty complex. But the first part about trust is really co-creating. And so how do you co-create goals and objectives that are agreed upon together in which you all decide is how you're going to follow up? So I'm a coach as well. And so one of the things I ask my coachees is do they like feedback? I use a sandpaper analogy, like the sandpaper that rubs off sparkle or like the sand paper that rubs off rust from metal. And so one of the things you can do is co-create the objectives, the goals and how and when you're going to follow up. And these are the agreements. And yet you as the manager get to kind of pull the plug when it doesn't happen. So after these few things, if I don't see X, Y, and Z, here might be the times where I become a little more obtrusive.

So that's one of the ways to make it seem like trust as if we're agreeing together, we decide together. It feels like it's engaging and it's including and it's as open as possible. And that you're showing true understanding. Someone asked, please explain how you would handle not knowing exactly when will this end. You mentioned people react worse to not knowing something, but how do you provide anything specific in this case? So the comment I made about not knowing when this is going to end is we genuinely do not know, our brain doesn't respond well to ambiguity, it doesn't like not knowing. And that's actually much more stressful for us than knowing. So what I've done is I've picked a date in my head of when physical distancing is going to end, and it's I think much more extreme than when physical distancing will end. And so that date lets me say this is my status quo until X, six months down the road, and hopefully it's not six months.

But that's what I've decided is the date that it's ending. So I'm not asking every day, I'm not spending that energy. Now, I'm not telling you to tell your people to expect it to be lasting for six months. But if you share that with them and if you pick a date that to you seems reasonable and that isn't tomorrow because it's clearly not going to end tomorrow, you're not going to spend that energy and that exhaustion, and that stress isn't going to keep showing up for when is this going to end? When is this going to end? So someone asked a question about my opinion on a policy requiring employees to take a prorated portion of their annual PTO during this time, how will it affect employee morale? Any furloughs, layoffs, reductions in time, fees are going to have an impact on employee morale.

The important thing is how you communicate that as a leader, we're talking about that over communicating, being transparent. I don't think leaders are making cuts because they want to, it's really for the viability of the business, and cash flow is king. And so as much as you can over communicate to your employees these are the plans that we're putting in place so that we can come out on the other end. And ideally, that other end includes you. It doesn't mean that people are going to take it better, but if we can understand the thought process that goes behind, that's going to go a long way. And I think we're at close Lexi, is that true?

Lexi:Yes, we are just about up to one hour. We hope you enjoyed today's presentation. The recording of today's session will be available on demand later today and can be accessed using the same link you used to join today. Please look for a follow-up email with a link to our feedback survey and presentation. Thank you for joining our webcast.


About Natalie M. McVeigh

Natalie McVeigh is a Director in the Center for Individual and Organizational Performance and the Center for Family Business Excellence Group within the Private Business Services Practice and has more than 10 years of experience as a consultant and coach.