Playing well is a vital skill at any age

Hold hands, & stick together = playing well

For many of us, September is when our children head back to school wearing a backpack full of new pencils, erasers, notebooks, and folders. We attend Open House to meet our child’s new teachers and to understand the expectations for the new academic year. Regardless of your child’s grade, the constant theme is one of collaboration and teamwork. For the elementary levels, this goal is shared in Robert Fulghum’s poem “All I Really Need To Know I Learned In Kindergarten” as ‘play fair’, and is outlined in a high school’s 21st-century learning framework as a specific skill.

Either way, collaboration, and teamwork are important skills for students to practice before entering the workforce, as they will need to rely on other people to succeed. It also serves as a reminder to those who have many years of work experience (and know the trials and tribulations of teamwork) that teamwork skills need to be continuously honed for mastery. Research by Alex “Sandy” Pentland found that the most important predictor of a team’s success is its communication patterns. These patterns are as significant as all other factors – intelligence, personality, and talent – combined.

At Bridging Distance, we found similar themes in our work. Our research shows that advanced communication dynamics in virtual teams significantly improved their ability to work well together and produce results faster. This is evident in successful virtual teams. By helping build explicit processes and critical skills, members stay energized and engaged in their work together. These processes center on getting the right information to the right people at the right time, via the right technology; it means expectations for posting documents and messages in a repository. This allows each team member to find what they need when they need it, without searching cluttered inboxes at a later date. It also means defining what types of situations are more urgent, and require a more immediate response. Posting updates and status allows communication dynamics to be a dialog about the significance of the information. These interactions tend to more interesting, and therefore more engaging to team members. It means the right people attend meetings, while those who only need to have updates can confidently and respectfully spend their time elsewhere.

Our research also shows that people with excellent digital communication habits are significantly happier in their jobs, therefore more productive. Managing digital interruptions is key; balancing responding to others versus staying present in the moment means you can be fully attentive to your current activity. Being curious about the environment of others paves the way to learning what you don’t know. Teaching leaders how to foster rapport across Distance enables them to motivate Millennials, communicate with a multicultural team, and respond quickly to change.

Technology dehumanizes relationships; our work helps re-humanize them. We use a simple tool for diagnosing root cause in digital workplace environment called The Distance Lens™. Viewing workplace performance through Interpersonal, Organizational, Physical, and Technological differences allow us to provide solutions to fix problem areas without inadvertently breaking ones that work well.

Bridging Distance provides behavioral-based solutions for companies to manage existing or anticipated distance complexities that impact employee performance. Through a combination of proprietary assessments, evidenced-based workshops, and customized coaching, Bridging Distance develops and maximizes employee engagement to accelerate productivity, profitability and employee retention.

So, heed Robert’s advice from Kindergarten and “when you go out into the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands, and stick together.” Partnering with Bridging Distance will build your pathways to move forward together.

What is Your Electronic Body Language Saying About You?

For years, office combat was waged in the open: man-to-man, woman-to-woman, woman-to-man. A boss’s crossed arms, raised hand, head nod, or arched back spoke to us in an unwritten languag that immediately relayed whether we were going to praised or buried.  Just as the subtle and not-so-subtle signals of body language contribute to your reputation, so do the nuances of virtual communication.  Collectively, these virtual nuances create your “Electronic Body Language.”

The rules of engagement have changed. More often, our main contact with peers and colleagues occurs through virtual communication.  And, at its core, an organization that relies on virtual communications carries an overall, but false, assumption — that we all share the same email standards of etiquette.  As emails are misunderstood and co-workers are offended, productivity and team cohesivenss  declines.  These misunderstandings are often the result of poorly communicated electronic body language and they lead people to develop an unfavorable impression of you.

Our research has brought a few salient points to light:

  • Over 40% of respondents check their email immediately when notified of a new message.  Given that it takes the average person 12 minutes to reengage in a task, this might explain a corresponding finding — that the majority of respondents feel that the volume of their email prevents them from completing their job.
  • Nearly all respondents feel “slighted” when someone takes too long to respond to an email that they sent.  However, when asked how long it took to become slighted, answers ranged fom two hours to one week.
  • 28% said that less than “one in four” office emails left them with a positive impression and/or motivated them to want to work harder with that person.

Traditionally, work relationships developed in a meeting environment. Visual cues helped fill gaps between words and their intended meaning. But in the virtual arena, without the benefit of these visual clues, the communications themselves take on added importance.  Believe me, people are still gathering data and forming opinions on your competence, style, gender, nationality, temperament, attitude, and so on.  Chances are, you’re basically a pretty great person, but if you aren’t careful, your electronic body language may be sending a very different message.

Understanding and appreciating your group’s attitudes around the use of technology is an important first step to deflect misunderstandings. For some managers, staff members who receive a significant number of emails or are frequently interrupted in meetings are unconsciously seen as important “go-to” colleagues.

In other situations, employees who are constantly available and quick to respond to emails are viewed as highly productive. In these office settings, high performance is inadvertently based on communication habits, not necessarily standard metrics. Yet few companies are explicitly aligning these habits with desired outcomes. A supervisor, for example, who asks to be “cc’d” on all emails conveys conflicting messages to his staff relative to work flow and undermines trust.

Managers are beginning to understand how electronic body language can work for them — how they can inspire colleagues and staff to put the needs of the team above those of fires burning in closer proximity. Often this means developing explicit rules of engagement for interactions and communications, understanding the unintended consequences of email or an invite to a meeting, and making sure that the right information gets to the right people at the right time.

If used effectively, electronic body language can motivate employees and colleagues to work effectively, instill creativity and to inspire confidence. The key is adopting policies that are universally understood and which genuinely reflect the company culture.

By identifying what we find acceptable, rude, professional and effective, good managers can improve team interaction and can manage the diverse standards applied inconsistently across individuals, functions, organizations, geographies, and cultures. Electronic body language will expose the unintended consequences of information overload and pose a visible and real deterrent to organizational fatigue.

Question for readers:  What steps do you take to project your true electronic body language?

What is your "Electronic Body Language" saying about You?

For years, office combat was waged in the open: man-to-man, woman-to-woman, woman-to-man. A boss’s crossed arms, raised hand, head nod, or arched back spoke to us in an unwritten language. Body mechanics that immediately relayed whether we were going to praised or buried.

But the rules of engagement are changing. More often, our main contact with peers and colleagues occurs through virtual communication channels — by email, telephone, chat, or text messages. The cause-and-effect of these changes has been a gradual realization among senior management that the footprints left behind in “electronic body language” are significantly deeper and more impressive than originally realized.

At its core, an office that relies on virtual communications poses an overall but false assumption — that we all share the same email standards of etiquette. But still waters run deep, and the currents that flow below today’s email-based communication have an undertow that can test important management assumptions and skills.

Routine “email body language” decisions we make every day — response time, length of e-mail, spelling and grammar, tone (whether perceived or intended), initial greeting, fonts, send time, participation on teleconference meetings — have significant (and often conflicting) effects in the office, especially on productivity.

Traditionally, work relationships developed in a meeting environment. Visual cues helped fill gaps between words and intended meaning. But in the virtual arena, communications often take on added importance, and subliminal messages and inferences about competence as well as clues about style preferences, gender, even nationality, convey differently from person to person. In they end, they often fall prey to significant cross-interpretation.

Understanding and appreciating the office’s attitudes around the use of technology is an important first step to deflect misunderstandings. For some managers, staff members who receive a significant number of emails or are frequently interrupted in meetings are unconsciously seen as important “go-to” colleagues.

In other situations, employees who are constantly available and quick to respond to emails are viewed as highly productive. In these office settings, high performance is inadvertently based on communication habits, not necessarily standard metrics. Yet few companies are explicitly aligning these habits with desired outcomes. A supervisor, for example, who asks to be “cc’d” on all emails potentially conveys conflicting messages to his staff relative to work flow and trust.

When used properly, electronic body language can motivate people to work effectively, instill creativity, and to inspire confidence. The key is adopting policies that are universally understood and which genuinely reflect the company culture. Often this means developing explicit rules of engagement for interactions and communications, understanding the unintended consequences of email or a meeting invite, and making sure that the right information gets to the right people at the right time.

By identifying what we find acceptable, rude, professional, and effective, good managers can improve team interaction and can manage the diverse standards applied inconsistently across individuals, functions, organizations, geographies, and cultures. Electronic body language will expose the unintended consequences of information overload and pose a visible and real deterrent to organizational fatigue.

Misconceptions About Working From Home

A few days ago I received a call from someone interested in learning more about how we can help companies maximize telecommuting. Recently at his company, a general decree went out ‘from above’ that people were abusing the company’s willingness to allow people to work from home. Everyone was required to come into a corporate office, somewhere. This broad brush ‘reigning in’ of employees quickly led to bad feelings.

What does abusing the policy mean? What were the criteria for deciding that this was not working, a bad idea, something to be reigned in?

A key criterion must be productivity, and whether employees’ ability to perform effectively was negatively impacted by working from home. As was the case with the gentleman who called me, he found himself to be more productive working from home, away from distractions and the general buzz of the office atmosphere. Not every day, but some days.

In addition, as a fairly significant player at his company, he felt very capable of determining when he could work from home, and when he really need to be at his office, or other employees’ offices.

A second criterion is the commute. Circling back to productivity, is that time better spend working, completing tasks, communicating with others, doing work? Again, the gentleman who called had over 2 hours of commute time daily, time he used more wisely when he was home.

And, the current cost of gasoline at who knows what price per gallon? That’s got to be a factor in garnering good or bad feelings to the company. Satisfied employees are generally more productive.

What are your metrics for assessing virtual workplace effectiveness? Be careful not to be applying old school thinking to new ways of working.

To be continued…