Keeping teams connected (what the problem isn’t)
There is no shortage of methods of communication – from Zoom to Skype to email, phone, WhatsApp or instant messenger. The challenge is having a culture that uses these in an appropriate way. Don’t assume that all communication is helpful – does everyone need to be included in an email or invited to a meeting?
Meeting with staff with whom you closely
With the caveat that every organisation is different, here are some suggestions about baselines for meeting frequency when you are working closely with people:
• At least a monthly 121 if you are line managing someone, ideally in person.
• Once a week if you are driving through a major or capital project.
• Once a month if you work together strategically.
The more infrequent the meeting the more it matters that it happens in person. For everything else – map out which meetings and communications are helpful.
Ask your team:
• How did they communicate before the pandemic? (this might not be as you envisaged)
• How did they operate during lockdowns?
• And how would they like to communicate now? Try to avoid e.g. setting up a Slack group if everyone is happy on WhatsApp, unless there is a strong case for change.
Practices to adapt:
• Introduce new tools where they are a good fit for the job, even if not everyone has used them before. For example, would shared documents work for you better than multiple versions of a draft?
• Have clear protocols for how to use various communication methods. These might cover always answering the phone during working hours unless in a meeting or ‘deep work’ mode, responding to Slack within a day (even if just with a holding message) and an email within a couple of days.
Preferences will vary by organisation: the important thing is for leaders to stick to their own rules, and apologise if they fail to do so. Managers may also want to look at regular ways of staying in touch – for example, and email to all staff every Friday – making people feel informed and included.
The ideal default is that senior management and Trustees need a really good reason not to do what the staff want. The presumption in many organisations is the other way around. If you want to act against staff preferences, ask yourself “what is my really good reason?”
Where you can’t accommodate staff preference, explain why – do not treat them as if they are unable to understand management dilemmas.
If you’re working towards a hybrid model, but are beginning to receive individual requests from staff for flexible working arrangements, there are two equally valid ways to approach this. You could ask staff to wait because the organisation is working out a long-term solution. Or you could allow a staff member to change their working practice in the short-term, but emphasise that this is an interim measure that may need to be withdrawn. So long as there is honesty and clarity, this should not be a problem from an HR point of view.