Water Cooler Calls
Leadership is a wiggly concept. By that I mean it can be embodied and demonstrated in so many ways by just about anyone. My experience as a department head over the years is that true leadership isn’t necessarily illustrated through a finely crafted email or a well-delivered speech during a meeting to your team. The reality is much more mundane: 90% of leadership is displayed during the hundreds of small interactions you have with your team every day. Every pass in the hallway, every quick conversation about various challenges or situations, every engagement in the lunch room… all are opportunities to be a leader and leave people with something of value. The feedback team members receive is also a hugely important aspect of their jobs. It may just be an encouraging word, a quick chance to “hear” them, or simply using your energy to help lift them up. Either way, great leaders don’t take these small interactions for granted and realize they are as important—or even more important—than a one-on-one call or team meeting.
This creates some challenges for teams that work remote. For those teams, too often the only interactions that occur are those that are scheduled. So many remote leaders only engage with their employees during scheduled discussions and/or team meetings. The occasional unscheduled call is usually to deal with a challenging situation and is not always a call that is welcome. How then do you cultivate a dynamic culture of collaboration and sharing in a remote environment?
It’s definitely challenging. But, in order to drive the type of culture a leader desires to create, they must be diligent about creating those small interactions. It won’t necessarily come naturally. One instrumental approach I took with my team was implementing Water Cooler Calls, a daily 30-minute video conference that is optional, but highly encouraged. The call is designed to be comprised of a lot of non-work conversation. It’s an opportunity to learn more about our co-workers and what’s happening in their lives. It’s a respite from the stress of the day. These are the types of interactions that used to happen during trips to the water cooler, but in remote environments, you must create the interaction.
One key component to the Water Cooler Call is the use of video. Having implemented video early in my remote management experience, I was blown away by its value in creating a culture. The level of engagement on video is dramatically enhanced versus just a phone call.
One interesting story pertaining to video occurred with one of my most valued remote employees. We engaged on video almost daily and really felt like we had built a valuable work relationship. She had been on the team for almost two years when we had an in-person team meeting in one of our centralized cities. After seeing her, sharing a hug, and chatting for a bit, I noticed a look of amazement on her face. She then pointed out that this was the first time we had actually met face-to-face. That realization blew me away! I had as good a working relationship with her as I’d ever had with anyone I shared space with. Later I realized that had we only interacted on the phone for those two years, there is no chance we would have been so close. The value and importance of video in creating relationships with remote workers became obvious.
Frankly, it took a while for everyone to see the value in those calls. I spoke with one of my managers who wasn’t attending the voluntary calls very often. I explained that while they were voluntary for most employees, he needed to see this time as one of the most important parts of his day…one of his only opportunities to lead through example and to better understand his team on a personal level. If he doesn’t show up, his team will slowly stop showing up. He began to see the value in these calls and his team continues to treat the daily Water Cooler Call as a welcome part of their day.
Managing a remote team can be challenging. Creating a collaborative team culture is possible but requires diligence. It also requires the appropriate technology to create an environment with as much personal engagement and visibility as possible. vCom offers solutions that would enable your managers. The diligence part is up to them.