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As we navigate these uncertain times, keeping teams engaged without working face-to-face continues to be a real challenge for many businesses. On one hand, businesses don’t want to slow their operations down. But on the other hand, moving quickly at all costs can leave employees feeling overwhelmed, particularly as many have additional duties to fulfill at home.
The balance is tough. And more than ever before, the key to forging that balance lies in making sure employees are aligned to how their individual contributions piece into a long-term vision they are proud to build.
That was especially the case in late-March, when our team of over 1,000 people had to adapt quickly to working from home. Here are four strategies we’ve used at Nextiva to keep our team aligned — ones that can help organizations of any size continue to do their best work.
1. Establish a culture of communication from the top-down
Without being face-to-face, team members can find themselves feeling isolated and fatigued. For many, it’s the first time they’re bringing work home for an extended period of time. And while tackling a variety of unforeseen challenges, it can be easy for team members to get tied up in the work and lose sight of why they’re doing it in the first place.
Many executives, on the other hand, are also busier than ever before, working with various stakeholders to adjust priorities for the upcoming months. Amidst the importance of that work, they often forget to make staying in touch with their staff a priority; in reality, none of their plans are possible without their teams working together as one unit.
Executive leadership, particularly founders, know where they want to go in the coming months or years. But that’s why they need to take charge of establishing a culture of staying connected. For instance, at Nextiva, our co-founder and CEO Tomas Gorny keeps our team in the loop by sending several emails a week to detail progress and running a monthly all-hands meeting to frame how our work today is playing a role in where we want to be tomorrow.
This culture will often naturally flow downwards.
VPs may then communicate more openly with their groups, managers more openly with their direct reports, and team members more openly with each other—taking care of one another as they would valued customers and internalizing where their contributions fit into short-term objectives and the long-term vision.
2. Crowdsource a meeting agenda at least 24 hours before every team meeting
You could argue that creating that culture of communication has been made significantly easier by video conferencing, which is almost always just a few buttons away. But that level of convenience comes with even greater importance to make meetings productive.
According to a recent survey, more than two-thirds of employees say they spend too much time in unproductive meetings. And almost everyone has been in meetings where they don’t contribute, but still have to sit silently — leaving them feeling like their opinions don’t matter and frustrated by having time taken away from their most important work.
To tackle these concerns, I started sending out an email to every team member ahead of each meeting—and it was a complete game-changer. Every team member sends me meeting questions and points at least 24 hours before the meeting. And that gives me ample time to collate them into a meeting agenda. This way, every team member’s questions and concerns directly guide what happens in each meeting and ensures that their perspectives are an important part of every major team decision.
3. Define what it means to be “awesome” for every team in the company
Companies are often proud when they accomplish record levels of growth. And that’s great, but most employees don’t just buy into growth metrics; instead, they want to know that their work is making a difference in the company’s trajectory and creating an impact — improving others’ lives or making the surrounding world a better place.
This is especially true during Covid-19 because employees have invited companies into their own homes. Now more than ever, aligning employees means making their jobs not just a place to work, but rather a part of their life they are proud to live.
For instance, at Nextiva, we trademarked the term “Amazing Service” back in 2008 to represent our commitment to customer service. But effective customer service isn’t possible without our engineering team’s hard work making sure features are being implemented and our platform stays online or HR’s work making sure our employees are doing well. Making it a priority to communicate this has made all the difference in engaging our team.
Generally, setting an operational definition for what it means for each team to be “awesome” and the clear role they play in the big picture is what keeps them aligned. Too often, businesses only communicate that they are proud of teams that appear to be their core competency.
For instance, many software companies disproportionately credit their engineering teams and many advertising agencies disproportionately express how proud they are of their media-buyers. In truth, these businesses can’t come close to doing their best work without all of their teams on board.
4. Design cross-functional sprints
While every team has a purpose, new ideas don’t just come from the same collections of people discussing the same set of problems. Now more than ever, sparking interdisciplinary collaboration can not only help your team build stronger bonds remotely but also come up with better solutions faster.
For instance, we run a daily 30-minute meeting called “the huddle,” which involves leadership from both our sales and marketing teams. During the huddle, we design and review status updates for short-term projects through a dashboard accessible by both teams — making it clear how their day-to-day work pieces into our long-term objectives.
The possibilities are endless; at your company, you may consider having engineering and marketing teams or sales and communications teams work together. Whatever those collaborations may be, designing these cross-functional sprints can help your teams do a lot more than they thought they were capable of as individual business units.