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S2E02: Enhancing Interactions in a Digital Environment

When digitalization becomes a norm, how do teams stay cohesive and function efficiently? William Toh, Learning Consultant, shares his insights on how we can use communication tools, as well as a “person-centric” approach to connect effectively.

Mark Lee  00:00:00  

Hello and welcome to all our listeners. Thank you for tuning in to the Capelle Podcast, where you can get insights from Capelle on navigating the recent trends in the business world. I’m your host Mark Lee, and today we have with us Mr. William Toh, a Learning Consultant with Capelle Consulting, to share with us about how managers can manage their staff in remote working arrangements.   

Hi William, great to have you here.

William Toh  00:00:26  

Hi Mark, thanks for having me. Really happy to be here.  

Mark Lee  00:00:29  

Yeah William, I’m so excited that we can chat about this because, you know, you’re in the office, I’m working from home. It really puts into picture how this has become a norm for us. And really, I just want to ask, especially from a management point of view, what are some of the insights you have into the challenges and opportunities that present themselves now that this has become really our norm?  

William Toh  00:00:50  

One of the main challenges obviously would be the lack of face-to-face supervision. You know, working in the office, we can see each other, we can just walk up to one another anytime if we need anything. But working from home somehow, when we are separated, brings along a challenge whereby managers don’t see their staff anymore. And there are managers who actually say that they feel so uncomfortable not being able to see their staff in the office. In fact, you know Mark, there are some managers I spoke to who actually say that, when I don’t see my staff in the office, I’m not quite sure whether they’re working or not. 

But it’s not just the manager’s perspective, employees also do feel neglected. Sometimes they may even feel not well supported working from home. Because they’re not sure whether the managers know what’s happening, whether they know they’re working as well. So sometimes that disconnect becomes a challenge for the employees as well.  

Mark Lee  00:01:48  

Yeah, I think that’s a really real concern that you’ve raised William, and you know you’ve put it so soundly in terms of how others have articulated to you. If I can’t see it, how do I know what’s going on? And so I wonder, you know, as you’ve heard these experiences and from your own observations and reflections, how might there be some ways to really manage that kind of anxiety and maybe help teams to be still cohesive and functional.  

William Toh  00:02:13  

Definitely one of the things that can be done would be to ensure that there is still an opportunity for them to connect with one another. That really takes away this lack of face-to-face interactions, especially when they want to talk to each other or find out from each other certain work information for them to carry out certain tasks and so on.   

And so, I think managers may want to really consider having what I would call daily check-ins with your staff. Just a short meeting, perhaps 15-20 minutes, and this can be done at the start of the day, or maybe even at the end of the day. And I believe that during this daily check-in, they could perhaps update one another on what’s going to happen for the day. Perhaps raise any red flags that the manager should be aware about, what’s coming up on the horizon. It just allows the people to understand what’s going to happen for the day, and I think communication therefore would be critical here.  

Mark Lee  00:03:12  

I think that’s a really great point, William. And establishing that frequency and consistency, having the manager initiate that, I think is really important. At the same time, I think something that may be on our listeners’ minds, especially some of the managers here is, wow, you know having my staff agree to that frequency and that consistency of a check-in? Maybe there’s some anxiety there. So do you have any insight as to maybe how that conversation could be handled or initiated?  

William Toh  00:03:37  

Well, I think these daily check-ins should be short meetings like I said, 15-20 minutes. But I think beyond that, there should also be opportunities for staff to interact with their managers. Say for example if there is an urgent issue then perhaps we do not want to wait till the next day for the daily check-ins for them to update one another so I suppose therefore, depending on the nature of the issue, there would still be opportunities for them to interact and update, and so therefore, besides the daily check-ins, there should be other opportunities as well, and hence this leads me to the second thing that we can consider doing, and that is to use a variety of communication tools.  

So perhaps for daily check-ins, you may use say Zoom, or maybe just conference calls. Calls and emails are really convenient to use, but I think when it comes to an urgent situation or a crisis, perhaps a phone call might be more effective, or where visual cues are required then perhaps using platforms like Zoom or Microsoft Teams may be better. So really it’s just having that variety of tools that will engage the employees in different ways.   

And I think it’s also important to establish for what situations do we use which tools. For example, daily check-ins use Zoom. Something is urgent, use phone calls. So I think that would then eliminate the anxiety of, oh do we just speak to our bosses during these daily check-ins?  

Mark Lee  00:05:09 

Yeah, I think it’s a really fantastic principle you’ve raised there William. Knowing the best tool to use for the need at present. That’s very, very powerful. I think another challenge that we often hear from our clients and those who are adjusting to this work from home norm is that there is also a sense of social interaction being lacking. You know that which was maybe taken for granted before, your pantry chats, your hallway, your water cooler talk. Any thoughts as to perhaps how that could really be a challenge from a manager’s point of view?  

William Toh  00:05:42  

So you’re right, and hence perhaps the manager may also consider conducting informal conversations on non-work topics. So these meetings that we all have should not just be about work, so perhaps these informal conversations could be actually at the start of the meeting. Could be 5 minutes where managers could ask the team, how did the weekend go? Any new hobbies they picked up, just kind of like socializing a little bit before they dive into work issues.  

Mark Lee  00:06:13  

Yeah, I think that’s definitely something which, especially when you get a Zoom meeting, often the title of the Zoom meeting is included too, right? It’s a work meeting for XYZ Project and it kind of just sets the stage for most people. They just assume, I log in at such and such time, and the meeting ends at such and such time and we’re just there to discuss work and be done with it. But what I’m hearing from you, William, is that it’s really quite important to dedicate, maybe even just a short number of minutes at the start to get people to interact with one another, warm up to each other socially.  

William Toh  00:06:46  

That’s right, I think we need to be aware of not being too task-oriented. Because sometimes that can happen, we just log into a meeting and we’re just really focused on the task, which I think is not wrong. But we need to also consider the social aspects as well. I’ve heard of teams whereby they actually organized virtual lunches, where they actually just buy their own lunch in and then they log into Zoom and they just have lunch together over Zoom. And they talk about things beyond just work issues. I think that helps the team connect better with one another, even though they’re geographically separated.  

Mark Lee  00:07:24  

Yeah, I think it’s a good point and it’s not in the same kind of formal way as the regular daily check-ins you were suggesting, but it does make me think of other stories I’ve heard from clients and friends where they also share interesting stories or ways that they connect with people remotely. I had one client tell me that his wife and him, they worked remotely actually because of quarantine, they’re in two separate countries. But they just turn on their video camera basically throughout the day, and they don’t even have to talk to each other, 24/7. Of course, they do check in every now and then, but I think just having that visibility and that social interaction happens kind of organically, even when you’re online. I mean, it sounds a bit ironic, right? Kind of organic but online, but I think we’re all trying to navigate this space together so why not try something like you mentioned, virtual lunches together and that kind of thing.  

William Toh  00:08:16  

That’s right. I mean, we’re trying to simulate as much as possible being there with one another, even though it’s done over a platform like Zoom, but at least we can see each other, we still socialize, we still talk about things and I think that helps the team to stay connected during this period.  

Mark Lee  00:08:31  

Yeah, and I think from a manager’s point of view as well, exactly because everyone is trying to figure it out, I think it’s really the manager or the leadership that models for people how to, at least be creative or take some initiative into this space.

I do want to shift our convo now to some of the other challenges that I think we do see surfacing. For example, working from home, no matter how cleanly you try, and you know, segregate your work identity from your home identity, it sometimes isn’t always that neat. I think that’s something we do hear often, which is, it sometimes gets very messy to kind of balance all these competing roles. You know, being housekeeper, in some sense, while you’re still trying to manage your work projects. So, any thoughts, William, as to that particular challenge.  

William Toh  00:09:18  

It’s actually not uncommon to hear that employees have to juggle many things while working from home. They have to work on their tasks, they have to be a parent to their children at home. And so sometimes, it’s difficult being at home and having to look at all these things at the same time. You know Mark, remember a time when students were doing home-based learning?  

Mark Lee  00:09:39  

Oh yeah, yeah.  

William Toh  00:09:40  

And parents working from home actually have to supervise them while also working on their job assignments.  

Mark Lee  00:09:46  

Yes, very stressful.  

William Toh  00:09:48  

Yeah, makes it really difficult for them to draw a line. Am I now an employee or a parent at home? And the challenge actually is that you know, I realized that employees working from home actually work beyond office hours. They actually do not leave their office when working from home because office is home and home is office.   

So another thing that I think managers may want to think about would be to really be mindful that we allow our employees to clock out after office hours, so that we can then help the employees know that, okay, this is after office hours and they can now refocus their role as a parent to their children and no longer having to respond to work unless it’s an urgent or crisis situation. I think managers being able to give time out to the employees would be important as well.  

Mark Lee  00:10:45  

Yeah, and I think you know, William, you pointed out how it really is on the manager in some sense to model that or kind of protect the employees’ time because already on the employees’ end, they’re probably thinking, trying to figure out how to juggle and manage it. So I think for the employer to kind of just give them the encouragement to say, yep, you’re really off hours now, unless it’s something urgent, let’s tend to it another time. That would probably be a big support, and in a big way for the team to continue to move forward cohesively.   

Now I just want to help our listeners follow along with us where we are in our convo now. William you’ve really shared with us some of the challenges of working from home and managing staff remotely, so things like the lack of face-to-face supervision or engagement, a lack of social interaction as well as competing roles at home.   

But it’s not all doom and gloom, right? William, we talked about how there’re opportunities as well, right? You gave us some ideas like conducting frequent check-ins, perhaps on a daily basis to establish some work expectations using a variety of communication tools to really connect with staff effectively and then of course, never neglecting that really person-centric approach of having that informal conversations or socialization, even if you’re say having a remote working arrangement, to dedicate some time to that intentionally, I think it’s just so key.   

So I’m just about wrapping up our session now, William, and I’d love to get your closing thoughts. Maybe some food for thought, some words of wisdom for our listeners to mull over before they come back for the next episode of the Capelle Podcast.  

William Toh  00:12:18  

Well you know Mark, I believe working from home is really here to stay for the foreseeable future, it will become the new normal actually, for many organizations as well. So therefore being able to manage remote teams effectively would become a key competence for many managers, so I do believe that if we can manage them well, we help the employees transit into this new normal of working from home. We help them assimilate and adjust more easily, make the transition smoother for them. That’s going to just benefit both employees as well as the managers. So I believe being able to overcome these challenges will be crucial, moving into the future.  

Mark Lee  00:12:59  

Thanks very much for that William for helping us dive a little deeper into both the challenges as well as the exciting opportunities to really optimize managing staff from remote working arrangement and thank you to all our listeners for sticking with us through this episode. We hope that you benefited from it and will bring back some of that to apply it in your own context. With that, we come to the close of this session of the Capelle Podcast, so we thank you and wish you well and we will catch you in a few weeks’ time for our next episode. Thank you and goodbye.

When digitalization becomes a norm, how do teams stay cohesive and function efficiently? William Toh, Learning Consultant, shares his insights on how we can use communication tools, as well as a “person-centric” approach to connect effectively.

Transcript

Mark Lee  00:00:00  

Hello and welcome to all our listeners. Thank you for tuning in to the Capelle Podcast, where you can get insights from Capelle on navigating the recent trends in the business world. I’m your host Mark Lee, and today we have with us Mr. William Toh, a Learning Consultant with Capelle Consulting, to share with us about how managers can manage their staff in remote working arrangements.   

Hi William, great to have you here.

William Toh  00:00:26  

Hi Mark, thanks for having me. Really happy to be here.  

Mark Lee  00:00:29  

Yeah William, I’m so excited that we can chat about this because, you know, you’re in the office, I’m working from home. It really puts into picture how this has become a norm for us. And really, I just want to ask, especially from a management point of view, what are some of the insights you have into the challenges and opportunities that present themselves now that this has become really our norm?  

William Toh  00:00:50  

One of the main challenges obviously would be the lack of face-to-face supervision. You know, working in the office, we can see each other, we can just walk up to one another anytime if we need anything. But working from home somehow, when we are separated, brings along a challenge whereby managers don’t see their staff anymore. And there are managers who actually say that they feel so uncomfortable not being able to see their staff in the office. In fact, you know Mark, there are some managers I spoke to who actually say that, when I don’t see my staff in the office, I’m not quite sure whether they’re working or not. 

But it’s not just the manager’s perspective, employees also do feel neglected. Sometimes they may even feel not well supported working from home. Because they’re not sure whether the managers know what’s happening, whether they know they’re working as well. So sometimes that disconnect becomes a challenge for the employees as well.  

Mark Lee  00:01:48  

Yeah, I think that’s a really real concern that you’ve raised William, and you know you’ve put it so soundly in terms of how others have articulated to you. If I can’t see it, how do I know what’s going on? And so I wonder, you know, as you’ve heard these experiences and from your own observations and reflections, how might there be some ways to really manage that kind of anxiety and maybe help teams to be still cohesive and functional.  

William Toh  00:02:13  

Definitely one of the things that can be done would be to ensure that there is still an opportunity for them to connect with one another. That really takes away this lack of face-to-face interactions, especially when they want to talk to each other or find out from each other certain work information for them to carry out certain tasks and so on.   

And so, I think managers may want to really consider having what I would call daily check-ins with your staff. Just a short meeting, perhaps 15-20 minutes, and this can be done at the start of the day, or maybe even at the end of the day. And I believe that during this daily check-in, they could perhaps update one another on what’s going to happen for the day. Perhaps raise any red flags that the manager should be aware about, what’s coming up on the horizon. It just allows the people to understand what’s going to happen for the day, and I think communication therefore would be critical here.  

Mark Lee  00:03:12  

I think that’s a really great point, William. And establishing that frequency and consistency, having the manager initiate that, I think is really important. At the same time, I think something that may be on our listeners’ minds, especially some of the managers here is, wow, you know having my staff agree to that frequency and that consistency of a check-in? Maybe there’s some anxiety there. So do you have any insight as to maybe how that conversation could be handled or initiated?  

William Toh  00:03:37  

Well, I think these daily check-ins should be short meetings like I said, 15-20 minutes. But I think beyond that, there should also be opportunities for staff to interact with their managers. Say for example if there is an urgent issue then perhaps we do not want to wait till the next day for the daily check-ins for them to update one another so I suppose therefore, depending on the nature of the issue, there would still be opportunities for them to interact and update, and so therefore, besides the daily check-ins, there should be other opportunities as well, and hence this leads me to the second thing that we can consider doing, and that is to use a variety of communication tools.  

 So perhaps for daily check-ins, you may use say Zoom, or maybe just conference calls. Calls and emails are really convenient to use, but I think when it comes to an urgent situation or a crisis, perhaps a phone call might be more effective, or where visual cues are required then perhaps using platforms like Zoom or Microsoft Teams may be better. So really it’s just having that variety of tools that will engage the employees in different ways.   

And I think it’s also important to establish for what situations do we use which tools. For example, daily check-ins use Zoom. Something is urgent, use phone calls. So I think that would then eliminate the anxiety of, oh do we just speak to our bosses during these daily check-ins?  

Mark Lee  00:05:09 

Yeah, I think it’s a really fantastic principle you’ve raised there William. Knowing the best tool to use for the need at present. That’s very, very powerful. I think another challenge that we often hear from our clients and those who are adjusting to this work from home norm is that there is also a sense of social interaction being lacking. You know that which was maybe taken for granted before, your pantry chats, your hallway, your water cooler talk. Any thoughts as to perhaps how that could really be a challenge from a manager’s point of view?  

William Toh  00:05:42  

So you’re right, and hence perhaps the manager may also consider conducting informal conversations on non-work topics. So these meetings that we all have should not just be about work, so perhaps these informal conversations could be actually at the start of the meeting. Could be 5 minutes where managers could ask the team, how did the weekend go? Any new hobbies they picked up, just kind of like socializing a little bit before they dive into work issues.  

Mark Lee  00:06:13  

Yeah, I think that’s definitely something which, especially when you get a Zoom meeting, often the title of the Zoom meeting is included too, right? It’s a work meeting for XYZ Project and it kind of just sets the stage for most people. They just assume, I log in at such and such time, and the meeting ends at such and such time and we’re just there to discuss work and be done with it. But what I’m hearing from you, William, is that it’s really quite important to dedicate, maybe even just a short number of minutes at the start to get people to interact with one another, warm up to each other socially.  

William Toh  00:06:46  

That’s right, I think we need to be aware of not being too task-oriented. Because sometimes that can happen, we just log into a meeting and we’re just really focused on the task, which I think is not wrong. But we need to also consider the social aspects as well. I’ve heard of teams whereby they actually organized virtual lunches, where they actually just buy their own lunch in and then they log into Zoom and they just have lunch together over Zoom. And they talk about things beyond just work issues. I think that helps the team connect better with one another, even though they’re geographically separated.  

Mark Lee  00:07:24  

Yeah, I think it’s a good point and it’s not in the same kind of formal way as the regular daily check-ins you were suggesting, but it does make me think of other stories I’ve heard from clients and friends where they also share interesting stories or ways that they connect with people remotely. I had one client tell me that his wife and him, they worked remotely actually because of quarantine, they’re in two separate countries. But they just turn on their video camera basically throughout the day, and they don’t even have to talk to each other, 24/7. Of course, they do check in every now and then, but I think just having that visibility and that social interaction happens kind of organically, even when you’re online. I mean, it sounds a bit ironic, right? Kind of organic but online, but I think we’re all trying to navigate this space together so why not try something like you mentioned, virtual lunches together and that kind of thing.  

William Toh  00:08:16  

That’s right. I mean, we’re trying to simulate as much as possible being there with one another, even though it’s done over a platform like Zoom, but at least we can see each other, we still socialize, we still talk about things and I think that helps the team to stay connected during this period.  

Mark Lee  00:08:31  

Yeah, and I think from a manager’s point of view as well, exactly because everyone is trying to figure it out, I think it’s really the manager or the leadership that models for people how to, at least be creative or take some initiative into this space. I do want to shift our convo now to some of the other challenges that I think we do see surfacing. For example, working from home, no matter how cleanly you try, and you know, segregate your work identity from your home identity, it sometimes isn’t always that neat. I think that’s something we do hear often, which is, it sometimes gets very messy to kind of balance all these competing roles. You know, being housekeeper, in some sense, while you’re still trying to manage your work projects. So, any thoughts, William, as to that particular challenge.  

William Toh  00:09:18  

It’s actually not uncommon to hear that employees have to juggle many things while working from home. They have to work on their tasks, they have to be a parent to their children at home. And so sometimes, it’s difficult being at home and having to look at all these things at the same time. You know Mark, remember a time when students were doing home-based learning?  

Mark Lee  00:09:39  

Oh yeah, yeah.  

William Toh  00:09:40  

And parents working from home actually have to supervise them while also working on their job assignments.  

Mark Lee  00:09:46  

Yes, very stressful.  

William Toh  00:09:48  

Yeah, makes it really difficult for them to draw a line. Am I now an employee or a parent at home? And the challenge actually is that you know, I realized that employees working from home actually work beyond office hours. They actually do not leave their office when working from home because office is home and home is office.   

So another thing that I think managers may want to think about would be to really be mindful that we allow our employees to clock out after office hours, so that we can then help the employees know that, okay, this is after office hours and they can now refocus their role as a parent to their children and no longer having to respond to work unless it’s an urgent or crisis situation. I think managers being able to give time out to the employees would be important as well.  

Mark Lee  00:10:45  

Yeah, and I think you know, William, you pointed out how it really is on the manager in some sense to model that or kind of protect the employees’ time because already on the employees’ end, they’re probably thinking, trying to figure out how to juggle and manage it. So I think for the employer to kind of just give them the encouragement to say, yep, you’re really off hours now, unless it’s something urgent, let’s tend to it another time. That would probably be a big support, and in a big way for the team to continue to move forward cohesively.   

Now I just want to help our listeners follow along with us where we are in our convo now. William you’ve really shared with us some of the challenges of working from home and managing staff remotely, so things like the lack of face-to-face supervision or engagement, a lack of social interaction as well as competing roles at home.   

But it’s not all doom and gloom, right? William, we talked about how there’re opportunities as well, right? You gave us some ideas like conducting frequent check-ins, perhaps on a daily basis to establish some work expectations using a variety of communication tools to really connect with staff effectively and then of course, never neglecting that really person-centric approach of having that informal conversations or socialization, even if you’re say having a remote working arrangement, to dedicate some time to that intentionally, I think it’s just so key.   

So I’m just about wrapping up our session now, William, and I’d love to get your closing thoughts. Maybe some food for thought, some words of wisdom for our listeners to mull over before they come back for the next episode of the Capelle Podcast.  

William Toh  00:12:18  

Well you know Mark, I believe working from home is really here to stay for the foreseeable future, it will become the new normal actually, for many organizations as well. So therefore being able to manage remote teams effectively would become a key competence for many managers, so I do believe that if we can manage them well, we help the employees transit into this new normal of working from home. We help them assimilate and adjust more easily, make the transition smoother for them. That’s going to just benefit both employees as well as the managers. So I believe being able to overcome these challenges will be crucial, moving into the future.  

Mark Lee  00:12:59  

Thanks very much for that William for helping us dive a little deeper into both the challenges as well as the exciting opportunities to really optimize managing staff from remote working arrangement and thank you to all our listeners for sticking with us through this episode. We hope that you benefited from it and will bring back some of that to apply it in your own context. With that, we come to the close of this session of the Capelle Podcast, so we thank you and wish you well and we will catch you in a few weeks’ time for our next episode. Thank you and goodbye.

 

 

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