Here, in the first of a series of blogs, Dave Crew, Head of Business Growth & Employer Partnership at Weston College, looks at how his team has overcome the communication challenges posed by the pandemic.
COVID, where to start? Huge disruption across Somerset and beyond, to employers and employees – really challenging times. As a manager, when this all began I concerned about how our team, a close knit group, would manage working remotely. I was asking myself if we would lose that creative spark, those adhoc moments where someone in the office joins a conversation with an idea, or let’s be honest – those really valuable conversations that we have in the kitchen, those ‘water cooler’ moments. The impact of the pandemic on the way we work has made me realise how important those interactions are in business.
If I could ‘have a word’ with myself back in March, I would say that I was overthinking this as the way we’ve adapted has been remarkable. I actually think the way we’re communicating as a team and business is stronger now than it’s ever been. Not that it’s been easy, we’ve had to make a conscious effort, albeit mostly through a screen until our campuses/offices opened again in June.
Microsoft Teams has been our saviour. We started using Teams three years ago but I had no idea of its capability before March (I’m at the more basic level with IT!). How could I, as a manager create opportunities where people are comfortable to connect, create and collaborate? We’ve tried various formats and have settled on a simple 30 minute weekly team update, which gives us an opportunity to chat, hear from another part of the business and give ourselves some time with each other. I make a conscious effort not to talk in these meetings and let the group interact with each other, as I often find that online meetings can almost be too structured. The Teams chat function has been key, avoiding the need for people to phone each other but just send simple messages to try and replace the office chat.
I’ve just recruited a brilliant apprentice, as I’m clearly not capable of organising my own work life, and a simple chat function is an opportunity to informally communicate and get things done, hour by hour. Being someone younger than me, she’s a natural at using tech to communicate, completely comfortable. There is also a team WhatsApp group which brings personalities to life, but that’s for another day…
We need to also ask ourselves if we really know our team, as in their personality traits? Just before lockdown, Weston College offered some training called Insights as we have the license to deliver this training. You complete a questionnaire and it gives you such a detailed analysis of yourself (which made me feel uncomfortable at first, my wife found it hilarious!). Personality traits are presented with a ‘dominant colour’ so I now have a fairly good idea of the dominant colours within my group from this Insights training. It helps me understand how people will respond to situations, even with clients!
If we’re looking at ways to ensure our teams continue to communicate, create, connect with each other as people and work colleagues, we need to make sure we really know our teams and have the mechanism to create our own ‘water cooler moments’. I’ve actually spoken to my clients about this subject and heard various methods but like me back in March, you can overthink this, almost go too far, so best to find your own way.
If you’re reading this – you, your team and business are unique. Why not reach out to me on firstname.lastname@example.org as I’d love to hear how you are replacing those ‘water cooler moments’ in your business.