Shifting groups’ work throughout 2020+
4 min read
For many of us, this year has felt better measured in dog years – what usually changed or fitted into seven months has probably taken place in just one. So think as far back as pre-March, when for the most of us we were based in a single, or perhaps multiple, offices. Lots of meetings no doubt, peppered with desk-side or water cooler conversations, social collisions in corridors and car parks and the occasional after-work social. The opportunities to connect with one another were far greater – and even then, many teams were disconnected or having to put sporadic amounts of conscious effort into ‘group maintenance’ and maintaining healthy relationships.
Then our world shifted with COVID-19 and, in short, a large percentage of the UK were asked to work from home.
For some of those people working in an office-based team, it’s been a manageable transition. Some of our clients are reporting benefitting from a better work-life balance, no commute, cheaper lunches, you can wear slippers in the ‘home office’ etc. etc. In some ways, they share that they are talking to their colleagues more frequently, with the diary full of pre-scheduled conversations through video conferencing. Most of these calls are, understandably, task-focused; really connecting with one another doesn’t extend much beyond a quick check-in.
Thinking outside the frame…
So we jump onto zoom/teams/googleMeet and each of our colleagues (including ourselves) are on the screen in front of us, each in a ‘frame’. The first few days of solely working in this way were great for teams and a bit novelty – the ability to see everyone at the same time (and have a nose in their house) without all squeezing into a meeting room. Quickly groups realised that this approach does however become tiring, as no doubt you’ve felt at some point and as the BBC summed up and explored in their article ‘The reason Zoom calls drain you energy’.
But beyond managing the fatigue, one of the biggest challenges of meeting solely via video calls is how to make sure groups become equipped to share and explore at a deeper level of ‘what’s going on outside the frame’. On these video calls, it can feel we are ‘broadcasting’ and naturally some individuals may be inclined to filter more of their feelings and true views. They may only be sharing half the picture from within their ‘frame’. Whilst we all have the need for technology in common, the impact of lockdown on individuals, families, groups and communities will be diverse. For some, its allowed evening walks after work, whilst others have needed to self-isolate or work doubly-hard to care and provide for vulnerable family members.
Just at a group level, equality and connectedness can become strained, for example, even at its simplest level some of us are sat in a comfortable home office, others at a kitchen table or at times perched on the end of the bed. That’s before we take into account all other areas of inequality we already need to lean into and work on ourselves.
In a face to face meeting it was easier to pick-up on others’ visible energy and perhaps lean into challenging a point made by someone else. They’d be an immediate safety net in that you could check in with the individual as you packed up and left the room together. On a call, the red ‘end’ button gives an element of instant closure to the conversation.
There’s both art and science to exploring ‘what’s going on outside the frame’ with groups, but our approach at The Up Company makes a big difference, and at pace, as Sarah McMath CEO of MOSL recently shared on LinkedIn.
And the frames will continue to shift…
More people are now travelling to work, with an ONS survey on 4 September reporting “57% of working adults reported they had travelled to work (either exclusively or in combination with working from home) in the past seven days, while 20% had worked exclusively at home.”
Now picture the scenario where a group gather on a video call. Some individuals are at home, whilst others may be sat in small groups in the office (dyads or triads). The ‘frames’ may have shifted. We might need to approach our relationship-based work differently to avoid pockets of ‘power’ and varied levels of connectedness. Some team members may be benefitting again from the (socially distanced) social collisions, whilst others don’t. And we’re not just talking about opportunities to chat – we’re talking about a depth of conversation that allows individuals to connect, empathise, learn, build trust, relate, reflect, support, encourage, etc. Even after a day of lots of conversations, if relational-connections have not been made, individuals can feel lonely.
So as offices outline plans for teams/part-teams/individuals to return, we’ll all need to pivot and re-learn how to do our best work as a group in this hybrid way. A way that might be different each day, with differing rotas or ‘bubbles’. It will shift, and again, and again, so let’s find a rhythm in our groups to recognise this and make time for it.
Next time you’re on a video call ask yourself: when was the last time you were really aware of what’s going on outside the frame?