To Reduce Remote Team Burnout, Start Meetings With This One Simple Question
By Dana Brownlee
President of Professionalism Matters, Inc.
Senior Forbes Careers Contributor
Date Published: Aug 25, 2020
Arguably, our workplaces have never craved empathy as much as this moment requires. Between the Covid-19 pandemic and rising social justice and economic concerns, the stress inducers seem endless. Facing record unemployment levels, many employees are stressed about the viability of their job while others are struggling with the decision to work full time or care for kids who might need homeschooling. Work days these days have become anything but normal and to act as if they are is simply ludicrous. Yes, companies will continue to operate, projects must proceed, orders still need to be processed, but leaders must also bring a new level of empathy to their meetings, their emails and virtually every interaction in order to meet the needs of this new environment.
While casual questions like “How are you doing today?” were mostly rhetorical in years past, for many this simple sincere inquiry may be the most important and meaningful question they answer all day. As leaders throughout the hierarchical food chain struggle to support team members managing significant levels of stress and burnout, a simple but powerful practice that they can begin using immediately would be starting every small group meeting with that question. During this quick check in period, each person would share one minute of feedback on how they’re doing personally (and what support they might need).
Leading with Empathy is Critical
This simple practice infuses a foundation of empathy for each team meeting. Limeade Chief People Officer and coauthor of Take Care, Dr. Laura Hamill insists that spending time at the beginning of meetings to connect on a human level provides opportunities to put empathy into practice. “By making the time to talk during your meetings (and to really listen) it will set the stage for you to then understand what they are going through,” explains Hamill. “Acknowledge their situation and the challenges they are facing.” Indeed, while each person’s situation is different, the pandemic has created points of common, relatable pain for virtually everyone in the organization. While Hamill advocates listening more than speaking, she also advises leaders to share personal reflections to provide comfort and communicate understanding. “Imagine yourself going through that, even tell a story of a time when you dealt with something similar – not as a “one up” but instead to say that you understand how hard it is,” explains Hamill. She recounts that she recently shared a story with her team about taking an early morning client call from her closet to minimize normal toddler noise interference when her daughter was much younger. “I have told that story to some of our employees who have little kids so that they know that they are not alone and that this is so hard,” explains Hamill. “Sometimes just a little validation and empathy is enough to get you through.”
Remember to Follow Through
While it’s important to demonstrate empathy and communicate caring, starting meetings with this simple check in can have tangible productivity benefits as well. For example, if someone shares that they’re struggling to maintain an infant’s nap schedule, another team member may be able to offer to step in to either cover a particularly important client meeting or serve as a backup if they need to drop off a call unexpectedly. Too often team members don’t share concerns or real challenges that negatively impact productivity for fear of creating a negative perception, but this simple practice – executed consistently – can begin to shift the team culture and send a powerful message that it’s not just ok to share challenges, but it’s also an important part of real team collaboration. Oftentimes the discussion during check in time may inform subsequent project or task related discussions so it’s helpful to share with a focus on how the team could possibly help make a difference. Whether it’s a recommended Covid-19 testing location or sharing a cool new homeschooling tip or virtual birthday facilitator, team members can be a tremendous source of practical support.
Add the check in period as an agenda item
While the check in may be an obvious way to demonstrate empathy and stave off burnout, it’s important to structure it in such a way that it doesn’t cannibalize important task discussions as well. To ensure that task related items aren’t short changed, be sure the “How are you doing today?” check-in is included as an actual agenda item. If you make the mistake of asking people to share without having specific time allocated on the agenda, you’ll soon find yourself short changing task related discussions (which might discourage check in consistency). Don’t be afraid to extend the normal one-hour meeting to 75 minutes. The additional 15 minutes are typically well worth the time investment. Of course, if your team is particularly chatty, consider framing the check in as a one-minute share where each person voices their top concern, challenge, or success. Hearing successes can be equally motivating – not just for the team member sharing but for others who might also be struggling with a similar situation.
As colleagues are increasingly becoming burned out with back to back video calls, it’s important to establish a regular way to check in on well-being – whether physical, emotional or otherwise. While working from home may be an easy transition for some, for others it may be a lonely, solitary experience, a completely chaotic frenzy or somewhere in between. Starting your meetings with one simple question – “How are you doing today?” just might be the easiest and most impactful leadership practice you could adopt.
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