Traditionally workers have measured their value within an organization as a combination of effort and performance (i.e.: contribution to the bottom line). For the most part, this is a result of how companies have long assessed their employees. After the Vietnam war, companies adopted a Bell curve formulation in order to create a fair structure for evaluating job performance. This led to a ranking system that keeps the majority of employees within the “meets goals” category, while a select few “exceed goals” or “need improvement”. People who fall at the bottom of the curve are gradually culled from the organization, while those at the high-performance end of the curve grow and are promoted. Now, with more people than ever working from home, it’s time to expand how we assess job performance to include communication and relationship-building skills, as it’s no longer enough to focus on effort and performance alone.
The in-person office environment naturally created daily opportunities for workers to build communication skills and relationships. From impromptu meetings to lunch outings and casual conversations, it was easy to connect and network across teams. Now as we all work from home, the environment that made these things easy has been physically removed. There are no water cooler conversations or people stopping by to catch up, and no one can physically see the time and effort you put in at work. In this new normal, it may be even easier to see your performance as solely tied to output. The reality though, is that communication and relationship building are still critical job skills that help drive business success – but now, you have to be intentional about maintaining and growing them.
A recent study by Fast Company found that workers who communicate with colleagues primarily through videoconferencing are less effective at building relationships than when communication happens face to face. In the same study, workers also reported a deterioration in work relationships. So, while it can be tempting to go on “Zoom auto-pilot” day after day, the best way to build relationships and value at your job is to practice being intentional.
How to be intentional
Create an intentional cadence of communication with a few people you know in your organization. It doesn’t matter if they are seasoned employees or new hires. Reach out by phone (not videoconference) to one or two of these people per week using a simple model called ACE. In each case, your communications should be purposeful, open, and honest. During the conversation, choose one of the options below:
A – Ask for input on a work project, idea, or plan that does not necessarily fall within that person’s typical job duties. You can leverage their expertise and apply it to something in your job. This simple act of asking for input helps build relationships and can have the added benefit of widening perspectives across teams.
C – Check in and be curious. Call and ask the person about something you know is meaningful to them, whether that be family, a hobby, or an upcoming vacation. If you don’t know much about the person’s personal life, this is a perfect opportunity to be curious and show interest. Ask them about their career, how a particular work goal is progressing, or what they like to do in their spare time. Seek to learn and share something new. The intent is to purposefully build the camaraderie that developed among coworkers when they used to see each other in the hallways at work.
E – Encourage others. Encouragement is often overlooked as a way to build communication and relationships. Take the time to simply recognize another person for their efforts, attitude, and contributions. Thanking a team member on a team call or sending a short email can go a long way in a person’s day. You can recognize or thank someone at any level of the organization for efforts large or small.
No matter what you choose, the point is to make sure you’re proactively making effort on a regular basis to build communication and relationship skills. The best remote workers in this new world will be those who give effort and deliver results while mastering the art of intentional communication and relationship-building. Without all of these elements, you’ll be missing critical keys to your team’s success.