E-Notes: On Engaging Others, Having Conversations, and Transforming How We Work

If you want to see me get squinchy-faced utter the words, “It’s time to return to work,” instead of “It’s time to return to the office.” Grrr! Since March 2020, we’ve all been working…in one way or another…working to do our job well, keep a job, find a new job, or juggle multiple jobs…with or without thanks or recognition of our efforts…regardless of where we have been working from…or what we were wearing while we did the work. Work does not only occur in an office.

Some of us are still fully remote and some of us have been in the office/in person every single day throughout the entire pandemic. Some of us had a choice in the matter and some of us did not. Wherever you are along the work spectrum, please join me in trying to increase support for each other and to improve engagement and communication at work.

Engaging Others

Here are a few ideas to try:

  • My husband has to send a report to a large email list every day. He now starts that message with a bit of humor, a fun fact, or what’s special about that day of the year.
  • At Brené Brown Education and Research Group, they do a two-word check-in with their employees. By asking employees to share two words that describe how they are doing at the start of a meeting, you can identify with others who feel similarly and as a supervisor, you can follow up with that person for more details later or be aware of their two word trend over time.
  • I implemented the Rose, Rose, Thorn, Bud game as part of director meetings. I heard about it on the “Awesomeology” episode with Neil Pasricha on Alie Ward’s Ologies podcast. Neil plays the game with his wife and kids at dinner but it worked great for my team too. (Neil has several more ideas for incorporating gratitude research into your lives if you want to check out the full episode.)
    • Each person takes turns saying the following without being interrupted:
      • Rose = One thing you are grateful for (be specific)
      • Rose = Another thing you are grateful for
      • Thorn = Something that did not go well
      • Bud = One thing you will focus on
Three red roses with lots of stems and leaves from the rose bush included.
Photo by Vishnu Mk on Pexels.com

Having Conversations

Below is an except from Seth Godin’s short manifesto The Conversation on effective online engagement in the only meetings that should remain. He advocates for shifting meetings where information is transferred to memos, and where information is transformed to a conversation.

A conversation involves listening and talking. A conversation involves a perception of openness and access and humanity on both sides.

People hate meetings but they don’t hate conversations.

People might dislike education, but everyone likes learning.

If you’re trapped in a room of fifty people and the organizer says, “let’s go around the room and have everyone introduce themselves,” you know you’re in for an hour of unhappiness. That’s because no one is listening and everyone is nervously waiting for their turn to talk.

But if you’re in a conversation, you have to listen to the other person. Because if you don’t, you won’t know what to say when it’s your turn to talk.

Conversations reset the power and compliance dynamic, because conversations enable us to be heard.

Conversations generate their own interest, because after you speak your piece, you’re probably very focused on what someone is going to say in response.

You don’t have to have a conversation, but if you choose to have one, go all in and actually have one.

Seth Godin, “The Conversation” on Seth’s Blog

Seth wrote this on March 17, 2020, and the full post includes several strategies to engage others in virtual meetings. Compare notes with Joshua Kim’s post “11 Ways Pandemic Zoom Changed Campus Meeting Culture” in Monday’s Inside Higher Ed newsletter.

Transforming How We Work

I’ve been following remote work strategies for years. In fact, I downloaded “How to Embrace Remote Work” as a .pdf guide from Trello back in January 2018. I’ve also followed Matt Mullenweg’s Distributed podcast since he started it.

In the “before times”, I drove 500 miles per week (over 8 hours of driving) to physically work in six different locations in rotation. Even though I technically had an office, spending every day in it was not what was needed to be most effective with employees distributed in so many places. In my attempt to be everywhere at once, short of warp speed, I had to learn to work from a laptop, attend meetings virtually, remotely access printers and internet, automate calendar appointment setting, with all of my files in the Cloud long before the rest of the world had to do the same.

As discussed in the Trello guide, if any of your employees do not work in the same place, you should be meeting remotely. Or you can pay for all of your employees to come together in the same physical space periodically as Matt Mullenweg’s company Automattic does. As soon as you have a meeting with one or more people Zooming into a room full of co-located people sitting around a table, you’ve created an unequal experience. The remote person feels like a fly on the wall or a talking head, often does not feel included or that they may speak freely, cannot see everyone when someone sits or stands off camera/with their back to the camera, cannot hear mumbles or side comments that occur as the main speaker is talking, is not given handouts that are passed out in person, and no, they cannot read the piece of paper being held up to the webcam. (Guilty of this? All the tips you need are in the links above. Let’s change starting today!)

In “The Great Awkward”, Brené Brown and her sister, Barrett Guillen, talk about their company’s return to the office and the lessons they have learned. I appreciated that they learned the importance of this too,

One of the things that we learned…we are not going to do our big important all-hands meeting anymore, except remote when everyone’s working remote, so that that feels more equitable for people and it forces us to be more creative, to your point, around the check-ins and funny things and using rooms and coming back out and challenges.

Brené Brown, “The Great Awkward” episode, Dare to Lead podcast

Yes, it takes rethinking some details and getting creative but it is an essential part of valuing employees. Next week, I’ll share some more considerations when it comes to inclusion, authenticity, and sharing spaces with coworkers again.

Until then, I’ll send you off with this,

The pandemic has given us a once-in-a-generation opportunity to transform how we work. By creating new rituals of connection, we can create a more human workplace, no matter where we are located.

Arianna Huffington, On My Mind newsletter

I’m curious for my readers who are not fully retired, did your job ever go remote during the pandemic? What date(s) did you return? Whether remote or back in the office is your employer (or another one you’re familiar with) doing anything that you really appreciate and think is worth sharing with the group? Let me know in the comments below.

2 thoughts on “E-Notes: On Engaging Others, Having Conversations, and Transforming How We Work

  1. Erin,
    I really enjoyed this weeks blog. I wish “meetings” during my career had been geared more toward conversations. How much more productive, interesting, and engaging they would have been. This applies to board meetings too.

    Great job!!!


    Sent from my iPad

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for sharing! More meaningful (and fewer) meetings are something the world could benefit from. Board meetings are definitely a whole other beast. Ha!


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