Posted: 03 Apr. 2020 5 min. read

Virtual chemistry: Encouraging collaboration when working remotely

Whether working remotely is something you enjoy or something you’re just trying to survive, it is a reality that many of us are facing right now. Embracing the virtual workplace may be a necessity, but it doesn’t need to become a struggle (especially when it means you get to wear stretchy pants and eat all the snacks in your house like I do).

Among the biggest challenges of working from home can be working across the physical and emotional distance from your colleagues. Even though you are far apart, your work still needs to be aligned and cohesive. You may feel like a one-person team in your secluded space, but you will still be expected to work together with your teams, your leaders, and your employees.

So the question becomes, how do you engage with one another and collaborate effectively over the phone or video conference?  The answer certainly isn’t avoiding the issue, calling your four-year old daughter your “coworker” and leveraging her thought partnership. Yes, I may have tried that. . .

Instead, try the following approach. You might find that avoiding the retreat into disengaged hermit-ness won’t be as hard as you think:

Pause: Take two minutes before any call to breathe and review your approach. Give yourself a minute to remember that you can influence the success of any virtual interaction! Then get to know your audience: Use your Business Chemistry acumen to hunch the people on the other end of the phone or video call. Once you do, you suddenly have a wealth of information about what might meet their needs and how best to engage them. Finally, adjust your approach: Based on this knowledge, curate your style and strategy so that you can get the most out of each person on the call.

Not sure how to do so? Sometimes, circumstance breeds innovation; here are two sets of strategies to help you adjust your approach for effective virtual collaboration:

The first set outlines five suggestions for virtual meetings that are likely to resonate no matter who is on the other end. In each case I call out why the approach can work for any type and how it can enable a successful interaction.

The second set includes deep dives into each Business Chemistry type and calls out actions you can take to draw each of them into a virtual conversation.

Ultimately, each strategy is based on the same engagement philosophies that are inherent in Business Chemistry. My goal in sharing these approaches is to remind you that you already have the knowledge and resources necessary to make the most out of virtual collaboration.

The universals

Engage pre-call: Sending an agenda before a call can help everyone begin to focus even before kick-off. For Guardians, this step can serve to eliminate surprises and allow them to prepare as they see fit, while it can provide Drivers with a clear understanding of the objectives and why the call is relevant. An agenda can help Pioneers focus their idea generation on the core elements that need to be addressed and can set a friendly, welcoming tone, that may appeal to Integrators.

Set expectations and generate commitment: At the beginning of a call, it can be helpful to clearly state the purpose of the meeting and ask every person to be present and commit to singularity to the best of their ability. Call out the elephant by acknowledging the humanity of the situation (that there will always be real and necessary distractions at home), but point out that the outcome of focus is efficiency. Guardians may gain comfort in knowing the plan and the rules, while Drivers will likely appreciate the efficient use of their time. This step can help Pioneers understand how to direct their energy and reassure Integrators that everyone’s human needs are being acknowledged.

Name drop: Try to address everyone by name more than usual, identifying who is present at the onset and saying participants' names when the point you are making is relevant to them. Doing so can engender trust—that you are paying attention and are willing to have a real, personal back-and-forth. Guardians might enjoy this method of tracking who is accountable for what and understanding which boxes they personally need to check. (It can be a good idea to let the Guardians know that you will be using this approach so they don’t feel surprised and put on the spot.) Drivers will likely welcome the directness and the accountability. You may see Pioneers revive when they know they have the stage and that their contributions have an outlet, and Integrators tend to thrive when they feel valued, acknowledged, and heard.

Leverage video conferencing. Displaying your face on a video conference (and encouraging others to do so) can be an asset, but it can also be difficult for some types to embrace. Enabling everyone’s camera may pull Guardians out of their comfort zone, but it can also enable participants to refer to them more often and give them a stronger presence during the meeting. Drivers might try to avoid the camera in order to multitask. They may need reminding that face-to-face interaction can enable focus, and thus efficiency. Pioneers will likely thrive with this capability and the theatrics that can come with it, since it puts them and their ideas front and center. Integrators may appreciate the function the most, as it allows them to see the people they care about and provides an opportunity to gain visible feedback from others.

Debrief post-call: Sending a recap of the discussion is extremely valuable for momentum, continuity, and continued engagement. Guardians can leverage the to-do list and will likely feel secure in next steps knowing notes were captured, documented, and shared. Drivers may enjoy having clear action items to refer to and recognition that their goals were met. Pioneers might like seeing their ideas in lights and get excited about seeing them come to life. For Integrators, seeing a thank-you and their contributions recognized can engender a sense of success and generate further engagement.

The details

In any meeting it can be challenging to engage everyone present—going virtual can exacerbate these challenges. “The universals” covered engagement strategies that may resonate across types, but sometimes those just won’t cut it. For some interactions, you may need to draw upon more nuanced approaches, targeted at specific types, to encourage their virtual contributions and participation.

Here are five suggestions for each type to keep in your back pocket. You don’t need to try them all at once, especially if you have a variety of styles present on your call, but they can come in handy when you notice that certain people or certain types are receding into the background.

Integrator: Integrators tend to crave personal interaction, so working remotely may be even more difficult for them than any other type. In the office, they are more likely to seek out personal connections with others—remotely, they will likely look to virtual communication as a way to get that social interaction and feedback.

  1. Be aware of your body language: Nod your head while listening, smile, look at their image while they are speaking
  2. Allow time for introductions, particularly if the participants don’t know each other well
  3. Encourage people to introduce pets or children who might be present in the background
  4. Use a fun background, have everyone submit a bitmoji, or ask them to share how they are feeling to break the ice
  5. Invite people to use video-conferencing “reactions” to show agreement, applause, or acknowledge people’s comments

Guardian: Guardians tend to prefer thinking before speaking and preparing in advance. Since remote interaction is often live, real-time, and unstructured, Guardians may be less likely to engage or contribute unless they have some time to process before being put on the spot.

  1. Pre-send detailed materials for review
  2. Have someone taking detailed notes and periodically show their screen;  call out that notes will be captured
  3. Pre-collect ideas for ideation (via surveys, polls, or email) or share any activating questions before the call so they have time to process
  4. Encourage use of an in-meeting chat function so that they have an outlet to share their thoughts
  5. Use virtual breakout groups to have smaller conversations in a bigger meeting so that they feel more comfortable speaking up

Driver: Virtual collaboration often leads to call after call and, as a result, Drivers may be eager to stop talking and “just get it done.” Showing them that each interaction is worth their time and attention can encourage their participation and engagement.

  1. Share a static image of the agenda and check off each item as it is completed
  2. Keep group sizes on calls small
  3. Call out how long you will need them, and remind them that efficiency comes from focus
  4. Have key activating questions predeveloped
  5. At the end of the call, recap highlights, what you accomplished, and why it matters

Pioneer: When stuck at home, Pioneers are most likely to have cabin fever, both mentally and physically. Anything that can serve as an outlet for their thoughts and creativity can help them harness their energy productively.

  1. Use humor to convey that this is not a time to multitask
  2. Set up quick, fun pulse checks throughout the call to ensure participation and maintain energy
  3. Leverage video-conferencing functions for sourcing ideas (annotation, polls, or live chat)
  4. Use colors, fonts, drawing capabilities, music, and fun backgrounds
  5. Live capture or have them live- capture; share the screen, populate a template and spell out owners of action items as you go

And, perhaps most importantly, there is a secret weapon for every Business Chemistry type. . . Virtual. Happy. Hour.

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Jodi Goy

Jodi Goy

Designer and Facilitator | Deloitte Greenhouse

Jodi is a designer and facilitator within the Deloitte Greenhouse, enabling breakthrough for clients across the country. She works closely with Dr. Suz, developing novel research inquiries to leverage the power of Business Chemistry in new ways.  An Integrator at heart, Jodi’s passion is people. Every role she has played delves into the human “Why”, why we think and act the way we do and how we can use people driven insights to inform strategic solutions. From neuropsychology and brain trauma research in New York, to cultivating consumer insights at Leo Burnett, to helping our clients work through ‘messy people problems’ in the Deloitte Greenhouse, Jodi thrives when working with and for others. She believes that if we take a minute to recognize our underlying cognitive and emotional state, draw real, data driven insights, infuse some storytelling and use a little humor, there isn’t any problem we can’t solve. Jodi received her undergraduate degree from Duke University and her Masters in social science research with a specialty in cognitive psychology and neuroscience from the University of Chicago. She lives in downtown Chicago with her husband Michael, her daughter Shoshanna and her dog Pearson.