Appreciation when everyone is remote

Apr 15, 2020 | Covid 19, Podcast

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Hi! This is Dr. Paul White, co-author of The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace along with my friend and colleague Dr. Gary Chapman. We apply the 5 love languages to work-based relationships and that’s really been helpful to a lot of both individual colleagues as well as supervisors. Today I want to talk to you about how to support and encourage those who are working remotely. As you know, because of the coronavirus situation, a lot of people – probably billions of people – have started working from home.

That’s a new situation for them, so there’s some differences, obviously, in how to support one another and stay connected when you’re working from a distance, so I want to address that for you.

First, let me mention that we’re going to use both the words “encouragement” and “appreciation.” They’re largely the same in the sense of their goal and focus: to provide a positive support to your colleagues, and, we found, utilize the same actions to do so. The difference, really, is the time frame. Appreciation is largely focused on the past: we appreciate somebody for what they’ve done or the character that they’ve demonstrated. Encouragement is really about the present and the future – coming alongside and helping them hang in there and persevere through challenging times. I’ll use those terms interchangeably.
We did some research awhile ago looking at how remote employees prefer to be shown appreciation and encouragement in comparison to face-to-face employees. The study was done with 86,000 employees, so we had a pretty good group to work with, and we found some different themes that were helpful.
We have five different languages: Words of Affirmation, Quality Time, Acts of Service, Tangible Gifts, and Physical Touch (which doesn’t happen remotely, obviously, unless you give a sort of virtual high five). But we found that the order of preference among employees is essentially the same whether you work remotely or on-site. Words of Affirmation is the most frequently chosen. Quality Time is next, then Acts of Service, Tangible Gifts, and last is Physical Touch. But for remote employees, Words goes down from about 45-46% to 35% of people who choose that as their primary language, whereas Quality Time goes up. You might ask, “Well, how can you spend quality time when somebody’s working in a different setting?” We looked at that and found some tips to make that work better.

We know that people who work from a distance really like to connect by video, rather than just by email, text, or phone. Obviously, we can use those a lot, but that face-to-face interaction really is important to them. In fact, it’s important to do that even when you have team meetings. This week, my team got seven other team members that are working from home and we all got on Zoom for a video conference call. It had everybody’s picture up there and it looked a little bit like the Brady bunch. if you remember that. It was fun being able to interact that way, and people enjoy that, so using videos is important.
Secondly – and this is a really key part – you have to be more proactive to stay connected over a long distance. The reason is that you don’t really have the spontaneous interactions that you have when we’re working in the same place. You don’t walk by somebody’s office and stop by to chat with them, you don’t see them in the elevator or coming in from the parking lot, you don’t pass by somebody in the cafeteria or break room. You just don’t have those serendipitous interactions. If we’re not proactive and taking some initiative to reach out to people, it largely doesn’t happen. It’s a lot like social relationships in general – a lot of times we feel like we’re the main person reaching out. That’s the reality of the situation, so don’t let it get you discouraged. Just reach out to somebody and connect with them! It can be a quick email. But one of the things we found is that if you schedule a time to call them, it works well because lots of times people say, “I don’t know if I should call because I don’t know what they’re doing – I don’t want to interrupt them.” Well, set up a time and do that together.

Another part of staying connected relationally is that you want to be personal. It’s not just about work. I mean, we have to talk about work and keep up on it, but it’s also checking in. When we run into somebody, that’s what we talk about. We’ll find out what they did last night, how they’re feeling, what’s going on health-wise with them and their family members in this situation. It’s helpful to ask questions and say, “Hey, what did you guys do last night? How do you manage being at home?” And share some as well, because lots of times it can turn into 21 questions where you just keep asking. But part of the relationship is sharing what’s going on with you and any challenges that you’re experiencing. It’s a give and take; it goes both ways. So with the issue of being proactive, you want to be personal and not just talk about work. If you just talk about work, the tasks can become all you think and care about. And I can be guilty of that for sure.

The third piece is about peers. In work relationships we’d talk about manager and supervisor relationships with the people that report to them – and that’s true and we need to do that. But we know that culturally, and even generationally, more and more people are interested in connecting with their colleagues ad peers. So don’t’ think about it as a top-down direction, but it can go any direction. And again, take initiative to reach out to a colleague and see how they’re doing, even if you’re not working on a project together. In the office you would see them and talk even if you weren’t working on a project together, so be sure to think about that peer aspect and not just focusing on checking in with people that are on your team or report to you.

I think another part is to have some fun with it. These are tough times, they’re stressful times. There’s also a lot of change and there are things that we’re experiencing and learning that are different, some of which can be a bit humorous. I’ve had friends and team members give examples of being on a video or conference call and the dog starts barking or the cat walks across the screen. So share those! I think there’s also probably a lot of fun things on social media, whether memes or short videos that you can send to somebody and say, “Hey, I saw this about cats and I know you like cats so I thought you might be interested in it!” So don’t make it totally serious.

Some problems that can exist when you work remotely are getting discouraged and, in this situation, just talking about negatives. We learned that in dealing with negative work environments, one of the key things is, first of all, to not add to the negativity. If people are complaining or grumbling, don’t pile on to all that. Secondly, turn the conversation to something positive, whether that’s something like, “Man, the daffodils are really pretty, they’re just popping out right now!” Or, “The Bradford pears around here are blooming!” Just call attention to positive things, and that really helps as well.
I think the other thing you need to remember is that not everybody is encouraged or wants to be appreciated in the same way. We created the Motivating by Appreciating Inventory (a code for taking it comes with the book, or you can buy codes) and we created a long distance, or remote, version because the actions look different even within the languages. For some people, Quality Time is connecting with their manager and supervisor and being able to talk through things and they feel valued when the manager is willing to give them focused attention. For other people, it’s more about their colleagues and peers. We also have Acts of Service, which, in the remote setting can be somewhat the same as on-site. If somebody’s working on a time-limited project, you can ask, “Hey, is there something I can do to help out? Maybe I can take care of some of your emails or deal with some of your daily tasks that will allow you stay focused.” It’s a little tougher to do at home, but be thinking about it.

While Words of Affirmation is the primary language for most people, words don’t get it done for a lot of people. I mean, over 50% of the population have a language different than words. Even though you can send them a note or say something positive, for some people that’s not as impactful. Or you think about Tangible Gifts – how do you do that remotely? It doesn’t take much and a lot of it can be virtual: taking time to think about a picture, a video, or maybe a podcast that you share with them. The key thing about gifts in this context is that it is the thought that matters. It’s about the fact that you are getting to know your colleagues and team members, that you think about them and take the time and effort to try to find something that you think they would like. It doesn’t have to be a physical object. It really can be something small. Maybe if you want to do something more tangible you could send them electronic gift card that they could use to order at a restaurant.

I hope it has been helpful for you to get a few tips on how to stay connected with one another while you’re working remotely. It’s going to be a challenging time but we’re going to be able to get through it.

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