Remote relationships: How to build trust during strategic engagements

At this point, we all know that these are unprecedented times, a phrase we’re all ready to politely show the door. However, what we are still working to define is the new normal: when can we see family and friends again? What will we do about schools and daycares? And, of course, the question on everyone’s mind, how do you build trust during strategic engagements?

Kelly-Krulisky-300x300While that question is intentionally posed tongue-in-cheek, it is true and genuine that in addition to the pressure we all feel on our personal lives, we must additionally figure out how to continue to be effective and impactful in our professional lives. However, we can no longer rely on the in-person rapport, collaboration, and validation we have all adapted to in our careers.

As we are nearly 10 months into a primarily remote work environment and have become more experienced in engaging in technology implementations and advisory and transformation engagements remotely, there are a few lessons learned that float to the top.

The ability of video conferencing to empower and to destroy

Do you look into the camera, at your colleague’s face, or at your own face? Do you have houseplants or learned novels in the background? Do you have small children at your feet who you surreptitiously feed crackers to during calls (as long as they promise to remain quiet)? Video conferencing is hard and new to all of us. What are (or should be) the rules of the road?

  1. Use, but don’t overuse, video conferencing – video conferencing is normal and here to stay. In many circumstances, it should be the default. It is helpful to see facial expressions, to share smiles, and, of course, to put a face to the name. However, it is important to know when to admit defeat. If you are just now eating lunch at 3 p.m., if your calls started at 7 a.m. and you never really “got ready” for the day, or if your child just finished their virtual schooling for the day – it is not the time for you to be on camera. It is far easier to explain you will not be able to join via video than it is to overcome the image of you munching on your tuna sandwich in extreme close up.
  2. Preview your video conferencing style with trusted colleagues – the position of your camera, the direction of your gaze, and the real estate in the background (to name a few) are important details your colleagues will notice that you may have missed. If you haven’t yet, there is no time like the present to ask a trusted colleague to provide feedback on your video conferencing appeal. Something as simple as an open closet door could cause an unwanted distraction during an important meeting.
  3. Understand video strategy by medium and by meeting purpose – each of the various web conferencing options (Zoom, WebEx, etc.) have slightly different displays, and those displays vary if you are screen-sharing vs. not. In addition, meetings may range from conversational to more presentational in nature. Similar to the point above, experiment with some trusted colleagues on the best video-sharing strategy depending on the web-conferencing tool and the type of meeting. For example, in a more conversational meeting, it is probably appropriate for every attendee to be on video for the entire length of the meeting. In a presentation setting, it may make sense for only the active speaker to be on video. Certain platforms are even selective with whose video is shown. GoToMeeting tends to be more obvious about all meeting participants getting their own “square” whether or not they are on video, whereas Zoom only displays “squares” for those who are video sharing.

Socialize and sympathize

One thing that is universally true right now is that everyone is having to adapt and adjust their lifestyle in one way or another, and change is hard for everyone. Now more than ever, it is important to, and people are more willing to, check in with each other and share a little about what is going on in their lives both at work and personally.

  1. Since we no longer have the time prior to the meeting, after the meeting, or in the hallway to socialize, make sure to set aside some time at the beginning of meetings to chat. It becomes critical to reserve time at the beginning of the meeting to humanize the interaction: children, local news, weather, your latest Netflix binge, or sports are all great conversation starters. Though it may feel unnatural over video, force yourself to touch on safe personal subjects to preserve the aspect of professionalism that is personal connection.
  2. Embrace texting. This may seem unnecessary to emphasize, as texting was already a normalized form of communication. Keep embracing it! Again, we no longer have the ability to run into someone in the hallway or just pop by someone’s office. We must look for ways to supplement and replace these ad hoc conversations where we would often confirm a decision or provide an informal update. Texting does not replace the professional email or the business meeting, but it can serve to fill the space where you simply want to affirm you are still tracking to a deadline or ask the quickest of questions.

Some things should never change

Taking all of this into account, it is important to note the obvious – Professionalism 101 still applies. Interactions may be more casual, you may now know what your colleague’s living room looks like, but none of that changes the expectation of the work at hand. Continue to come to meetings prepared with an agenda, manage to the time, leave with a solid understanding of decisions made and action items, make your deadlines, and prove your outcomes. We are all experiencing a new way of doing business, but the mission of what we are here to do together remains the same – to enable the best possible experiences and outcomes for patients and their families.


Topics: Implementation, featured, Performance Improvement

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