zoom

Belonging in a virtual world

Building team belonging virtually is tough, but there are five approaches leaders can take for a more inclusive culture, says Katie Lee, CEO of Lucky Generals


The three key components of intrinsic motivation, according to Pink in his 2009 book Drive, are autonomy, mastery and purpose.

I’ve always been a big fan of this framework as a way to build and measure our talent management strategy. However, I’ve always thought it lacked a fourth component, one of belonging, probably the thing that I find the most motivating of all. Right now, I believe that belonging couldn’t be more important, not just as people are missing those daily connections but also with the need for all companies to look inwards and ask themselves why their diversity isn’t yet where it should be.

As we look at how we continue to motivate the Generals, you’d think it would be simple to move to a virtual world forever and forego the office. After all, autonomy, mastery and purpose can all still be achieved through careful meeting structures, team and portfolio management and a very clear vision. But I think you are missing out on so many really important motivational nudges if you don’t add belonging to that list. And building belonging in a virtual world is tough, as we’re already dipping deeply into our cultural reserves right now (luckily the culture bank is doing ok).

Cut to a few weeks ago and a training course I attended run by Utopia which talked about 5 levers of belonging. As is the case every time I do one of their courses, I was inspired.

What was most interesting and unexpected, though, was the realisation that our office behaviour during lockdown has actually given us a number of interesting and useful tools for achieving the all-important feeling of belonging. Tools I hope we preserve when we get back to a slightly more ‘business as usual’ mode, and as we focus on how to continue to build a more inclusive culture.

The five levers of belonging

Connection
Team rituals
Cultural intelligence
Feeling valued
Psychological safety


Connection

I’m not saying that we have cracked all of this in lockdown, but we have noticed some of the ways we’ve been working remotely have led to a more thoughtful working environment. For example, if connection is all about moments of care and checking in, then we have become much better at starting meetings talking about how we are feeling as well as spontaneously checking in with people that we realise we haven’t spoken to in a while. It’s all too easy to forget that when you see them every day in the office and keeping space for this honest connection in the future would be a real positive to come out of this.

Team rituals

If team rituals are all about having set routines for communication, then we have really surpassed ourselves here. At the start of lockdown, we created Quarantime, our content series specifically created to keep us connected. Over the past few months, this has seen all sorts of Games masters rise to the challenge and all sorts of people from around the agency have played a part. The day starts with a Spotify playlist, there’s a lunchtime game, quiz or yoga class and then something to finish the day - often a birthday singalong. We have also brought our famous agency singalongs to Zoom with Andy Nairn, one of the founders, lifting our spirits through specially written songs.

As I’m sure is the case with many agencies, our team rituals used to focus around the pub, but lockdown has widened the variety of those rituals, got more people involved in leading them and, I’m very happy to say, uncovered many a hidden talent. I’m looking forward to these continuing and broadening even more into the future.

z

 

Psychological safety

But I’d be lying if I said it was all rosy. There have been some wonderful lockdown moments but it’s been tough too. Building psychological safety in new working environments under stressful conditions isn’t easy. The zoom environment plays to some people’s strengths but others get lost. If you like to ponder, to build on other’s points quietly and not take centre stage, then it’s all too easy for you to suddenly find yourself saying nothing in a meeting. We still haven’t solved that but we have identified the need to be generous and thoughtful and learn a new way of interacting in the virtual world that gives everyone the time and space to be themselves.

Feeling valued

I’d like to think we were already pretty good at giving feedback and having one-to-one sessions, and that during lockdown we’ve become all the more conscious of the need for those check-ins. Not only are we catching up much more regularly in our teams, but we are also always on time (the biggest sign of respect) and they are rarely cancelled. We are valuing these moments now more than ever, not just because we can feel so isolated otherwise, but because we’re getting better as a result.

Sometimes I think those 1:1s are even more valuable virtually as they are intense, incredibly focused and sometimes the screen allows more honesty and perspective than is possible in a cramped meeting space in the middle of a manic day. Maybe I’ll move more of my 1:1s into my new flexible working lifestyle?

z

 

Cultural intelligence

And finally, we have found being apart during the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement really tough. We had started building a resource library on this subject, and this had been swept to one side in the wake of Covid (the old adage of urgent vs important ringing true as always). So we’ve been connecting virtually to share learning and resource, to take time to educate ourselves and each other. It’s great having the space to learn but it’s lonely not being able to get together in a connected way to talk about things that aren’t easy to talk about, and even harder in such an unnatural environment. If we can make a good start here then I’m hoping that we’ve paved the way for a richer learning environment IRL.

Looking back over the last few months, there’s an incredible amount we can learn from it and we’re lucky enough to have credit in the culture bank to keep us going. But we can’t rely on that lasting until we’re back together, so we need to celebrate what’s been working and work even harder on those areas that we know are more important than ever. We all have a long way to go but putting belonging at the centre of that motivational framework is a good place to start.


This article came from issue 7 of Marketing Society publication Empower. Read the archive here.