Tips and help

Staying human in a digital world – insights and tips from a business mentor

The covid pandemic has changed the way we work, with businesses now more reliant than ever on digital tools and remote working. This brings exciting possibilities, but also new challenges.

Mark, what are the key challenges that the shift to remote working brings?

‘I’d say that ‘remoteness’ itself is the key thing. I’ve heard many different views, but one common challenge is how to build and maintain strong human connections in a remote working set up. 

‘For one thing, everyone is set up differently. You might have one person working in a spacious study with fast broadband, and their colleague working off a coffee table in a shared lounge with a lousy connection. Some people are happy working from home for long periods, others depend on social interaction to work at their best. For new joiners, or those going through difficult times, the sense of ‘remoteness’ can be particularly strong. So we need to make sure we’re doing enough to make them feel connected and supported.

‘Zoom meetings are great for getting things done, but they can easily become transactional. What’s lost is the time we’d spend getting to know each other. Moreover, it can be tricky picking up on the signs that someone’s not okay – body language and mood can get lost and sensitive conversations are harder to begin on video calls. We need to develop a sense of empathy and compassion that functions for this new way of working. 

‘From a corporate point of view, it can be harder to build a sense of shared culture, a team spirit that brings people together. There are also new questions to consider about security and continuity planning when people are working remotely and reliant on internet access.’ 

How can business address these challenges?

‘The solutions will be different for each business, but here are some general pointers that could help: 

1. Open communication 

‘Just starting to have these conversations and listening to the concerns of your employees about the ‘new normal’ is an important step. You can do this through one to ones and team meetings, or you could always run a survey to gauge preferences and perspectives. 

‘This will help inform the decisions you make and could even form the basis of a new shared digital agreement and code of practice. From agreeing hours at home vs in the office, to technology requirements, security protocols and tips for avoiding zoom fatigue – the new digital agreement could provide a much-needed reference point for the new ways of working. One thing that’s already clear is that people value flexibility and choice when it comes to their working options. A digital agreement like this will be well received if it grows out of an inclusive discussion, it could even become a selling point for your business.’ 


2. Digital contingency planning and risk 

‘We also need to adapt from a risk point of view. For one thing, most of us depend on a secure internet connection to do our job – but what happens if that drops? And if you have people working from mobile devices, from home, potentially from busy public spaces, this brings with it new security considerations. You need to bring these issues into your planning and policies. 

‘One obvious example is making sure work devices are protected and employees working remotely maintain the same level of security awareness they would in the office. That goes for the protection of confidential information and alertness to scams and cyberthreats. The office is to some extent a protected environment, where it’s easy to ask for a second opinion, at home or on the move people may be more susceptible to the things like ransomware and vishing attacks.’

“The advantage of the office was to create a consistent working environment, we have now to address the differences in our working experiences.”
Mark Randall, Business Mentor and Performance Coach


3. Digital compassion and building connections

‘In a remote context it can be harder to spot when someone is feeling down or stressed, and for people experiencing those things, it can be harder to reach out, and easier to disengage. Large calls can become static affairs, where a few voices dominate. And in the daily run of meetings, it’s easy for interactions to become transactional and harder to build bonds. 

‘Because of this we need to proactively build digital compassion and care into our ways of working, both for ourselves and each other. That means taking the time to listen to our colleagues, and being alert to the signs that people might be struggling or just need a chat that’s not attached to work. Now more than ever leaders need to cultivate this awareness and network of support; in larger calls, chairs need to work actively to read the audience and encourage participation. 

‘Using team messaging apps for everyday chat, rather than just for work can help bring people together and build comradery. And swapping out some meetings for informal catch-up sessions could also help. What’s crucial is that we’re giving our minds time to relax and reset, and talking to each other about more than just work. This is crucial in fighting mental fatigue and fostering the team dynamic and growth mindset we need to work at our best. One investment firm I spoke with recently had great success bringing older and younger team members together to learn from each other, swaps skills, and cultivate a growth mindset.

‘Other ideas to try include blocking an hour in the day for focus time, free of distractions. You could also consider introducing mindful practices into your day, or even try them as a team to see what works best. We need to set boundaries to avoid the fatigue that comes with back-to-back calls and hours of screen time. It can be as simple as taking a minute to calm your mind and focus on your breath, or it could be a short walk at the start and end of the working day.

‘To sum up, we’re entering a new era for ways of working. Nobody has all the answers. But those businesses that reflect on the challenges and talk to their people to find the best ways forward will be setting themselves up for success. With good communication, empathy, and a growth mindset, we can continue to build creative teams and meaningful human connections in the digital world.’

Final thoughts

Our thanks to Mark for discussing the issue with us and sharing his advice.

Mark is a certified business mentor, performance coach and mindfulness consultant. You can find out more about the consultancy services he provides at Mark Randal Consultancy.  

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