IDEXX Laboratories CIO, Ken Grady, discovered that short videos provide an effective way to communicate and strengthen bonds on a remote only global IT team.
Regardless of the industry you happen to work in, all of us technology executives have received a master class in business continuity over the past six months. The COVID-19 public health crisis has had a catalyzing impact on adoption of technology that enables organizations to pivot their operating models and discover new opportunities. In many cases, we’ve realized that the old paradigms, liking working face-to-face in the same office, for example, were there simply due to inertia; not because they were optimal for productivity or efficiency.
But despite these unexpected silver linings, many of us have been grappling with a new set of questions, such as:
Once you’re past the crisis moment and into ‘the next normal,’ how do you take the benefits of a distributed team and make them sustainable?
How do you keep a distributed team bonded in a shared purpose and culture?
What tools and tactics are necessary to keep engagement high when you don’t have the shared moments of connection that are created in a co-located workspace?
How do you on-board new talent into that culture effectively?
All remote - the great equalizer
I have been experimenting relentlessly on these questions with my team over the past few months. Thankfully, we were poised and ready to pivot to a distributed/remote model. With a team already scattered across 11 countries and offices, and what seemed like half the global time-zones, we were experienced users of web and video collaboration tools. But in all honesty, when I reflect on how we were leveraging them pre-COVID (or what my team calls ‘The Before Times’), we did not have good, consistent practices of inclusion for our scattered colleagues outside of the HQ clusters. However, when everyone became remote, our practices quickly became more equitable and inclusive. There seemed to be an unconscious enhancement to our daily conversations in both one-on-one calls and larger meetings.
As pleased as I’ve been about how well we’ve supported one another and improved our practices in these meetings, I’ve still been teasing at this problem of connectivity and culture in an all-remote world. I’ve spoken with a number of organizations, peers, and colleagues, inside and outside of our company and industry, about how they’re adapting. Without the hallway conversations and the chance to bump into someone in the coffee line, many teams will have to change the way they create connections, the sort of connections that are vital to team trust, efficiency, and ultimately, the bonds that keep our people connected.
And then my teenager showed me a TikTok video.
Video creates authentic connection
For quite a long time, I have made a habit of writing a blog as a way of sharing internal updates with the global team. I aspired to sit down and write one or two times per month, diving into a particular program, sharing a challenging problem I was wrestling with, or celebrating a milestone. We had already shifted quickly to video conferencing as a primary form of live/synchronous team communication. By switching from a blog format to recorded video to share updates and keep the dispersed organization pulling in the same direction, I realized that a) I could do it more frequently, and b) it actually required less effort.
I’ve gone down the TikTok hole with my kids and watched some cringe-worthy attempts to lip sync the rapid-fire lyrics of Hamilton. And I am not about to suggest that starting the next dance craze is going to help your team stay connected to your core purpose as a company. But what I did appreciate was the beautiful authenticity of these videos. Authenticity that is more accessible in video than in any email or written communication.
I’ve noticed from our increased use of video conferencing that we’re all getting a little more insight into the lives of our colleagues. Kids or loved ones occasionally walk through the background. You can get a view out the home office window into the garden someone might have worked hard on, and appearances by the beloved family pet are always popular. There’s more dimensionality to these interactions because you see more of the person, and they see more of you.
All you need is your phone and a few minutes
I began recording video messages to the team the first week of our COVID work-from-home experience. The first couple of videos felt awkward (me staring at my phone propped up with a couple of books). I kept it to a brief five or ten minutes, and shared a couple of key decision points we were working through.
I received encouraging feedback from the organization on the content, but also about the glimpses into the setting of my messages. After the first few, I purposely moved the videos outside into the garden, or filmed while I was making lunch (both my son and an exchange student we’re hosting this year managed to wander by to check out what smelled so good in that one). I live in a 250 year old farmhouse in Maine, so in another video, channeling my inner E.B. White, I sat in our barn with the piglets while I answered questions I had received from the team that week. (A word of caution: a pair of piglets will upstage you every time, no matter how interesting your topic).
These videos create a moment of personal connection with my colleagues, whatever geography they may be in, and whenever it is they have the time and opportunity to consume it.
It takes me a few minutes each week to record on my iPhone, and a few more minutes to process and upload. I do basic edits in iMovie, and host the videos in a Microsoft Stream channel since we’re Office365 users. I did eventually break down and buy a tripod and lavaliere microphone to improve the quality of the finished product.
by Tom Catalini
Technology leaders are people leaders
2020 has posed considerable challenges to leaders and organizations. Staying visible and connected, and helping your team feel in touch will be a key skill in pulling through and establishing new strengths as we scale the changes that are working, and develop strategies to address those longer-term impacts to our teams.
As CIO, I am responsible for the development and delivery of technology that creates new value for the customer and company. But I am also responsible for the people that enable that delivery, their engagement, their growth, and their shared purpose, perhaps now more than ever.
People crave connection. Connection comes from authenticity – transparent, supported, and informed. Whatever the future holds, I’ll be carrying this tool forward in my leadership toolbelt as a powerful enabler of that connection.
After all, those 800 million TikTok users must be onto something.