How to Lead in the Age of Isolation

November 13, 2018, 2:00 PM UTC
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The biggest challenge facing business leaders today isn’t politics, climate change, cybersecurity, or even disruption—it’s leading in an age of increased isolation, loneliness, and decentralization.

Globally, this lack of connection has resulted in 85% of employees not being engaged or actively disengaged—a $7 trillion loss in productivity. In today’s workplace, leaders have to be able to manage remote workers and freelancers living in various countries, as well as employees of different genders, ages, educational backgrounds, and ethnic backgrounds.

In order to confront this great challenge, many have turned to technology to foster collaboration and communicate. While tech tools have created the illusion that the workforce is more connected, if not used appropriately they can make employees feel isolated and disengaged.

We rely more on tech devices to do our collaboration for us because it feels easier and more efficient, but are guilty of abusing it to a point where FaceTime is the new face time. In a global study by Future Workplace and Virgin Pulse, we found that almost half of an employee’s day is spent using technology to communicate, and more than half feel lonely as a result.

While workers increasingly rely on email communication, research shows that face-to-face requests are 34 times more successful. Instead of sending an email, then replying over and over again, all you have to do is walk over to their cubicle and be direct. It saves a lot of time—and headaches.

Here are five tips for leaders to create a stronger culture and increase employee engagement:

Embrace open collaboration

Get everyone on your team to commit to being open, accessible, and honest with each other. One way to do this is to create a shared to-do list that everyone can view and is accountable for. When your coworkers know what everyone is working on, it’s easier for them to help each other. Instead of penalizing employees for bad ideas, focus more on discipline for missing deadlines and not being open to advice from fellow team members.

Recognize team performance

While you should give feedback to individual team members, it’s even more effective if you talk about your entire team’s performance. People want to feel like they are part of something bigger than themselves. In order to recognize your team, you can share a specific story of how the team accomplished a goal. You can explain how that goal was met based on the efforts of each individual.

Practice shared learning

Instead of having team members learn in solidarity by reviewing an online course, create a culture where everyone is supporting each other. When you learn something new from an article, class, or other resource, openly share it with your team. Encourage them to mimic this behavior so that you can all learn together.

Become a coach

Instead of just mentoring your teammates, provide actionable feedback and advice from your experiences. Keep track of their progress so that you can give them the right advice along the way, not just in a single moment. Hold a monthly or quarterly coaching session so that they know you’re there for them. During the session, give them specifics on the behavior and outcomes you’re looking for and how they can adjust to be more successful.

Show your own vulnerability

Admitting your faults and opening up about your life humanizes you and makes it easier for your teammates to approach you when they experience problems. Vulnerability isn’t a weakness; it’s a strength that creates a safe space and allows people to have a deeper relationship with you.

The more detached your employees are, the less committed they will be to your organization and the higher likelihood they will depart. The cost of replacing an employee is too high for you to not do something about it. Fostering an open and encouraging workplace culture will make you more successful as a leader.

Dan Schawbel is the author of Back to Human: How Great Leaders Create Connection in the Age of Isolation.

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