Crossing over the 6 month mark in any new job, is normally the time where relationships start to form, habits start to develop and you start to feel like part of the furniture….Well that's how it's supposed to be... however much of 2020 has been anything but “usual”. I am now nine months into my role at Verizon Media and I still haven't met any of my team in person… That's right, not one! I have managed to fit in at least two (socially distanced) client lunches (thanks Robin & Steve) but that's it!
And given most companies have done limited hiring in 2020 I am in a unique position of being one of the very few leaders to join a new company in this new 100% virtual world. To be honest, managing people remotely is not new to me. I have spent most of my career managing people and teams all around the world. However, that was made possible by also being able to spend significant time in-market building relationships and creating firm foundations. Yet I am happy to report that despite having never stepped foot inside the office I couldn't feel more at home and part of an incredibly tight and motivated team. You’re probably wondering..how the hell is that possible?
I have been pondering that very question over the Christmas break and as we kicked off the year, and have come up with a number of observations that go some way to explain it:
- This new virtual working environment has, for many, resulted in many more hours spent in meetings. Managers and companies have rightly started to worry about ‘meeting fatigue’ - our calendars have turned into daily games of Tetris where we are scrambling to keep some hours free to do actual work. Sure, meeting fatigue is a concern and something we need to actively monitor and control, however could it be possible that before this pandemic, leaders were not spending enough time listening and meeting with our actual teams?
How many hours a week were you spending listening and talking with all the layers of your team? Be honest?
The truth is I would not have spent anywhere near the amount of time in meetings with all of my team if I had started my job in the office as normal. I would have been pulled in and out of meetings, internal and external, and certainly would not have spent the quality time I have spent listening, learning and engaging with my team. The simple truth for many leaders (me included) is we have been under-engaging with our wider, entire teams for too long and not done anywhere near enough listening. A lesson I will not forget when we do get back to the office!
- Zoom, Bluejeans, Hangouts, Teams or whatever video conference (VC) system you are using have been the most important tool that's kept us in contact with our teams during the past year, something that would not have been possible over email or phone. In actual fact VCs have given us all a glimpse into each other's lives to a level face-to-face in an office we were never able to achieve. Thanks to VCs I have seen most of my team's kitchens, met everyone's children and pets, seen what books everyone's reading, noticed who loves flowers in their home and many other fascinating observations. As crazy as it sounds, this glimpse into each other's lives has really helped me get to know the team a little better!
Note to everyone: don’t feel you have to blur out your background, as these small insights really help to feel connected to each other in a human way when we can’t be physically together.
- We live in a virtual world and that world has been advancing long before this pandemic. We have been communicating and engaging with our friends and families via video conferencing for years. This is especially true for me and my family as we have two young daughters and our families live in Belgium (my wife is from Antwerp) and Australia (where I was born and where my family live).
That's resulted in us spending hours upon hours on FaceTime with our families to make sure they could experience every new development in our daughters’ lives. Attempting to ride a bike, playing in the park, watching ballet recitals and even attending the girls’ birthday parties have all been done with an iPad in my hand so our families can experience those precious moments.
Of course nothing is better than experiencing these special moments in person, but it's remarkable how technology has allowed my daughters to build and develop strong bonds with their grandparents, uncles/aunts and cousins who are so far away. Can you imagine trying to work like this 15 years ago when mobile connectivity was pre-3G and most homes’ WiFi was not in the slightest ready for video conferencing?
We live in a time when digital communications and advanced computing has enabled many industries to continue to operate and even thrive with its workforce working remotely. For Verizon Media and our industry this is certainly true and for me this has allowed me to take on a leadership position having never met my team face to face.
- Lastly, and probably most importantly, I have been able to integrate within my team thanks to their positive attitude, openness to new ideas and acceptance that change is normal. This mindset has no doubt been forged from the fire of change that Verizon Media and the UK team have been operating in. It's important to remember that this is a company that over the past five years has been through significant and constant change and come out the other side with a clear and focused ambition. We are part of the global Verizon organisation that's fast becoming one of the most innovative technology companies in the world that is leading the upcoming 5G digital revolution. So it really shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone that a team which has operated in continuous change with a clear focus has been able to thrive in an environment as challenging as the one we are facing now.
And finally I want to take the opportunity to thank my leadership team, the entire UK office, our clients, partners and the wider Verizon Media family for welcoming me so warmly into their team. Even though we have some tough days ahead I know our best days are still to come and that gives me great optimism for the future!